A Year Out of Addis

Traditionally roasting coffee beans

One year ago, I flew to Addis Ababa as a member of the Peace Corps. I’d gone with great intentions and was so very excited to be joining an organization I’d held in high esteem for most of my life.

It was definitely one of those crossroads moments, to be sure. This January, I find myself at a second crossroads. I’m finishing up my stint as a Holiday Lights Technician with Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens so I can open my schedule up to photography and self-employment once again. So naturally, my mind wants to return to where I was at the beginning of 2018.

I’m not really sure where I intend to go with this post since all of my journaling during my month in Ethiopia was analog and I threw out my journal when I got back to the States. I was…Not in a good place for a while. Mentally, emotionally, and financially. I made it to Daniel Stowe in August with about $250, $200 of which was required for a house deposit, a tiny backpack with a single change of clothes, a pack of pasta and sauce, and a bike with a flat tire.

Anyway. I keep coming back to last January because it was such a low. It was the end of an era for me, in some ways. I’d always believed in the “you can do anything if you just put yourself out there and try really hard” maxim. It all seemed so clear; all of the experiences in my life seemed to point to the Peace Corps as being the natural path for me. The work, Agricultural Extension work, teaching rural communities climate and resource smart farming techniques, was something I find fascinating, I have a good head for languages and cultures, and was thrilled to be surrounded by like-minded people.

Unfortunately, my anxiety has a mind of its own. I spent nearly a month in constant inner conflict, burning muscle pain and constriction, alienating people that could have been friends and generally very unhappy. Despite all of the reasons I wanted to stay, I ended up returning to the States in early February. And I don’t quite believe in that maxim anymore. It’s evolved, I guess.

I cried here and there and was generally depressed. I scraped by for a few months writing photography articles, tried to break into photography in LA while helping a Russian woman run her AirBnB business while trying not to get stabbed in the slum she ran to fuel a drug and sports car lifestyle (there were a couple near stabbings of roommates and police were involved, I kid you not. LA is insane…), went to California to help Ajahn Chandako build a Buddhist retreat in the mountains, went back to LA for a couple of weeks to make enough money to get to Las Vegas. From there, I flew to Mexico City on a one-way ticket for a month and worked part-time writing and living paycheck to paycheck in hostel beds while trying to decide what was next.

Eventually, I got a job offer from Todd, the director of Horticulture at Daniel Stowe and decided that’s where I needed to be, to get my feet back under me. I flew from CDMX to Miami for a couple of weeks, only to have my computer and back-up drive of nearly all my old art (including nearly all of my images from Ethiopia) stolen by someone who saw a shiny computer and thought a 2012 Macbook would be worth something. Unable to write anymore, I then limped my way to NC with a financial contribution from my father and started working 40 hours a week again.

And here we are. That wasn’t as dark a post as I thought it was going to be. I intended to be sad about the Peace Corps but I’m not really feeling it as much. 2018 was INSANE. I did my best; I always do, and I will continue to do so. I wish I’d made it to Tigray. I wish I’d learned Tigrinya and had a photo with Gebre, my teacher, and the guys in my cohort who are already halfway through their Peace Corps service. I wish I had a chance to raise chickens, teach classes, and see how my heirloom seeds would do. I wish for…A lot of things that weren’t meant to be. But if that isn’t a summation of the human experience right there then I don’t know what is.

At the moment I have some savings, I have a car, and I stand poised to get paid to do art again. I’m learning how to understand what may be a far more physical ailment than I realized through yoga and breath meditation. I have a portrait shoot scheduled with a model next Sunday, and while I don’t know where I’ll be living next week, financially, I’m in a good place and have time to explore and not rush into a bad situation. I’m constantly thinking about photography and feel ready to do something great in 2019! So better to look ahead, I think.

Oh, and at least I still have these images from Ethiopia:

About to roast beans for the buna (coffee) ceremony
Preparing the fire
Thank you, Aymen

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  1. My anxiety feels like a terrible horrible houseguest. It just insults everything I own, leaves the place a mess, and dips out with no notice. I’m trying to keep it from returning, and breaking down the door. But what if, instead of barricading our brains and leaning our whole weight against our anxiety (it’s gonna break the door down eventually, we know that), what if we just welcomed it in?? Rather than peeking through the blinds and bracing ourselves, we threw the door open, “Anxiety! You’re back! Come on in and take a look around!” Oh man. I don’t even know what that would look like. It’s so weird that my anxiety is just my own brain and nervous system. Like — it’s just trying to help, I think? I treat it so much like a mortal enemy. I’m not suggesting we let anxiety run rampant or drive the ship. But I know resistance to it gives it power, so accepting it (welcoming it?) might have the opposite effect. If we try to silence the alarm, it just gets louder. What if we leaned in to our alarm and listened? Would it silence itself eventually? Again, “in practice” is much different than “in theory”. Oh man.

    • Well, I think it would look like my life right about now. Some days, it feels exhausting but other days I hardly notice or think twice about it. Some days I don’t lean into it and other days I’m willing to challenge myself. You have to make space for your messy roommate, haha. I think you’re right about not barricading our brains, as well. That’s been a huge lesson for me – you can’t win vs. your nervous system and self-loathing is the absolute worst thing. So positive interpretation (my mind and body are trying to PROTECT me; look at how hard it tries to do so!) helps. Cutting out all negativity has been the biggest lesson of 2018 for me and helped me come to grips with what’s on my plate. But as you say…In practice is the hard part, heh.

      • I’ve been doing something very, very similar lately! When my anxiety acts up badly enough that I notice it I’ll stop what I’m doing and actually say out loud “Hey anxiety. Thanks for stopping by and letting me know something’s wrong. What’s bugging you?” And then it’s almost like a self-guided meditation. If it’s just generalized anxiety I’ll usually say something like “Oh, well. Thank you for your concern. I’m doing okay right now and I’m trying to work on something so please go find something to entertain yourself with and let me now if anything definite happens that I need to know about.” It doesn’t always work but it helps.

        And when it’s something specific I can then focus on that but also make sure to thank my anxiety for pointing it out.

        It’s a strange practice but it works for me really well.

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