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: