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Apart from furious paper writing, the past week has been almost completely defined for me by the craziness of the Icelandic volcano. Now that the chaos has subsided a bit, I thought I’d reflect on all the ways we’ve experienced the volcano’s effects over the past week.

  • If it weren’t for that stupid volcano, Jon and I would be enjoying time with his mom and grandma, here in Galway, at this very moment. They were due to arrive on Wednesday this past week, but their flight was cancelled. We are just sick about not being able to see them, but there was nothing anyone could do about it! We are slightly consoled by the fact that we’ll be home in the US in just about two months. But we are missing both Cindy and Vanesse this week!
  • We had one unexpected guest for a night, which was a pleasant surprise! A friend of mine from Northwestern, Robert, got stuck in Ireland for almost a week. We hadn’t seen each other since graduation, so it was really great to catch up face to face. I got to show off my beautiful adopted hometown and hear more about Robert’s life in Los Angeles. Robert is a budding travel writer/movie maker, and is documenting his epic Europe adventure (and other travels) here. Check it out – he’s hilarious! – and I’m sure he will be a household name someday.
  • Michael (my fellow Mitchell scholar/dear friend in Galway) got to spend a whole extra week with his visiting friend, Ryan, while he was in travel purgatory here in Ireland. Poor Ryan was the best man in a wedding which took place yesterday, and worked so hard to get home in time for it. He ended up getting a flight that would bring him home to Chicago just in the nick of time… so we trust that he eventually made it!
  • One (of many) sad local stories we heard: An older gentleman in Ballybofey turned 80 last weekend. He was born in England but settled in Ireland. To celebrate his big day, he had all of his relatives flying in from England and elsewhere: kids, grandkids, brothers, sisters, cousins. Everyone. Of course, all flights were cancelled and no one could come. Apparently, he held the party anyway, but was devastated that his most dear friends and family were an island away. Breaks your heart just thinking about it!
  • The market for flights has been all messed up ever since the volcano. Jon still needs to buy his one-way flight home, and the prices have jumped pretty significantly – we’ll have to wait for them to drop a bit. And Ryanair has used this as an opportunity for a big promotion – over the weekend they advertised dozens of flights at only 3 euros each way!

All in all, it’s been a pretty crazy, surreal week. Full of stories about the strange ways that this volcano (and by extension, air travel) has affected our daily lives. It has brought people together in unexpected ways (seeing Robert again!) but also kept people apart (Cindy and Vanesse). And it has reminded us that, although we’ve been able to use technology to do some pretty amazing things, Mother Nature is still boss.

It seems that lately alot of good things have been happening to bad people. Corrupt politicians get to stay in office; failed businessmen get bonuses; loud, self-important media personalities get million-dollar book deals; warlords get paid off. And the good person – hardworking, humble, kind, honest – finishes second, just a step behind everyone else.

However, the recent successes of two friends challenge this reality and give me hope.

Tom Lee, a 2006 Northwestern graduate, got a big break last month when his photos for a story on the tuna fishing industry were used on the cover of the November 9 TIME Magazine. I met Tom while working on the Global Engagement Summit in 2005. Tom took photos for the Summit and was instrumental in the creation of the OpenShutter project – an annual student art project that seeks to challenge the stereotypical narratives we use to talk about ‘other’ people and places. I always cherished the time I spent with Tom. He exuded a combination of raw talent and down-to-Earth manor that I had never quite encountered before. You never hear Tom talk about his many awards or accomplishments. His interest is in listening and learning from whoever he’s with. He can talk to an amateur photographer – or someone like me with virtually no artistic sensibilities – and get genuinely excited about the incites they have to share about the topic of photography. In so doing, he makes you feel legitimate and equal. Tom is that kind of good person that you want to succeed, not just because he’s your friend, but because it gives you a sense that there is some justice in the world.

Matthew Baum is someone I’m just recently getting to know, but who invokes the same sort of sentiments in me that Tom does. Matt is a current Mitchell Scholar with Lauren that studied mollecular and cellular biology at Yale and initiated research that led to an important discovery in the field of Fragile X syndrome and the transformation of short-term memories into long-term memories. In his spare time he is a published artist and was captain of Yale’s wrestling team. But, meeting Matt, you would never know these things about him. He carries himself with a humility and humor that makes you feel welcomed, not threatened…no matter who you are or where you’re from. Last week Matt was awarded a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. In all its preoccupation with status and the self-promotional, its heartening to know that the Rhodes felt attracted to someone like Matt.

If people like Matt and Tom are allowed to hold positions of leadership in the world over the next several decades, there is reason to hope.

the quad at NUI Galway

the quad at NUI Galway

Jon and I joke around often that we are currently in our junior/senior year of Life. For most of the last 25 years of our lives, we’ve been in school and have used the institution of school to make sense of ourselves and how we fit into the world.

My first year after Northwestern, the first time in a long time that I was no longer a student, was liberating and scary at the same time. No longer any institution looking over my shoulder, no longer any graded assessment, no longer a map of what comes next. I worried at the time that I would never get over my time at Northwestern; that my whole life would be a constant reflection back to my undergraduate days. Luckily, I found out that that wasn’t the case, and I happily proceeded to live a life without Northwestern at its center.

After a year at the Interfaith Youth Core, and a year in Uganda, I was happily a “real person” in the “real world” who had a sense of balance, if not direction.

And then, I became a student again. This year, like the majority of years of my life, school is at the center. However, I’ve been surprised at how much my two years out of school have influenced me. First of all, my desire for balance is pretty high, much higher than it ever was in college. Secondly, I find myself to be much more serious about getting work and reading done. I really value the chance to spend time on academic reading and to think critically again.  And thirdly, I find myself much less adept at actually getting my work and reading done. My time out of school has made me a slower reader and a MUCH slower writer. Thankfully, I really enjoy the material that I get to read about, write about, and discuss in class with my peers. Otherwise, I’d really be struggling!

So, it is with frustration and procrastination that I write this blog on a chilly Thursday morning. I’m sure after a couple more months practice, I will remember how it is I managed student life for all those years. I’ll let you know when I figure it out!

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Last weekend we traveled to Hoima District in northwestern Uganda to visit two friends (Sean and Katherine) from Northwestern who are living there for the year to teach high school science. Lauren and I have played host to them a few times in Kampala, so this time it was our turn!

Although we didn’t know each other well at Northwestern, the four of us have gotten close this year. Shared experiences will do that. In addition to living in Uganda and loving euchre (best card game ever), Sean and Katherine also recently got engaged…so we have more than a little bit in common.

We spent the weekend learning about their daily life in a rural area. They are staying in an old brick homestead built by Europeans that started a nearby vocational school in the 1960s. Its in a village named Munteme about 40 minutes from Hoima Town. To a much greater extent than Lauren and I, Sean and Katherine are truly fending for themselves. They have no electricity or running water and grow much of their own food in gardens they tilled themselves. During our short visit we planted some carrots, read alot, visited their school, played euchre, and toured the surrounding area. Their plot of land buts up against a beautiful forrest where chimps can be seen from time-to-time.

On the ride back to Kampala I reflected on the different path Sean and Katherine selected for their year here in comparison to Lauren and I. Unlike us, they have planted themselves in one small rural setting for the duration…working consistently with the students in their small school. They will leave Uganda understanding the daily life of the rural poor in Hoima and knowing they made a small difference in the lives of several dozen children. Lauren and I, on the other hand, have moved all over the country doing “back-end” policy advocacy and organization capacity building work that has a much less tangible feel. And, we have done so while enjoying the perks of Munaku, which include pretty regular electricity and water, and a proximate grocery store with all the essentials.

This isn’t to say that I regret the path we chose. But, I was certainly impressed with our friends in Hoima!

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Welcome to our blog! Follow along with us as we travel and experience life as a couple of 20-somethings - with all its ups and downs. We hope to post photos, short videos, stories about our daily life and not-so-daily adventures, and thoughts on what’s going on in the world.

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