I Love You, So Go.

Hey world,

My boyfriend recently announced to our team that he'll be leaving work here before October to pursue a life elsewhere. I couldn't be upset, because I've known for months. Within two months of dating, he looked at me and shared his truth. I imagine it was hard to share, probably as much as it was to hear. So at first, I pretended I didn't hear it.

A few months later, he brought it up again. "I can't stay", he told me. He had a calling to go elsewhere - to try something new, to live somewhere else. I understood, because I have that feeling too sometimes. I couldn't blame him; I know that it's really hard to fight. Once you begin to taste the world, it's really really hard to remain stationary (that's probably why I got a dog...and why I try to travel so much).

I also couldn't fault him for following his own path -- I've spent my entire adult life forging mine, and following it wherever it's led me. So, I loved him anyways. 

It's one of the best decisions I've made since I moved here. 

Now that his departure feels imminent and isn't just words, it's a hard pill to swallow. My heart will surely hurt in his absence; in just a year, he has permeated my life so deeply, so quickly. 

But then I focus my energies on this Maya Angelou quote, and I am lifted. 


B, I am so proud of you for following your heart. It's no small feat to follow your path, even if you don't exactly know where it's taking you. I love you (and I would like to be near you), but for now, you must go.

xoxo,
M

How I've Ended Up Writing My Masters in Cambodia

Hey world, 

A couple of months ago, I had the brilliant idea to use my last two weeks of vacation from Year One at work to write my thesis. This way, I could stop paying NYU to remain enrolled, get that fancy piece of paper to go in my office someday, and begin focusing my efforts on repaying my massive loan from said opportunity.

After pouring over websites and blogs, and imagining the environment which I thought would be most conducive for two weeks of intense reading & writing – I landed on Greece. Just think: bowls of feta and olives, royal blue water, evenings at the Parthenon...it was perfect.

…Until it went belly-up, flights between islands increased, and any apartment I wanted to stay in was upwards of $50 clams a night…

Back to the drawing board.

Then came this vision: me, on a bicycle, roaming temples and doing yoga. Me, poolside with a mojito, thinking through important world issues. Me, on a balcony, reading books & articles, and typing ferociously. Me, maximizing "vacation" and "productivity" to the absolute max. 

Basically, I wanted to be Elizabeth Gilbert. And yes, this meant returning to the OG homeland – Southeast Asia.

After a lot of deliberation of where I wanted to go (everywhere) and where was least tempting to not do work, I decided that my best bet was Cambodia.


Cambodia is known for Angkor Wat, and the numerous temple complexes that live within Siam Reap’s walls. I mapped out a week here to allow for slow exploration in the mornings, and readings / delicious food for the rest of the day/night.

I read in a few blogs that it’s worth heading southwest to the water too, so I booked a puddle jumper to Sihanoukville, where I’ll be near the beach for a couple of days. From there, Kampot, which everyone swears is THE hot new place to veg, do short trips into rice fields, pepper farms and salt flats, swim in the river, and relax. That’s where I’ll be in the writing zone.

And finally, I’ll be flying out of Phnom Penh, where I’ll round out my finished (!?!?!?) thesis with a nice dinner & drinks, and perhaps a studio photo shoot to replace walking across the stage. 

Can you find my cities on here?


If you were paying attention, you’ll know that I just mentioned 4 cities. In 16 days. I’ve also referred to completing a 60-80 page Masters Thesis, which I have done 0 pre-reading, research, or writing for. BUT I did bring 8 books, have 25 related articles downloaded and ready to go (and 4 swimsuits...because a girl needs it all).

The challenge now, is to have it all. To bake the cake, frost the cake, and eat it too.

Who says it’s impossible? The word itself says I’m(crazybecauseIthinkthisis)possible.

Send words my way. And well-wishes. I’ll be keeping you updated.

xoxo,
M

Doing What You Love: One Year In

Hey World,

 Life is passing, adventures are happening, and I haven't been taking you with me. To be honest, it's a bit selfish. Since Christmas, I've still not shared my pictures from Italy. Or Sri Lanka. Or my recent safaris. My dog's grown bigger, I've turned 25, my dad came to visit, and I ended up delaying my June trip until now. 

I'm 25. Twenty-five. Quarter of a century! And all I can think about (three months later) is: can it get any better than this?

In the past year, so many things have fallen into place. I have a wonderful job. And a beautiful goofball dog. An amazing man. Memories from around the world. 

"You are the books you read, the films you watch, the music you listen to, the people you meet, the dreams you have, the conversations you engage in. 
You are what you take from these. 
You are the sound of the ocean, the breath of fresh air, the brightest list and the darkest corner. You are a collective of every experience you have had in your life. 
You are every single day. 
So drown yourself in a sea of knowledge and existence. Let the words run through your veins and let the colors fill your mind."

---

The last weekend of July, I celebrated my one year anniversary of living and working in Tanzania (round two). I took the weekend to relax, read, and reflect on what my first year in my position and my town meant to me.

The growth – both personally and professionally – I have experienced in the last year is unfathomable.

Personally, I have dedicated my efforts to maintaining a work-life balance, finding peace with my life in Iringa, and sending as much time loving up on Bruce Wayne (ie: making sure his ribs stop showing) as possible. He’s mastered a few key words, and continues to prove that cupcakes are in fact his favorite food. 

Family photo outtakes
I’ve found love here with my BF, and we too are coming up on one year together. It’s refreshing to be in a relationship where we both committed to honesty, rational thinking, and compromise from the very beginning. Never would I have thought I would look forward to watching SciFi episodes or eating chickpeas, but I guess love does that to you. He probably never thought he’d be in so many selfies or have to cook minced meat for the bear-dog instead of going on a date; so clearly we’re both open to change. Also, he makes a delicious buffalo sauce from scratch, so he’s a keeper.   


At work, I went from hardly managing myself to hiring a team of 50, and together, led the strategy & analysis that brought more than 20,000 farmers onto contract –surpassing my personal goal of 18,500, and well poised to double our current client base. I revamped and rolled out a new contract system, which had 99.8% accuracy (overall). My questionable trial to serve farmers better by seeing them less is proving to work – the district is on track (and currently surpassing) other districts in re-enrollment, repayment, and farmer knowledge retention. I continue to tackle new development points, and look forward to all of the challenges that my new position will bring.

And now, this one-year anniversary comes with an exciting announcement – I  will be moving into a senior management position by September 1st, and taking over the entire Field Operations (team of almost 150 individuals) to serve this season’s clients (estimate: 18-20,000 farmers). Talk about icing on the cake.

High-level Field Team: Family of Leaders

All the while, I've managed to also explore Malawi, Italy, Vatican City, Turkey (Istanbul), and Sri Lanka – as well as four of Tanzania’s best national parks, in the last 12 months. I’m currently en route to Cambodia to write my thesis; and eagerly looking forward to my state-side return come December.

I used to pine away for the sun to set at the end of each day in Muyenzi and the weekend to bring me closer to community, normality, and the mark of a new week. That feeling was similar in New York City. There, I was a survivor. Here, I pray that the week doesn’t sweep by me without my noticing again. I count time in brackets of weeks and months; which makes dates like January or next August seem just around the corner.

The truth is, I love what I do. It’s cliché, but it’s also true, and I want you to know that it’s very much possible to have it all: satisfying work, satisfying relationships, and time to travel (except money…but I’m young!) My work is challenging, but it is also insanely fulfilling. I’ve used my vacation time wisely, my weekends to my advantage, and am grateful for friends and a BF who never turn down the chance for an adventure.

I’m going to (slowly) get back to sharing the many paths I’ve explored in this past year –  as I simultaneously look ahead and plan the next few adventures.

xoxo,


M

You Cannot Unwrap My Love

Hey World,

I came home today and saw that the guard at my house tried to unwrap my love. 

---

My guard was probably walking around the yard, and saw a snatch of color near the wall, under that shade tree. That little piece probably caught her eye, and made her think twice. She then probably saw an opportunity, and as the endorphins rushed to her brain, she tore at the ground. 

She probably couldn't believe what she found. This beautiful kanga, with some stains on it, there for the taking. She probably spent hours washing it, restoring it to its beautiful self. 

Then, she probably brought it to the tailor, where they made a skirt from it. She probably loved the pattern, which is why she brought it to work today, and hung it on the line to get dried by the sun.


---

 She probably doesn't know that we spent that afternoon reading and snuggling in the backyard, that kanga stacked among the rest we laid on. She probably doesn't know that it was my favorite kanga that I bought 4 years ago on my first trip to East Africa. She probably doesn't know that I don't have a single picture of you with it either, despite the many times you snuggled into it's polka dots and made yourself a nest for the night. She probably doesn't know how it became so loved, so soft to the touch. 


She probably doesn't know that as soon as I realized you were dead, I ran straight to this kanga and draped it over you. She probably doesn't know that it brought just a touch of comfort to me as the tears flowed to know that your body would never be separated from this love-worn swath of cloth. 

She probably doesn't know that seeing that kanga as her nice new skirt on the line immediately brought me to tears. 

---

She doesn't know its story. And she doesn't know ours. 

She may have unwrapped you -- I wish I protected your haven better. I hope your resting place is still comfortable. I hope you can forgive her. But she cannot unwrap the shroud of love I buried with you as well. 

One cannot unwrap my love for you. For that love is sacred, that love is special, and that love is sealed. It is intangible, it is immutable, and it is not for the taking. 

She shall not affect my feelings. Right now, I am angry and upset and sad and torn and remorseful. I wish I had the words to explain to her how thinking of you still makes me feel full and empty at the same time. I wish I knew how to say that she could have stolen any kanga in the world, just not that one. I wish I could say I forgive her, but right now I can't. 

But I will, one day I will. And I will wrap you again in my love, and try to protect you from a world that sometimes I just cannot make sense of.

 And as always,  I will forever carry you in my heart. 

xoxo,
M


My Dog Might Actually Be A Cat

Hey world,

So...I know you met Bruce Wayne a few months ago. He's now almost 9 months old (6 months living with me!), and has grown like a mostly-bones-no-fat kind of weed. 

But, as he's developed and grown into his personality from the sleepy, indifferent little pup I picked him up as, it's become more and more obvious...I think my dog is actually a cat.

BW - in all of his glory.

Here's 5 reasons why BatDog might actually be CatDog...

1. He can stretch like Gumby.


Seriously -- isn't that unnatural?! This is a regular occurrence. 

Exhibit B:


2. He is indifferent to most things happening around him.


This was taken when he realized I creeped up on his snooze spot -- a nest of dried leaves in our backyard. 

Exhibit B:


We are on a walk, and while the goat looks terrified, BW didn't even notice!


3. He is always scheming ways to come inside.


At the window, at the door; if you're nearby, he's right there with you, trying to get in. He's now even taller than when this photo was taken, so his snout fits right through the bars!

Clearly, Bruce is not an outside dog. 


4. He puts serious effort into sleeping. 


Here, I am watching a riveting performance on this season's The Voice. Meanwhile, BW is snoring away. At one point, he even used his paw to pause my show...probably so his z's wouldn't be as interrupted!



He also puts a lot of effort into waking up...there's stretching and yawning and whining.
I usually get out of the bed before he is even awake!

5. He stringently believes lick-baths are the only path to cleanliness.


Just look at that face! I had just did the worst thing a cat/dog-mom can do...give him a nice warm water bath! Following this, he ran outside and scrubbed himself with every article of dirt he could find.


But regardless of his animal species, he's a fantastic pet!

xoxo,
M

Checking In: Two Thirds of A Year

Dear World,

It's almost the end of March -- how did this happen to us? I could have sworn last week I was ringing in the New Year with my new pooch Bruce Wayne, and the day before yesterday I was celebrating Valentine's Day with friends in Zanzibar. Now St. Patrick's Day has come and gone, and Easter is just weeks away!

Zanzibar, 2015
At the end of the week, I'll be celebrating eight months in Tanzania. 
Eight months!


It's amazing. I honestly can't believe how quickly time has slipped through my fingers. And so many amazing things have happened; it's hard to put them into words. 

I mean, I have tried. Like this time. And then again here. But, here's where I'm at now:

Iringa feels like home. Not a forever home, but a perfect-for-now home. The stores are familiar, I have friends and acquaintances in the community, a social calendar that makes me content, and a BF that gives me long-armed hugs when I have the 24-stomach bug. 

 At my house, I have Bruce Wayne to shower with love and affection, and recently moved into a bigger bedroom that boasts both a comfier mattress and a prime location for my fan to keep the mosquitoes away.

Look at him; is he not the cutest dog with four legs you've ever seen?

Work projects continue to challenge me to problem-solve, test my strengths, and grow as a professional. They also satiate my desire to serve our clients better, and allow me to produce results/achievements I'll be able to point to for years to come.

Fun trip to an erosion site with some of my field team members!

And best of all, the next four months hold a lot of exciting things -- which I am equally excited to share with you all.


In the next month: the BF and I will be journeying to Sri Lanka for two weeks of adventure + exploration...starting TODAY.

Only 2,900 miles away!

In the next two months: I will turn 25 (EEK!) and my dad is planning on visiting me for the first time in East Africa!

In the next three months: I will follow through on a longstanding promise of a 10 day pilgrimage/hike as a memorial to my grandfather; hopefully completing the Mt. Blanc circuit in Switzerland/France/Italy (but also open to other 10 day treks around the world)! 

In the next four months: I'll host my mother on her first visit to Tanzania, and celebrate my ONE YEAR anniversary at my job, and this chapter of my life abroad!


And that's really where I am. I am still living the life I dreamed of. I am continuing to chip away at my goals for 2015, and to push myself to be the best iteration of me I can be. The first 1/2 of 2015 has had, and will continue to have, so many great things in the cards, I can't help but remain impressed with the stamina of good karma that has come my way. 

What has the last 2/3rds of your year look like?

xoxo,
M



Meet Mr. Wayne: My New #1 Man

Dear World,

Today is the two-month anniversary of my adoption of Bruce Wayne.

On our initial 10 hour car ride home -- Hi Bruce! 

It was a hard decision to make, but yes,  I have another dog.
 And yes, he is named after Batman (thanks to the BF). He also goes by #BatDog.

 I needed a dog with a tough-guy name, and what's more tough than an homage to Bruce Lee, Bruce Willis, and Batman? Not much. So, Bruce Wayne it is. He looks a bit dopey, but he also looks 100% like a survivor -- exactly the kind of dog I need.



Bruce is a wonderfully lazy counterpart. He enjoys snoozing on anything and everything, and the occasional walk/jog around the neighborhood. But mostly snoozing...here are just a handful (of many) photographed testaments of that:








Bruce hates baths / smelling like apples and being near moving vehicles (phew!), loves bones and having his belly scratched, and is indifferent about: visitors, goats, cows, being outside, eating people food, seeing himself in the mirror, and taking pictures with me.


Loves. 

Loves. 



Loves. 

Meh.

He is as dark as night, with big paws, too-long legs, and floppy ears. He's almost doubled in size/length in the past 60 days, and I expect him to outgrow his cousins within the next two.

Then: the week before I picked him up (when we first met)

Now: legs for days!



He's almost big enough to go on adventures -- stay tuned (and keep snoozing).



xoxo,
M

#36HoursInTheBul: Exactly What I Needed

Dear World,

Back in December, I flew to Italy to celebrate Christmas abroad with my mother. However, on the way there, I booked myself an extended layover in Istanbul - 36 hours to be exact - to try to knock everything off of this to-do list I put together. 

After my semi-failed attempt at traveling alone (while enjoying it) in Malawi back in September, it's safe to say I was extremely hesitant about trying a bite of solo travel just a few short months later. However, I couldn't have been more pleased with my experience!

Istanbul is a magical city. A large majority of the sites are packed close together, and between walking and their metro/train system, getting around is an absolute breeze. I was able to accomplish everything I wanted to from my to-do list (but didn't do them all because I exchanged out some things!)

In Istanbul, I fell in love with ceilings. And walls. And murals. The architecture is absolutely stunning; some of my favorite moments were just soaking in views like this:


And the food! You might have noticed I did have a meal at Burger King (old habits die hard) but I  ate the rest of my meals in tiny hole-in-the-wall establishments, which provided me with insanely delicious food without a ton of other tourists around.

I also confirmed that the places you stay when you travel alone can make/break your experience. I met two fantastic guys at my hostel, and while we spent most of our time following our own itineraries around the city, it was really nice to have people to share meals with, chat about life over evening beers, and wish you well for the next portion of your journey. 


Would I go back to Istanbul? 
In a heartbeat. I might even consider living there for a stint...


but for now, there are so many other great places to explore. See you later, Turkey.


xoxo,
M



PS: In case you missed it, my Istanbul photo diary is here

36 Hours in Istanbul: Part One

Hey World,

I'm still working on a text-based post about my time in Istanbul, but I also wanted to share some of the 300+ photos I took while I was there (and captions to help)!

Enjoy :)

xoxo,
M

------------

First stop? Istanbul's Spice bazaar!


Lunchtime snack: Kunefe (fried dessert cheese with ground pistachios on top)


Grand Bazaar!

Found a 'secret' Han for lunch! :)

Yup - turkish meatballs (kofta)!


And then the temptation drew me near...

But I opted for a sidewalk Turkish tea instead!

Sunset outside the Blue Mosque

...and freezing outside of Hagia Sophia

Which led to a breakdown of my abilities to resist...#travelfail

A walk across Galata Bridge

Famous seafood junkboat-restaurants near Galata Bridge

Hagia Sophia at sunrise

A furry man of faith at the Blue Mosque

Hagia Sophia - tickets purchased!

Here begins my obsession with their obsession with beautiful ceilings. 

Note to travelers: don't have people wearing gloves take your picture for you. 

Inside Hagia Sophia






Ticket to: Basilica Cistern

The best rotisserie chicken I've had in years! (Spice Bazaar food stall find)

Tour of the Blue Mosque!


Ticket to: Topkapi Palace




But really guys, these ceilings!

The most loaded baked potato ever = genius. 

Mr. Baklava at Hafiz Mustafa. 

Hafiz Mustafa - dessert for my last dinner!