Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kenny Finally Makes it To Barbados!

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

It's been less than a week since I have returned from Barbados when Kenny and I had spent an excellent time. I realize that it be Posh Corps if there was a position in Barbados but the transition back has been tough.   Not just because of the torquoise water, delicious fresh fish, friendly locals who don't yell at you when you run by, copious amounts of pickles(thanks Marilyn!), sidewalks, or lack of burning trash. Although all those things were nice too.

The transition has been especially tough because it's nice waking up beside someone you love and can spend the day with. Waking up in my bed-net by myself isn't quite the same ;) The funny thing is I wouldn't necessarily say I'm home sick per se. Despite all of my griping, I really do enjoy it here and I have several good projects that I'm working on. And I'm grateful for sunny days and plenty of time to read. As well as other things.  But there is something to  be said about having a good co-pilot. Someone equally willing to explore a cave and run up a hill as sit on the beach or lie in a hammock.And she brought with her things that made me wanna see the rest of my family. But it's all good it makes you appreciate every more! Okay enough already, you wanna hear about the trip!

But first, who is the real Kenny?
Image result for kenny from south park Image result for kenny from south parkor  

haha. okay sooooo about Barbados:

Barbados is great! As you already read, there are monkeys, friendly but crazy people and a UNESCO site in the downtown. But there's more. My parents were awesome and bought Kenny and me a sunset Turtle snorkling tour on a catamaran which I HIGHLY recommend. Even if we didn't see any turtles it would have been great. We were only in about 30 .feet of water so I was able to dive down and snag a sand dollar and still had enough O2 for a little sea floor exploration. It's so nice to have such good water clarity. And there was an all-you can eat buffet and bar which was pretty spectacular and had a far larger range of food(and drink) options than our trip to Aruba.

We spent a day at the beach which was so relaxing, another exploring Bridgetown, having great food and walking along the beaches. We went to Oisten's Friday Fish Fry which did not disappoint. Although I wish I had taken a picture of Kenny's face as her snapper was served head and all:).

The only thing that I would say was a disappointment was Harrison's Caves.

 If you are to do it, go all in with the exploration package because otherwise you are just traveling on man-made passageways. There are probably 50 better caves experiences in Virginia and of course had nothing on Mammoth Caves. I'd say spend the extra time at the beach or maybe exploring the Garrison tunnels. Or check out the boats in the Bridgetown harbor, or grab some fresh fish or fruits. Or anything other than the caves. The best part of the caves was the ride out with a taxi driver who warned Kenny not to fall in love with him because he's already had two women fly him to the states to get married. But it "wasn't for him" so he came back.
Kenny decided to decline taxi driver's offer and spend her time with me ;)

Overall we had a great time and I am excited to come back in April to spend some  time there with my parents. I have already warned them that I will be very disappointed if they are as fun to hang out with as Kenny was ;)
 Not how I read in Guyana

As Kenny was leaving, I was humming the John Denver song "Leaving on a Jet Plane". I had always felt bad for him thinking it was a romantic love song, but that day it just struck me as selfish. The guy is leaving to go somewhere fun and he's asking the girl to stay and wait for him. Maybe it's guilt on my end since I'm kinda doing that with my loved ones. Just stay exactly as you are now and I'll be back eventually. I think I'll be in for a rude awakening when my two nieces are considerably different than how I left them. We are always changing and adapting and I just hope I adapt with them all. 

Until next time,


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Barbados: Land of Misfit Toys

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

So the original plan was to meet Kenny on Thursday and do a long weekend in Barbados. Then I failed miserably at the Suriname marathon and sought redemption and signed myself for the Trinidad marathon the Sunday prior to when we were to meet up. This resulted in me having to find places to stay until she came on Thursday. First it was Cleve in Trinidad, the Sadiya in Tobago, and when I arrived in Barbados it was Tara.

Before I go any further into this story, I need to present to you the cast of characters(I’ve changed their names a bit to give them some privacy):

Tara V- My couchsurfing host. Who by her description in couchsurfing was a lover of books and fastidiously clean. At least we had 50% in common.
George C, of newly successful smoking cessation history and friend to Tara. Also of the long line of family member who first came Barbados in 1600’s
Joan D-George’s old family friend, currently residing in George’s beach bag since 2008. Also agent for several Hollywood actors
Elizabeth D, housekeeper, former school teacher from Guyana.
Sheryl H, Tara and George’s contrary friend.

Okay back to the story. So I arrived in Barbados to stay with Tara. Tara who required that I give references before allowing me to stay and told me I would need to provide my own food if I wanted to eat with her. Also the Tara who seemed genuinely excited when I told her I had some books that I would bring with me for her when I came.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I got to her house around 4pm and was greeted by her two barking dogs. Well actually one and then slowly the second waddled over to me to give his two cents as well. Tara soon thereafter came to the door and showed me in. For the third time of “couch surfing” I was provided with my own bedroom.

I was told that we were having people over and that she was making dinner and just needed a few more things from the grocery store. I volunteered to go get them and while the list wasn’t long, I had sticker shock with how much more expensive everything is in Barbados. I spent more on that one stop than I had during my entire Trinidad trip including the ferry ride to Tobago.

I arrived back to her house and met Sheryl and George, the two friends who were coming over for dinner and Mexican Train. George had been introduced to me by Tara earlier as my unlikely friend. We have nearly nothing in common and I dislike his world view, but somehow we get along. And right away I could tell that I was going to as well.

After finding out I was from NH, he noted that he had nephews both in NH and ME and grew up in Bridgeport CT which is where my mom grew up. Tara piped up that she too had spent some time living in NH too in a small town called Littleton. And went to college at Wheaton College in Norton MA. What? Seriously? The chances of meeting two people who have lived almost their entire adult lives in Barbados to have ties to New England are…. Well I don’t know what they are but I’d imagine not great. But Barbados is an English colony and New England may have some English living there so there could be an increased likelihood than say Wisconsin. But then to find out that Tara went to Wheaton College in Norton MA was too much. Definitely a small world. George was pretty much doing all the talking for the next hour or so and come to find out he came from a long lineage of English that first arrived in Barbados in the 1600’s but is not considered a pure Bajan because he was born in NY(but his parents are from Barbados and the rest of the family). 

George is like a character right out of Paul Theroux’s Hotel Honolulu.  Whenever he hears someone has caught a big fish, he rushes with his sharpie down to the pier and draws on the fish the cut he wants. He had tried his hand(and supposedly was quite successful) as a bed and breakfast owner; making quite a tidy profit and earning a bachelorhood. The bachelorhood came one day when his wife went on vacation and never returned which he divulged with a certain amount of gaiety that must come with bachelorhood in a tropical paradise.  And during this extended bachelorhood, he takes Jane to the beach every day.  Jane who had  died in 2008 and was cremated. His childhood friend’s mother, Jane passed away and her ashes were given to various friends to scatter at sea. But I didn’t do that. She doesn’t want to be in the ocean. She wants to go to the beach. So he carries her in his beach bag every day that he goes. When asked how his friend reacted to that, he stated that they weren’t talking anymore.

Tara, who unabashedly told me she was an excellent cook, did not let down. With the ingredients that I had purchased and Mahi Mahi that she had purchased from Oisten’s fish market, made a great dinner which was complemented by George’s Rum and Coco-nut water(the second half muttered under his breath so it sounded like Rum and Coke until you took a swig of pretty much straight rum).
Throughout dinner prep(where Tara cooked with me scrubbing the vegetables and setting the tables, and George consuming copious amounts of rum), dinner and the subsequent Mexican Train(which is a variation of dominoes), their friend Sheryl would mutter contradictions and corrections as her only manner of conversation. Interspersed with her contradictions would be Georg’s criticisms of Tara for smoking. There is nothing like a newly ex-smoker becoming the anti-smoking Nazi. While watching me cleaning the table and dishes(I was earning my keep after all), Sheryl took a moment’s break from contradicting one of them to joining in on the criticism of Tara still smoking. I was able to quit cold turkey she proudly stated, but I did catch the the first time that she had trailed off with. When asked how many times had she quit she stated oh several but this last time has been almost 6 months. And they were giving Tara advice! Good luck to them all. The rest of the time Sheryl was eating seconds and then thirds and even putting some of the brownie dessert in her purse, presumably to eat later. Maybe a result of no longer smoking? Either way, it was a very interesting night and one I couldn’t have come up with if I had tried.

Tara told me that she had to work at home the whole next day and was kind enough to give me a key so I was free to explore. I packed a light bag with water and rolls and ran the 6 miles into Bridgetown which is an UNESCO historical site. In addition to the oldest active British colony garrison, it also has the only house outside of the US that George Washington ever lived and it was during this time that he gained some of his military prowess as well as political connections. Bridgetown also as a thriving downtown and I was there during the Mount Gay Race Around Barbados which is a weeklong sailboat competition. It was pretty cool to see those huge and super expensive boats out at sea. Oh and that brings me to the ocean.

The waters were crystal clear and had a good combination of white sands and rocky areas so you can get the beach and snorkel experience really easy. I hung out in Bridgetown for a bit and then walked back to Tara’s house along the beach the whole way(well, there was one area where I had to swim across because of a jetty but otherwise I was able to walk the whole 6 ish miles back).

I arrived back to meet Elizabeth, Tara’s housekeeper. Probably the queen of the misfit toys she introduced herself to me with her headphones on and then started talking to Tara about me as if I wasn’t sitting right there. When Tara pointed this out to her that it was she that had the headphones on and that I could hear her fine, she genuinely seemed shocked. Tara still had some work to do so she left me with Elizabeth who regaled me in stories of fights she had with the monkeys on the island, jobs she quit because she felt disrespected and her thoughts of Donald Trump. During the few hours that she sat and talked with me, she repeated over and over how she had to get going so that she could catch her bus home which came only once an hour on the half hour. Watching 5:30 and 6:30 go by and finally asked her when she was leaving to which she responded in a very Guyanese way saying just now. And just like in Guyana, just now can be anytime from 5 minutes to 5 hours from now. So at around 7:30p when Tara, who also had said that we’d be grabbing food just now an hour earlier, came out and suggested that we grab a pizza, Elizabeth said she wanted to come along.

So the three of us, with Elizabeth and her four bags in the back seat, head to a pizza place. Or so I thought. Instead we go to Price Mart which is like Sam’s club but it does sell pizza so I was thinking we’d go in grab the pizza and go. Instead I am sent to order the pizza while the two go off shopping  in this big box store. They come back about 30 minute after the pizza has been cooked each with a cart full of goods. Another 15 minutes of standing in line and we are finally back to the car with Tara remarking how efficient they were and a slow realization was dawning on Elizabeth. And that was that she had just purchased another 4 bags worth of “stuff”.

Now as annoying as this was, if I were driving, I would have offered to drive Elizabeth to her home(after all the island is only 21 miles by 14 miles). However, Tara was having none of this and told her to just consolidate her bags and she’d be dropped off at the nearest bus stop. Which totally overwhelmed Elizabeth to the point that I had to get in the backseat and prioritize what things she needed and what could be picked up at Tara’s house later that week. Like maybe the 50 pack of oatmeal and 12 pack of water. How she was able to get all those things into her shopping cart and through check out without it occurring to her that she had to carry it home was beyond me.

After dropping Elizabeth off at the bus stop and eating our dinner of pizza on the way, I was ready for bed. As I am saying my good nights, Tara asked for just one more thing. And I’m thinking another chore(like the heavy door I moved, trash I put out etc) and was a bit shocked when her respond was: can I have a back massage. Oh boy. Luckily we settled for a seated at a kitchen chair back massage after which she praised my expertise and I stealthily locked my door.
I awoke early the next morning and snuck out of the house for a run in the trails with monkeys all around. I came back showered and was told by Tara that she was going to show me around the island just as soon as her contractor finished his appraisal. So by 9:30 I was packed and ready to go and by 2p so was she. Which meant that we had about an hour before I wanted to be checked into my hotel so I could get ready for when Kenny arrived later that evening.

I’m glad I was able to go on a tour, albeit brief, of the east side of the island, because I wouldn’t get back up there again. Definitely some more isolated areas which was nice. And while my week long couchsurfing experience went probably as well as it could have with some great, and some quirky, hosts,  I was happy to settle into my own hotel room and was especially excited to have Kenny finally arrive.

But I’ll save that for another post.

Until next time,


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A few Days in Tobago

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

I arrived in Tobago via the ferry less than 12 hours after starting the Trinidad marathon that morning and I must say the ferry is plush. Air conditioned with plenty of reclining seats, restaurant and separate bar and a movie playing. All for 50TT which is less than $10.

I disembarked and immediately was offered taxi rides for 80TT to where I was meeting my host for the night. I declined, instead walking 50 feet further to a shared taxi where I was driven in about the same amount of time for 7TT. And since I was the stinkiest one by far, I really cannot complain ;)

My plans originally were to take a later ferry but upon reviewing the schedule I saw that there wasn’t one running on Sundays so I quickly had shot an email to my host, Sayida, hoping she’d get it and know to pick me up at our predetermined meeting spot early. I was dropped off by the taxi and she wasn’t in site. This was my first “real” couchsurfing experience, because while Cleve and I arranged it through couchsurfing, I had already met him and knew him through the marathon. Sayida and I had never met and only briefly talked online. So after a half an hour and still no sight of her, I started getting worried.

Which I needn’t have been. She arrived with her friend thinking I had had the opportunity telling me that she’d be there at 6:30. It was 6:15. So she arrived, what she thought, to be early. I just didn’t have any opportunity to get that email. So anyway, she takes me back to her place and has dinner prepared for me! She also has a separate room with new sheets on the bed all set up for me. I took a well over-due shower and the three of us settled in for the night watching a couple movies.

I awoke the next morning to her making me breakfast and, having read that I like coffee, a FULL pot of it for me. She had to go for work but offered for her brother to show me around the island. I politely declined because, not  only did I feel badly about that, I also wanted to just hang out at the beach. So she drew up a map for me to get there as well as to see a few other sites, gave me her only set of keys and said she’d be back to make me dinner before I had to leave for my overnight ferry back.

Side-note: I am choosing to take the “slow boat” which takes about 6 hours and goes overnight. I could have taken the twice as fast boat but this way I didn’t have to find a place to stay for the night(although I’m sure both Sayida and Cleve would have offered had I mentioned it to them).

Any way after fully digesting my great breakfast, I packed a small bag and took off on a slow jog to the beach. Her place was actually close enough that I had to do an extra loop just to get thirty minutes of running in. I then just hung out. The water was beautiful, the crowds were small and the sand soft. After spending an hour in the water and another few on the sand, I headed down the road to Fort Milford which like many of the Caribbean countries have a long history of various colonial overseers. Which was apparent in the cannons as 4 of the five were marked with British emblems while the fifth was French indicating the short period of time that France held dominion over the area. It’s not a very big fort so that only took me a few minutes but then I headed to the pier. The pier was something Sayida had recommended and was definitely off the beaten path. I didn’t know what to expect as her description was “I like it”.

Well, so do I. It was down this side street past mangroves and a long enough distance that I was starting to think I had made a wrong turn. Then out pops this tiny little pier that could maybe hold 3-4 small boats at most. But behind it was crystal clear water with rocks(as opposed to sand) and even from my vantage point, thousands of brightly colored fish. Oh and did I mention the island? There was an island about a quarter mile across that looked like it did have a beach. If I had brought my snorkel gear(or at least goggles) I would have been back in the water in a heart beat. As it was, I was getting hungry so instead I went back to the house to have some late lunch that Sayida has set aside for me.
When I come back to Trinidad with Kenny in June, I am definitely going to making her come over to Tobago with me and I will be before prepared to explore that island.

That evening, I caught up on some reading and relaxing in her air conditioned (and bug free) house, had dinner with her and watched a movie and she suggested that rather than spend the night uncomfortable on the ferry to just stay the night and  then take the early ferry  the next morning. 

Which meant she had to 5am to drop me off. But another good day’s sleep and an air conditioned quick ferry ride back to Trinidad and a laid back morning before getting over to the airport made for a nice Tuesday. Then I headed over to Barbados but I’ll save that for another post. While the stay was relatively short in Trinidad and Tobago, it was spectacular and like I said, it allowed me to plan out my trip when I return.

Until next time,


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Racing in Trinidad

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

I am current lounging out in the sun outside waiting for a ferry to Tobago. I came here for the marathon but I'll come back for the mountains and ocean.

My trip started with a stay at fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Barry's, apartment. We went out for a few beers during which he regaled me with stories of amazing adventures and experiences around the world. This is his second stint with Peace Corps and he also worked with the UN and Doctors Without Borders. There seems to be very few places that he hasn't been. Definitely a great resource when planning my last trip when I finish my time in Guyana before heading back to the States.

I had to be at the airport the next morning at 4am so I woke up at three to catch a taxi over to the airport. An easy check in, where amazingly I could take my water on without anyone thinking it was a bomb. Imagine: a flight when I'm not dehydrated! The flight from Guyana to Trinidad took less than 80 minutes with absolutely no waiting to be queued up for take off. It was great. I arrived and breezed through immigration with a short stop at customs.

Customs Officer: You work for Peace Corps?
Danny: Yes. I'm a volunteer in Guyana.
Customs Officer: A gun holding Peace Corps member?
Danny: (laughing) haha no. Peace Corps[emphasis on Peace
Customs Officer: The UN Peace Keepers have guns.
Danny: oooh. Yes well I guess you're right. No I don't have a gun.

And that was that. Off I went. I was staying with a fellow runner who I had briefly met at the Guyana Trail marathon and reconnected with through the great website, He was great about letting me stay stating as long as I didn't mind sleeping on a couch. Which I didn't. He also gave me great advice about getting to his place.

If as I left the departures gate, I got a taxi it would cost me about 120TT to get to his house. However, walking about 100 feet to my right I could take a shared taxi to Aruca junction and then take a maxi(a mini-bus) to the road he lived off of. I could take another mini-bus or walk. All told, It cost me 9TT to get to his house. And with the remaining 111TT, I was able to buy myself dinner and food for the next two days of meals. And still had about 20TT left off.

Note about Departures: I had only ever seen this at Costa Rica before but I guess it's pretty common down here to charge a departure tax. It's about $15 to leave Guyana and 100TT to leave Trinidad. Not expensive, just wanna make sure you budget that.

So I arrived to his house but had missed his email saying that he wouldn't be home til around 1:30p. It was 9:30am when I got there. Which could have been super annoying except that he has two couches on his shaded porch. I was able to finish the book I was reading, John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius, his pre-sequel to Hamlet. After finishing it, I then took a nice, albeit somewhat sweaty, nap.

When I awoke, Cleve had arrived home. He welcomed me in, gave me a key and told me to make myself at home. He wasn't feeling great so he took a nap while I walked around the neighborhood and bought myself lunch as well as food for the next few days. I arrived home and he was still sleeping so I just hung out for the evening and went to bed probably around 9pm. I was awoken to a knock on my door around 11pm and he was wondering if I wanted to go out. I declined.
New friends
That's the only bad thing about traveling for marathons, you're more likely to decline spontaneous invitations to go to a midnight show during Carnaval. The next day when I was asked if I wanted to go for a hike to a few waterfalls, I definitely did not decline even when thinking back to my awful marathon the day after rock climbing while in Alaska. Cleve, two of his friends and I hiked to not one but two waterfalls one with a great 15 foot cliff to jump into the pool of crystal clear stream.

 I was so happy to go and see a part of Trinidad I definitely wouldn't have if I stayed in a hotel by the ocean. I would go back just for the mountains and clear streams they have. The hiking there is pretty amazing with so many opportunities. If you get a chance to go to Trinidad, you've got to check out Island Hikers who organizes weekly hikes. We didn't go on one of their hikes, but Cleve goes almost every weekend and supposedly never does the same hike twice. Anyway, definitely a better way to spend the day then holed up inside.
Danny jumping off the cliff

Race day started early. I mean really early. I awoke at 12:45am for the marathon. My home stay was running the early start at 3:30am and I wanted to ride in with him since I had no idea how to get there and I didn’t mind a longer time to digest and warm-up. After dropping off a car at the finish and heading to the start(it’s a point to point run which I love), we arrived around 2:30am. Looking back at marathons that I have done poorly at(other than being ill-prepared), the number one factor was bathroom issues. I had been preparing for this marathon pretty much since my huge fail in Suriname so I wanted everything to go perfectly. So I had coffee right when I woke up with 2 pieces of toast with just a smidge of peanut butter. This is very atypical. I am known to eat Dunkin Donut’s sausage sandwiches before races. Anyway, I didn’t want that to be my downfall.

This race doesn’t have many participants but it is fairly star-studded with several 2:20 something finishes each year usually from Columbian and Kenyan runners drawn in for the prize money. Additionally, Kelvin Johnson one of Guyana’s best runners(30 10K guy), was there so I was thinking I would be well off the back of the lead pack. Buuuuuuuuut. It would be nice to make some money. So in the far back of my mind I was eying the competition and as the gun went off tried to keep track of where they all were. Which was bit tricky because there were also several fast relay teams that took off at the same time.

When the first Kenyan girl passed me, I slid in behind her , thinking that she would be a good person to pace off of. And boy was I right. We probably were in 15 and 16th place at mile one and over the next 18 miles we had pulled ourselves to 6-7th. We ran side by side for the entirety of those miles unless the wind picked up in which case we alternated breaking the wind for the other. We weren’t going super fast, but the hope was that if other people started to fall off, I might even be able to jump to 4th or 5th.

Side-Note on Super-fast: We were consistently averaging between 6:30-6:44s for all those miles which was comfortably hard for me. When I spoke with her after the race, she was talking about how easy she had to take it because her calf was on the edge of cramping. So her easy was my comfortably hard. Hmmmm.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, counting my chickens before they were hatched. After bonking hard at Suriname most likely due to dehydration, I went into this race with a different approach. Carry Gatorade with added electrolyte mix I put in, sip it as well as take water at EVERY aide station. Whether it was the Gatorade or the electrolyte mix, around mile 18 or 19 it started disagreeing. At first just enough to slow me to around 7s but I was still in 7th(she had pulled away a bit).  I was hoping that I could just muscle through the last few miles and get the 6th place prize money. But that didn’t happen, soon those little disagreements turned into an all-out brawl. As I continued running(now at a considerably slower pace), I frantically searched for a porta-potty or at least somewhere somewhat public. But unfortunately by now we were in Port of Spain and no privacy and (the ONLY negative of this race) there were no porta-potties. So I jogged in the last 4 miles getting passed by two runners to finish in 8th place with a time of 3:03. In those miles I gave up over 5 minutes on my Kenyan friend who finished in either 2:57  or 2:58.
Well I finished without walking(actually it ended with a sprint to the nearest finish line porta-potty), enjoyed seeing 26.2 miles of Trinidad, and am now waiting to board a ferry to Tobago. I’ll leave you here for now.

Until next time,


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Turn Off Your Phone

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

We are bombarded with images, sounds, snippets of information from news feeds, twitter and sometimes poorly written blogs(ahem) to the point where we actually can stress our nervous systems. We are constantly shoving into our minds more things to react to, think, worry and obsess over. Little of it is enduring. It may satiate your brain's need for stimulus and diversion but at the expense of more important alternatives. like time for critical thinking, silence, social interaction, contemplation, physical activity or other "real" activities.

So turn off your device and just sit with yourself. Maybe just see how you feel? Tired, stressed, hungry, antsy? Turn to how your body is feeling. Is it mimicking mind? Are your legs restless, muscles tight, stomach growling? Which happened first? This awareness of how your body and mind are feeling and reacting can help you look inwardly and make adjustments whether it be to get up and stretch or to take a moment to calmly assess a situation before reacting poorly to someone else who may unwittingly became your "reason" for how you feel. When you attribute your feelings and sensations to someone or some thing after you've already (maybe only subconsciously) felt them is a post-hoc attribution and can get you in trouble. Maybe your friend is really being annoying today and you had to snap at him. But could it also be that you were feeling upset prior but used him as justification to express it?

Or maybe you do a quick body scan and your feeling good. Well don't turn the device on quite yet. Use this time to practice non-doing, to be non-judgmental, to avoid striving and future thoughts and just sit in the moment. Let your body and mind slow down. Devoting time to yourself can help reset your mind and re-mind your body.

Or of course, you can always go outside and play. Just make today a day to play. Run without timing yourself or worrying about pace. Go for a hike in the woods. Enjoy life and let your body and mind relax.

To paraphrase something out of a Jon Kabat-Zinn book:

You only have moments to live. Nothing else. Just moments, one after another. These moments are lost when we try to live so many years ahead of each day. Bring yourself back to now. 

Until next time,


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sense of Memory

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

Memories are funny things. Sometimes out of the blue, something sparks a memory of something that you hadn't thought about in years. Or it always sparks the same memory. For me it happens, to varying degrees, with all my senses.

The start of the Adam Ezra Group's The Portentous Beginnings of Daniel the Brave always brings me back to 1am in Iceland as Kenny and I encountered a surreal one lane(but two way) several mile long tunnel eerily lit. We had been searching for a good place to set up our tent and time had gotten away from us as we munching on sandwiches that Kenny was making from cold cuts and a loaf of bread we had picked up at the grocery store several hours earlier. This CD was on loop repeat so we had heard it several times already and we were merrily singing along just so happy to be in this amazing country. We had seen so many cool places and done some great hikes and I listen to that CD all the time now but it still always brings me back to that tunnel for some reason. Memory is strange that way.
The Tunnel 
And it's not just with music. My nose will bring me back to long-forgotten memories. For example, know that smell of a tent that was used previously by someone who backpacked with it: that slightly stale smell of BO mixed with the fresh mountain air? Well, that still sounds awful but it's a subtle BO smell for sure. Anyway, every once in a while I might run with someone who maybe left their workout stuff in the gym bag and then reused it. Since I'm running with them not cuddling, you only get a whiff once in a while. And what does it always remind me of? The time my friend and I were heading to City of Rock in Idaho from Park City and his car broke down late at night. No town or other cars in direction. What do we do? Set up his tent that he luckily had in his trunk. Which smelled as I described. Again I've camped numerous other times but my mind always goes back to that night and the next morning when we are awoken by a farmer whose land we slept on who tows us into town where we drop the car, and hitch a ride to climb. We spent the weekend climbing and arrived back to the car shop Monday morning and the car was fixed.

And then there is my tongue. Every time I eat a raw onion, I remember back to my grandmother's salads she used to make. The funny thing is that while I loved her salads, I hated the onions; picking them all out and putting them to the side. But now I eat those onions and try to replicate her salad but can never even come close to hers. And of course, the memories of her salad aren't of me munching happily eating in isolation but rather my whole family and likely my cousins Ryan and Cori all around the table eating the salad and G&S pizza and washing it down with either root beer or those "juices" with the tin covers. It's the memory of playing catch with my grandfather or playing basketball with my siblings. All happy, all because of a raw onion.

My cousins Cori and Ryan and brothers Andrew and Matt

But all not elicited memories are good. For example, touch. Every time I step on a pebble just right or step down wrong on my foot, my brain remembers when I broke my foot in the Flying Pig Marathon. Even though it is fully healed, that pebble will cause me to limp for a while. My brain remembers that pain and has lower the threshold of my pain tolerance in that specific situation. Lorimer Mosely does are great job explaining it in this TED talk.
My eyes probably have the least power of eliciting strong memories. Usually it's more that I'm recognizing friends in stranger(that person looks like such and such) or comparing certain aspects of a location to another location. But none of the strong emotional memories the other four senses produce. Although if I had Capgras syndrome, I'm sure I'd have a much stronger reaction!

How about you? What triggers those strong memories in your life? Hope they're more good than bad.

Until next time,


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Please don't travel just for the passport stamp

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

I was in the Peace Corps office last Friday perusing the books that other volunteers had donated. (The volunteer is another thing I am grateful for.)  No matter how many times I have been there or thought I've seen them all, I can usually come up with a few new ones to take home with me. This time was no different as I found Going to Ground by Amy Blackman and a Robert Mitchener book. I've never read him but all of his books are entitled with places that I would like to go so I picked one up(Return to Paradise). I've got a few books still queued ahead of these but it's always nice to have some backup books just in case the rains come:)

Anyway, also in the office was another volunteer who ends his service in a few months and planning a trip after leaving Guyana. From the sounds of it, he was trying to fly from one South American city to another to get them off his list before flying to Australia where he intended to do the same thing with the Pacific islands. When asked what he planned on doing in Columbia for instance, he replied that he wasn't planning on anything since he was only going to be there for half a day and probably wouldn't go far from the airport. He then proceeded to describe his Europe trip which took in what sounded like every European nation in slightly under a month. He reveled in the day that he was able to "knock off" Austria, Switzerland and Germany in a single day. I've been to Germany twice and don't that I will ever be able to consider it fully explored.  To some degree it's about opportunity cost. Do you spend several weeks in one country and really start to get to know it, or do you try to see as much as you can in as little time as possible?

To me it's a no-brainer. Travel to one country and really get to know it. Otherwise it's like going on a road trip to California and counting all the states you drove through as places you've visited. But I think for many people(I hope not too many), there is more appeal in crossing off as much as you can in as short of a period of time as possible. It's almost like traveling has turned from an experience to just another consumer good. It was like he his designer goods were replaced by passport stamps and maps he could show off. I think there is a difference between traveling as a means to explore and interact and traveling to get another stamp in your passport.

 That being said, I like the passport stamps too. I love lists and goals and often incorporate my travel plans into both. I am just as greedy for passport stamps as he is but for me they are not so much a status symbol as a memento for the great trip that I had. I realize that I'm not doing a great job explaining why I am bothered by this whirl-wind traveling. Just imagine traveling the entire world and not learning anything. That would be the greatest disservice to yourself and I'd liken it to buying some fancy sports car that sits rusting in your garage. You've just wasted your time and money.

That doesn't mean that every trip you take needs to be a full immersion in the culture. I have taken a lot of short trips myself and feel that I can get a good grasp of some aspect of the place I'm visiting. Some people do a great job seeing all of Europe in a relatively short period of time(a great way to do this I heard is to use your travel time to sleep). But going somewhere with the express goal of just crossing it off a list is not the same thing. Why even go?

Short trips are great introductions to places and I view them as almost like a reconnoitering mission. You go for a short period and find what about that place you like and then go back with more time and a clearer plan. For instance, my trip to Iceland definitely made me want to go back and spend some significant time on the glacier. Or my trip to St. Louis with Kenny which was one that I had felt we did a good job of exploring both the city and the surrounding area(we explored East St Louis[actually in IL] as well as the Cahokia Mounds). And yet, I just found out that there is a church that Rothko designed which would have been amazing to visit. I guess we'll have to go back.
The Rothko Chapel

And that may be the biggest difference. No matter how much I travel, I will never be content by just checking it off my list because there is so much to see, experience and learn. And like everything, you don't know what you don't know. If you don't give yourself the time and opportunity to discover that, you will just remain the same as the rest of the world around you changes.

Until next time,


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Reasons to be Grateful; or A follow-up on last post

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

Earlier this week, I wrote a rather generic and esoteric blog about the importance of finding opportunities to be grateful in your life. Part of that is recognizing the aspects of life you can control and not stressing over those that you cannot. It's also about management of expectations. If you go into a situation with high expectations and it falls short, you may not see the silver lining. However if you go in with an open heart and mind you may be pleasantly surprised. For example, when I came to Guyana I did not expect to have consistent electricity, no less internet access. This seemingly little thing has been huge and I am so grateful for it. Beyond being able to access all the online content and social media, it has allowed me to keep in touch with my loved ones. In fact, I probably talk with many of them more than when i lived within a few hours of them. And I definitely blog more frequently. While every long-distance relationship has strain in it, being able to video chat with Kenny has definitely reduced it significantly.

Beyond internet, here are some of the others things that I am grateful for while in Guyana:

  • Life: You always have to be grateful to be alive. There is no other state of being, I'd rather be. Just the simple acts of breathing and moving freely is truly a blessing. For this I am grateful.
  • Sun and Rain: Guyana is the land of extremes. I can wake up 20 days in a row to beautiful sunny days with a constant breeze to keep things comfortable(at least until you try running). That 21st day the heavens open and it pours. And I mean pours. Roads flood, people call in because they cannot get to work. A perfect day to snuggle up under my bug net and read, read, read:) I love heavy rainfall-it is so soothing.  For this I am grateful.
  • Fresh and inexpensive fruits and vegetables: Guyana also is the land of plenty at least in regard to fruits in vegetables. While I still don't trust that I won't get sick if I get raw veggies, most of the best fruits have a skin or peel that always them to be eaten fresh without concern of ever getting sick. Pineapple, papaya, mango. Things are good. And Cheap! Probably one of the few places I've been where I'll spend more on unhealthy food than fresh food. For this I am grateful.
  • Increased professional opportunities:In addition to my main task of helping to develop a therapy department at the National Psychiatric Hospital, I am spearheading a mass media campaign to address healthy behaviors and beliefs. I will also be guest lecturing at the University of Guyana for their musculoskeletal classes as well as on mental illness. Opportunities like this would be much harder to come by in the states. For this, I am grateful. 
  • Increased access to exotic places: I realize that exotic is in the eye of the beholder, but I behold the Caribbean and South America as exotic. Therefore trips to Ameri-Indian villages, Suriname, Brazil and upcoming trips to the Caribbean, Peru and maybe another is wonderful. And once I can get myself into Brazil via the bus, travel becomes very cheap. As does flying to Trinidad and/or Barbados. In fact, it is cheaper for me to fly to Barbados to meet Kenny next week than it is to register for the Boston Marathon. For the ability to experience all that this area has to offer is amazing. For this I am grateful. 
  • Increased leisure time: I am used to working 10+ hour work days(then coming home and having nothing work related to do). Now I work shorter days but I do have work-related things to do at home. But it is amazing how being able to work at my own pace without a set schedule and with a cup of coffee in hand, can really feel very leisurely. Here's a sample of an evening:
    • Start the stove for coffee while listening to Khan Academy
    • Leisurely have first coffee while watching lectures on Coursera(currently taking a leadership class and one on teaching English as a second language).
    • Now on my second cup, work on PC related projects like: grant proposals, powerpoints for my upcoming lectures, develop content for media campaign or contacting/setting up meetings for potential collaborators to make project sustainable.
    • Do a couple of Duolingo lessons on Portuguese. After my experience I realize I should be doing more-leave me alone!
    • Run for 45-1:30. I have been running more than I ever have. I am averaging over 40 miles per week which is more than I was when training for Leadville. I even had a 75 mile week. Now let's see if that translates to a faster marathon...
    • Prepare dinner while listening to another Khan Academy lecture
    • Eat dinner while video chatting loved ones(apparently they like watching me eat as they always call when I'm eating... or I'm always eating)
    • Watch another Coursera lecture, finish up any project loose ends and do one more Duolingo lesson.
    • Read(under bug net).
    • Sleep
Following a schedule like Tolstoy's, without the creativity or epic novels, really is a great way to spend an evening. I am never have leisure time like this again. For this I am grateful. 
  • Plans: My family has been great about trying to meet up with me while I'm in Guyana. I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to Peru to meet my brother and sister, my parents in Barbados, and two trips with Kenny to the Caribbean. Having these intermittent trips definitely makes it easier with (less) homesickness. I also have plans to travel to the eastern portion of Guyana to help out with the Training of the Trainers program where I, with other volunteers, teach content to the incoming Peace Corps volunteers. Should be fun and a great way to see another part of the country. And I am excited about lecturing in Georgetown. Having plans and a schedule can make even the bleakest days better. It is darkest right before dawn and having a plan and schedule makes everything better. For this I am grateful. 
  • What I have when I return: Just like the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran being able to capture the joys of a ham and cheese sandwich under the oppression of the government. I am able to enjoy the small things like findings a place that sells non-instant coffee. But it also allows me to contrast Guyana with all the things I took for granted back in the US> By living here, I can go home and hopefully have an even greater appreciation for all the beauty of the US in general, and NH in particular. While I do miss them now, I know this time away will make me love them even more when I return. And for this I am grateful.
Hope you all can come up with your own lists.

Until next time,


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Get the Gratitude Attitude

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

I am reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi and there is a scene in it when the author is eating a forbidden meal with two of her students. She wrote: "Who would have thought that such a simple meal would appear to us like a kingly feast? We must thank the Islamic Republic for making us rediscover and even covet all these things we took for granted... parties, eating ice cream in public, falling in love, holding hands.. laughing in public, and reading Lolita in Tehran."

She's on to something there. Taking things for granted can have the insidious effect of diminishing our gratitude in our daily lives. And this is not a good thing. To be grateful for the simple things in life can be a path to happiness. There actually have been several studies looking at gratitude and its relationship to depression and well-being. It seems that the more grateful we are, the less depressed. Which seems obvious right? If you have things that make you grateful, you probably have less to be depressed about, right?

But not so fast. These studies looked at people in similar socioeconomic situations. Meaning they looked at two men both without jobs or social support or two women in high stress jobs making boat-loads. Now obviously they looked at many, many people but the researchers matched subjects and found that people who could find things to be grateful for were more happy and had better quality of life.

I'm not advocating for everyone to become Pollyanna's and going around like you have no problems. We all need to acknowledge and address our problems but what we can do is fine joy in living our lives. Even the worst life, in my opinion, is better than the alternative. If you take a moment to sit back and reflect I'm sure you can find things that you truly are grateful for.

Can't? Well, try one of these strategies:

  • It seems too simplistic, but be open to the world. What I mean by this, is allow awe and joy to reach you. Don't close yourself off to the world. If you are open to experiences, good ones will find you. 
    • Respect joy. Joy is not something that happens instead of something else important; it isn't a waste of time; it is, really, what time was invented for.

  • Meditation: One way to instill gratitude is through meditation-specifically loving kindness which involves habitual focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of your life and then extending that to others. For those of you who are religious, prayer(not rote memorized prayers but genuine expressions of thanks to the god of your choosing) also instills gratitude and happiness. 

  • Write a List: Write a list of 3 things that are good about your life or at least that have gone well recently. 
    •  Once you've got a hang of the list, try writing a gratitude journal where you go into more depth on how those good things have affected your life. 
      •     One study found that even doing this for 2 weeks can significantly help reduce depressive symptoms in people seeking psychological treatment!

  • Make someone else grateful: The world is full of kind people. If you can't find one, be one. Helping others can instill your own sense of gratitude and has been linked to self-esteem and happiness. 

  • Don't think one person or thing will make you happy. There are two ways to become unhappy: not getting what you want and getting what you want. If you make your gratitude and happiness based on achieving one thing(whether it's hinged to one relationship or attaining one goal), you are bound to be unhappy. Life is about diversity and sampling the full pallet of experiences. Let each new experience shape and expand your gratitude.

  • Get Outside. Nature itself has a calming effect on our affect, but also afford a plethora of opportunities to look around and see the awe-inspiring aspects of each of our (seemingly) mundane lives. 

  • Remember nothing lasts forever: Neither good or bad times will last forever and its their cycles that bring us joy and appreciation of life. If in a bad rut, know it will not last forever. 
    • Become an optimist. If times are bad, change your thinking. Optimists have an external attribution of bad times meaning they blame it on other things rather than some internal flaw.
Luckily, for most of us we can find gratitude without having worry about bombs dropping on us or corporeal punishment if our heads go uncovered. But we all could probably benefit from expressing ours, especially to the ones we love.

So thank you. I am blessed.

Until next time,