Tag Archives: challenges

On Loneliness

On Loneliness

I’ve done a lot of contemplating and research on this particular post – starting in Afghanistan – I’ve written and erased and rewritten ”several” times; suffice it to say, my approach and conclusion from what I was first going to write have completely changed. Initially, I looked at the question whether or not loneliness was a choice.  But that was the wrong question, the wrong approach.  I have come to believe that loneliness is no more a choice than a sunburn is when out in the sun for too long. It’s an effect…as is the combination of the sun and lack of sunscreen. Let me explain.

Loneliness sucks. It’s a black, empty void, and a longing for love and attention and community and otherness whose absence glares and taunts us to a point of near torture. I know we’ve all felt the pang of loneliness, and I simply don’t believe someone who tells me they’ve never been lonely. People will do anything to stop being lonely – I know, I’ve been one of them and I’m not proud of the levels to which I’ve stooped, and the morals I’ve sacrificed for even a few moments of feeling less lonely. It’s like what they say about people with motorcycles…there are those who have fallen, and those who have yet to fall. So it is with loneliness…but maybe after a closer look at it, our “fall” won’t have to be so hard. 

After months of research on the topic, the most helpful explanation of loneliness was in a TED lecture on Youtube.  In his talk “The lethality of loneliness,” (from where the two images on the right were taken) John Cacioppo looks at loneliness as any other physical response and early warning system our bodies enact when some sort of adjustment is required. Our bodies feel thirst when it needs more hydration; we feel hunger when our bodies need nourishment; we feel pain when we need to protect and heal our bodies. In the same way, we feel loneliness when our lives need a social adjustment.  It’s a physical response to let us know that we’re lacking something – in this case it is more community and less isolation.  

We are a social species and isolation is like a sickness to us – our bodies let us know when we’re reaching its limit through loneliness.  In the same way babies die without human touch, we suffer and wither from isolation from others. Thus just like it would be ridiculous to ignore thirst and treat it like it doesn’t exist, so it is with turning a blind eye to loneliness.  It’s real and is not something to get used to or ignore. Our bodies are warning us that we need an adjustment – we need to fix this state and put ourselves right again.

At any given point, 40% of people feel lonely…yet it remains a hush-hush topic of embarrassment that we think if we ignore will go away. Studies now show that loneliness can actually contribute to an earlier death. In other words, this embarrassing feeling is not to be swept under the carpet and treated like a nuisance that will fix itself. Our souls need – on a survival scale – to be social with other souls…preferably other nice, kind and funny souls. Being lonely is as normal as being thirsty – and should be treated as a sign or symptom and not a blemish. Just like the image says: recognize the symptom, understand why it’s there and what it means (aka this blog), and respond by reaching out to someone. Reaching out to just one person will help. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be a little more honest and responsive with this uncomfortable feeling? Maybe now we can pick up the damn phone and call a friend…oh yeah and Facebook doesn’t count!

Scary Day

Scary Day


I’ve woken up to the shaking of a nearby explosion. I’ve been lost in dark alleys in the wrong parts of town in strange countries (don’t tell my mom that one). I’ve been caught unprepared in a blitz snowstorm on the top of a remote mountain, stranded on another mountain in a severe lightning storm (the metal in the toes of my boots actually smoked from being so hot), and was lost underwater in the hull of a sunken ship. Each of those were moments where I was scared and even if just for a moment, feared for my life. But nothing prepared me for the sort of fear I experienced a few days ago. I was driving up to Denver getting ready to fly out to Los Angeles the next day to visit my grandpa – incidentally my most favorite person in the universe – when I got a call from my OB/GYN (aka baby doctor). She explained calmly that my last ultrasound – which disappointingly didn’t reveal the baby’s sex – did reveal an inconsistency in the heart which was an indication of Down Syndrome and that I needed another blood test to confirm whether that was or wasn’t the case…but that it could wait until I got back from my trip. I struggled to be as polite as possible while I tried to process what she was saying and still keep the car between the white lines on the highway. After she hung up, the brunt of what she just said started to hit. I may be looking at being a single mom of a baby with Down Syndrome. Did I just hear that right?! At first the tears started slowly, but within a couple miles, they turned into steady streams and were quickly accommodated with loud and uncontrollable sobs and hyperventilating. Can I just take a moment to beg healthcare professionals out there NEVER to give less than positive news to patients WHILE THEY ARE DRIVING?? I couldn’t breath, couldn’t think, and couldn’t see – because of the tears filling both eyes and the fact that my one eye can still only open about halfway from the recent surgery.

What I just can’t wrap my brain around is: what if it’s true? What if I’m going to be a single mom with a challenged baby? HOW THE HELL DO I DO THAT? Since that phone call, I’ve been more scared than any other life-threatening moment in my life. It’s more than just me here on the line now – it’s a whole new person depending on me – me the sporadic, fly by the seat of my pants, try anything once, risk-taking “mommy” who is now scared shitless into a stagnant state of dread. The only answer that keeps coming to me is, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” Thanks a lot, subconscious, that’s all you got? Not, “this too shall pass,” or, “you are only given what you can handle.” Nope – no such reassuring thoughts – just “I can’t do it.” I’ve had an unending stream of prayers that consists of one sentence…”Please let this baby be healthy. Please let this baby be healthy. Please let this baby be healthy.” I know in my head there are resources to help people like me to adjust to a special needs baby like that, but I just don’t think I’m that strong.

Incidentally, I turned around and went back to the doctor’s office to get the test done. I’m in LA now with my grandpa and trying to think about other things until the results come in a few more days. The Price is Right is on with volume level 50 – not exactly a way to clear the mind from troubling thoughts – or maybe it’ll turn out to be some untapped sound therapy I’ve never tried.

The truth of the whole matter is this potential reality is so big that I can’t wrap my brain around it – not yet. I suppose it’s good self-advice in that we humans can and often do drive ourselves crazy with fears over what may or may not happen. If I were to leave my thoughts to their own demise, I’d be laying on the floor in a pool of my own saliva mumbling and paralyzed from fear. I’ve often heard the saying that 90% of what people fear in life never happens. Now if I can just internalize and pause with a little patience before I have to face whatever lies ahead. It’s not ignoring fear; it’s letting that fear sit next to me but not consume me. It’s breathing in one breath at a time and when I feel shaky and unsure and scared, to steady myself until I know just what my new reality will be. This is definitely a life lesson in the works – one we’re all faced with. Once again I find myself on the stage of life – my setting and obstacles may be a little different than other people’s, but we’re all dealt the same big lessons. And you know what? This too shall pass…written appropriately with fear tears filling my eyes…breathe, Amy, breathe.

New Beginnings

New Beginnings


I have a lot to reconcile in life, but I’ve always learned from my mistakes and somehow I’ve kept going, pushing through the challenges and obstacles in life. I have come to believe that strength is in every one of us…that inner push that comes from something so unconscious in us that we don’t even know it’s there until it’s called upon.

I went to Afghanistan in search of something…a new start, some adventure, insight into this 12-year war…maybe it was a little of all of those. In many ways I identified with Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat Pray Love when she went off on a journey in search of living a fuller, more meaningful life…of course she chose Italy feasting on wine and pasta and I chose Afghanistan and war and barbed wire. Although her route was slightly more appealing, the missions were similar – to embark on a 1/3-life-crisis journey to reset and begin anew.

In Afghanistan I did find adventure, saw new lands, and met new friends, but my new start came in the most unexpected of ways. I was laying in a hospital bed shivering in a surgery gown waiting for surgery on my eye – an inexplicable infection – when a nurse came in with a funny look in her eyes. She explained that while I still needed surgery, I could no longer have pain medication due to the fact that I was pregnant. I was cold, in pain, and most of all, stunned in a state of segmented and incomplete thoughts except for the one clear memory from over a year prior when a doctor told me I would need science (fertility medicine or in-vitro fertilization) to get pregnant. I’m pretty sure my confused look urged the nurses to say something soothing, but all they managed to say was, “Congratulations!” In hindsight, a hard slap to the face and yelling “Surprise!” would have been so much better.

With an additional confirmation blood test, I went into eye surgery – only there had been an attack that day and I was low on the priority list for the operating room, so I got moved to the dental clinic. The doctor fumbled as he had no choice but to convert dental cleaning tools into surgical instruments for an eyelid. Without pain medication, I was alert and gripped the vinyl chair arms with all my strength to stay still as the doctor made incisions in my eyelid with the scalpel…or whatever he was using to cut. I felt tears streaming down my face, but I couldn’t tell whether they were from the shock of the news or the pain.

The doctor finally finished, patched up my eye, and sent me on my way. I was still in my one-eyed hazy shock on the helicopter ride back to my base unable to see the hills and mud huts below or even think past each successive minute. I got out of the helicopter when it landed, the deafening sound and wind coupled with my one eye fog made everything feel like a distant dream. I shuffled across the landing area to my tiny room, opened the door, and flung myself onto my bed for three days of crying. No food, no interaction, no work (they thought I was still up at the hospital), just crying. Have you ever cried for three straight days? It was a far cry (so to speak) from my strongest moment. I was confused, ashamed, regretful, angry and scared…and nowhere in all of that that could I even begin to reconcile a baby.

I always wanted to have a baby eventually with someone I loved, but I didn’t want one like this. The dad was not someone I was even in a relationship with, and I was suddenly looking at the reality of being a single mom. It’s taken me months and months to come to grips with this new beginning, this new journey. It’s only the start of a very new and scary and unknown journey, but it’s a start nonetheless.

I never pictured my life would turn out this way, but then again when DOES it go the way we plan? I’ve heard the saying more than once and have said it even more often, but if you wan to make God laugh, just tell him what you’re going to do tomorrow. I’m pretty sure He had a good laugh with me, and I had a few choice words for Him at first too. But my actions were clearly what leapfrogged me onto my new path and I couldn’t blame God or anyone else. Well, I could blame the dad, but as I’ve been reminded by friends when I’m all fired up, it takes two to tango.

Whether I agree with Mother Nature or not, this baby is coming – I find out tomorrow if it’s is a boy or a girl. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it, and I know I’ll probably stumble along the way as I’ve done in the past, but I’ve accepted that this is indeed my new beginning.

Go Easy on Yourself

Go Easy on Yourself


Well, I’m back in the “real world” – back from Afghanistan. I’ve been back for about two weeks. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking I’m still there and have to walk across the gravel to get to the bathroom, while other mornings I wake up and the whole thing just seems like one, big dream. I was just in Afghanistan for more a year – even saying that sounds strange. There’s such an influx of soldiers and civilians trying to leave the country right now that it took me nearly a week to get on a plane out of the country. Imagine being stuck in a US airport for a week – it’s almost unheard of. Now imagine that airport being in Afghanistan and looking more like a giant metal warehouse. It was NOT fun.

As I continue to process what I just went through, I would like to put together a sort of “lessons learned” write-up. As it is, I’m still adjusting back to this world. That seems to surprise people that it’s a challenge, but unless people have been there, they don’t understand the whole “adjusting” back into life here. As I was leaving Afghanistan, a friend gave me some advice that has turned out to be very wise. She said, “Don’t expect too much of yourself, and don’t make too many plans.” It’s pretty much the exact opposite of how we as Americans today try to live our lives…try harder and do more. But now I get it. As stressful as life was back in “A-Stan,” it was at its roots very simple. There was very little (ok NO) natural beauty, so gravel and metal connex boxes became my scenery. Daily decisions were nearly obsolete – I chose between eggs and fruit for breakfast, and chicken and beef for lunch. Now, I sit and look at green grass and nearly cry because it’s so beautiful. When I’m hungry, I go online and find a million possible recipes from which to choose, then I go to the grocery store to get dinner supplies and find I’m completely overwhelmed by the number of choices I have and decisions I have to make just to leave with one simple basket of food. All the “normal stuff” suddenly seems to take twice the effort and energy as it used to. So I repeat the advice given to me as my new mantra, “Don’t expect too much of myself, and don’t make too many plans.”

Maybe this is the approach we should always take with ourselves as we transition from one phase of life to another. Can you imagine how much more enjoyable life would be if we were this gentle and forgiving of ourselves all the time? Whatever that transition may be, we’re always going through them – a divorce, a new city, a new job, a death, a new child…life’s changes sometimes drag us along whether we want to go or not. Perhaps that change is easier to adjust to and more enjoyably processed if we ease up on our own expectations and take one day at a time until we’re comfortable on our new paths. I’m not saying run away from the change, I’m saying accept it gently and slowly. It’s a concept that is foreign to today’s world. Even as I looked for quotes, nearly all the quotes pertained to “be harder on yourself,” or “expect less of others and more of yourself.” I’m putting my fist down and calling for the exact opposite. If I expected more of myself right now, I’d crumble. Instead I’m going to treat myself like a little child and walk myself through this transition one day at a time, and one grocery store basket of food at a time. I will find my new comfort zone eventually, but I’m not going to demand that it be tomorrow. Consider it.

Waking to Shaking

Waking to Shaking

Getting jarred out of sleep in the darkness of early morning is disorienting, especially when it’s with a bang and a shaking bed. In those first few seconds, your mind sluggishly runs through the brainstorm of what it was…was that a knock on the door? No, I felt shaking. Was it an earthquake? No, I heard a bang. Did my roommate fall out of bed? Maybe that’s it. But then a few seconds go by and your mind has woken up a little more and the thought hits you, “No. That was an explosion.” I poked my head outside my door to see a bunch of other heads poking out of their rooms as we all witnessed a giant plume of black smoke rising up into the air from what looked like the other side of base. Then the sounds of gunfire from the same direction woke us up entirely. A firefight was happening between insurgents and whoever was trying to protect the base. We found out later it was less than a mile away but on another, smaller base…which housed all civilian contractors and local gate guards who died in the firefight.


I stayed in my office for the first part of the day because it’s a hardened shelter that would protect from any follow-on attacks, and the only information I could find was from a local internet news site. I made calls to other bases, but the scene was in such confusion that no one knew much of anything in those first couple hours.

All told, more than 15 people died in that attack yesterday morning…including at least 1 American and 1 Brit. As of the time I’m writing this, they are still digging bodies from the rubble, so there’s no final death count yet. A slew of injured civilians made their way over to my base throughout the day for temporary housing and medical assistance. One of the medics told me that a building 150 ft from the detonation caved in on a couple people, and they were able to survive by crawling through the debris and out of the wreckage. Pictures showing the 60m-deep and 140m-wide crater at the blast site with mangled metal and body parts made it clear how those guys who crawled out could be considered a miracle. The doc on my base who helps with my calluses from working out (yes, makes me feel pretty insignificant to say that) spent most the day saving those who could be saved, and writing death certificates for those who couldn’t. This morning he told me good heartedly that it gave him a chance to practice his French because France would not repatriate the French bodies without proper autopsies and embalming done, so he had to get on the phone with France and figure out just what they needed.

By late afternoon, I made my way over to coach my Crossfit class to discover that our gym space was being occupied with the civilians who had come over from base that got attacked for temporary living. They looked haggard and drained and in no mood for my questions as to who they were and what the heck was going on. The guy who initially snapped at me when I first came in and snorted “Crossfit isn’t here today,” eventually warmed up when I explained I was the coach and we’d be happy to move our workout outside if he didn’t mind me taking a white board and marker. It was a no brainer – again – I felt pretty insignificant even coming there for Crossfit after the day they’d just endured.

At the end of the day, there was no consolation to take, no lessons learned, no takeaway that I could offer to my classes of athletes, myself, or my friends and family who read my blog. Nothing. I can only hope that on days like tomorrow, the 4th of July, we can come together and celebrate the birth and strength and freedoms of our own wonderful country, and share in the festivities with all the foreign soldiers here next to us. I hear there’s going to be a dunk tank. …which has me wondering…did they build something like that over here?…or stranger yet, did someone pack one up and send it over? Either way, I’m going to go check out a general hopefully get dunked, and laugh and start again.

Relationally Challenged

Relationally Challenged

I’m back to blogging – it feels like having coffee with a long-lost friend…who’s never really all that long-lost if they’re a true friend…you just pick up where you left off.

My biggest challenge here so far in this country (aside from the month-long sinus infection and now a staph infection diagnosed today – are you kidding me?!) has been my gender. The simple fact that I have a V and not a P has proved to be quite a troubling issue…and it’s not even because I’m in a country where women are looked down upon and expected to rarely seen and never heard. It’s being a woman here on base among the majority of male soldiers and contractors. Let’s tackle this one challenge at a time.

First is the gossip. As a woman, I stick out. There aren’t that many of us here, and as such, we’re noticed for every single move we make. For example, I had made a friend with a contractor here on base – let’s call him Jack – and asked if he’d like to grab coffee one day at the chapel (because the chapel has two Keurig machines available for a nice cup of joe at all times). We sat out on the small chapel porch out front in the sun and “talked story” (Hawaiian term for shared stories, laughed and forgot about work) for a little bit. I had such a nice time, I kept asking if he’d join me for coffee and it became a daily routine. I asked the guys in my office if they’d like to join for 10am coffee, and sometimes some would. Either way, I knew at 10am I got a mini break while refueling on some caffeine. This past week, I ate lunch with a Croatian soldier, and afterwards he was warned by some other person on this base to be careful where I was concerned because I was Jack’s. Hold up there, I’m whose?? If I play ping pong with someone, if I play pool with someone, if I go running with someone, it’s noticed and talked about in gossip form.

Second are the wives and girlfriends back home. Because their boyfriends and husbands have a female coworker (that would be me), they’re suspicious of any and all interaction I have with them. If I post a funny comment on one of their Facebook (because they all post funny comments to each other’s Facebooks), they immediately get the third degree…”Who’s this AMY chick posting stuff on your page?! What’s she like? Why is she posting to your page?” There was one dramatic instance where one of the guys was having a bit of a struggle with his girlfriend and I suggested he stop writing passive aggressive things to her and for a whole week just write nothing but nice and loving emails and see how she responded. He said he didn’t have any ideas, so I wrote him an email with suggestions on loving things he could write to her. WELL, his girlfriend hacked his email account a few days later and what did she find but my email with all my suggestions. She spent the next two days yelling at him over phone calls about confiding in the AMY GIRL, and since then (about a week ago) he no longer talks to me anymore. I can eat with these guys, work out with them, and work with them for over twelve hours each and every day, but there’s a subtle and constant reminder – I’ll never really be one of the guys here.

Third is lack of women. I really have come to value female friendship over the course of my life…it’s one of those essential elements we as women need for a healthy life. You can try to argue with me that you are happier with men as friends, but I can argue right back with you because I used to be one of those girls, and I can tell you that life is richer and deeper and brighter with strong female friendships. I have one growing friendship with a female Croatian soldier named Vlasta – we work out together and eat meals together sometimes – but she can get pretty busy with missions at times, and sometimes I only see her once a week. In my hyper-awareness of gossip about my every action here, I set out to establish more female friendships. Last night as the work day was wrapping up around 9pm or so, I noticed the only two other girls in my office were leaving to go back to their rooms. I jumped out of my seat and went out the door with them. Once outside I said, “Hey girls, I know you hang out together sometimes, but would you ever be interested in going to grab a bite to eat together or just have some girl time like once a week or so?” Simple enough, right? Here’s me like the girl on the kindergarten playground outright asking the other girls if they will be her friend. One of the girls looked straight at me and without expression said, “No, not really.” SLAM…that was the feeling my heart felt as it was squarely rejected. I forced myself to bounce back and said as lightly as I could, “Oh ok, no problem, have a good night.” I turned and walked away and felt embarrassed and hurt – like the little schoolgirl who was just told she couldn’t be in the cool club. Ouch! I thought when we’re such a minority that us gals were supposed to stick together! What the HECK (I really would like to replace that word with something much worse) was that about? Doesn’t she know I’m cool and fun and funny and loyal and all that other great stuff that comes with a female friendship?? Ok so those two are out – the awkward part is I have to work next to them still. I will continue to be on the lookout for any new women who come to this base – they won’t even know what hit them – I won’t even ask them, I’ll just make them my friend! …poor things don’t know what’s about to hit them.

This has proven to be a difficult struggle for me. I’m a relational person stuck in a strange social test of an environment – like I’m in a glass cage for everyone to observe how I will respond to a life of no relationships or companionship. I think I’m failing the test. …or maybe I’m passing…this is the normal response of a healthy woman…getting to the point where I want to cry out, “WILL SOMEONE PLEASE BE MY FRIEND?!” I can be friends with plenty of men here, it’s just I have to not care, and accept the consequence that I’ll be talked about as if I’m sneaking behind dirty connex boxes having sex with all of them. I might have quite the tarnished reputation on this base by the time I leave – all for no effort at all! Grandpa, if you’re reading this, I apologize for my lewd imagery…I blame the Navy! :)

I love that there are life lessons to be gleaned from anywhere we go in life. In the throes of war in Afghanistan, I am learning that I am more of a relational person than I realized, and that not only do I like being in friendships and relationships with other people, but I need it, I crave engaging with others. I think we all do – well, maybe not some of my geeky coworkers who just go back to their rooms and play video games every night (and I’m not talking behind their backs – they openly admit they’d rather be alone) – but I concur with the many wise sages before this time that humans NEED community and relationships and other humans. Lesson learned, Afghanistan, now what’s next?! (This should be good!)

I’ve Finally Arrived!

I’ve Finally Arrived!

So here I am finally in my first week on the base I’ve been trying to get to for what feels like a month, but has only been a couple weeks. The road threat levels eased up for a day – just long enough to give me 20 minutes notice to pack up my three bags, throw them in the car, make sure to put a scarf over my head because we were going off base, and zoom off into the great city of Kabul. When you’re stuck on a military base, you forget about bustling life going on just outside the gate…it’s all some imaginary world…so driving through the city was a whirlwind of new stimuli with different people, clothes, architecture, and colors. I guess I pictured the city would be nice because it’s the capital of the country, but for the most part it looked like it had seen better days – much better days. Lots of decay and years-old trash piles, roofs caving in on teetering buildings that looked like a small wind could knock them over. We wound through streets – traffic laws just a mere suggestion – it seemed to be the car that got to go was the one who wanted it more. I think traffic alone was probably more dangerous than any bomb threats!

Then the moment had arrived – I finally got to see my new home, the base I was going to be living at for the next year. It was like the scene in A Christmas Story where the little boy is anxiously ripping open the present thinking it’s going to be the Red Rider BB gun (I’m sure guys can correct me on the exact gun in that movie), and lo and behold, it’s pink bunny pjs. Only this wasn’t quite as nice as pink bunny pjs. It’s a TINY base with no pavement anywhere – just gravel all over the place surrounded by a big barbed wire fence. It was the tiny size of the place that was most alarming – I see some potential for boredom. BUT I will say that as I’ve poked around here and there this week, there are plenty of little nooks and crannies to find things to do – a place to watch movies on a big tv, a gym, a crossfit slab of concrete which a Canadian guy had to actually raise money to build because concrete is just not a thing here. I’m also really glad that the previous living tents were recently changed to metal conex boxes…and the best part…I have my own room! It’s about 10ft by 10ft and barely holds a bed and a dresser, but it’s all mine! I finally get to unpack and set up shop…starting with a little frame of my adorable niece right on my desk by my bed…hint hint…could use more pictures!

The best story of my week, though, happened on my first day. People were all talking about a base run the next day out on the track out side of the base gate, so I decided to be proactive about getting involved in base activities and signed up (for the 5k, not ready for the 10k yet because we’re a mile high and my Hawaii lungs are still adapting). In any case, women are always warned not to go outside ANYWHERE alone – let alone without a head scarf and bare arms – and HEAVEN FORBID you do sports of any kind. I wanted to run on the track though because the run was the next day and I wanted to see what it was like, so I found a nice Turkish military soldier to walk with me out to the track…which by the way is surrounded by astounding views of old Afghan palaces on a tiered hillside complete with a beautiful mountain backdrop (picture above). When we got there, he said he was walking, so I set off ahead running. I passed him a few times, but the track is pretty big – 1k total – and after about half an hour I saw I was no longer passing him – in fact I couldn’t see him anywhere. Hmmm…this was a quandary…I suddenly found myself off base alone with no covering and looking very sporty. I knew the gate was pretty close, so I just decided to walk with my head down and go straight to the gate. (Mom, maybe you shouldn’t read this…just know I’m fine now!) Well, the keeping my head down part backfired because I walked right past the narrow turn-in to the gate and kept walking on the main road out toward the Afghan base right next door. Finally when I realized I was quite lost I asked a couple men who looked as me like I was a three-horned unicorn…or tricorn rather…and I asked them where the gate to the base was. They asked me back in English which base (I didn’t know there was an Afghan base and that I was now right outside of it). I said American base, and they both continued to look confused – probably more at the fact that I was even out there talking to them alone – and then one of them finally pointed back behind me and said, “American base!” I looked back and saw the gate guard quite a ways back waving his gun at me in a motion to come back NOW. Oops!! On my way!!

Incidentally, I ended placing third overall (first girl – though there were only three of us) in the 5k the next day, and I attribute it to my track familiarization. My placing won me a little popsicle stick with the number 3 on it, as well as apparent base-wide notoriety after the places and times were announced in a all-base email. Suddenly everyone was smiling and saying hello to me and I’m meeting people from Canada, Turkey, Romania, Czechoslovakia, England, Germany and of course the US. So my first week has been a good week. I’m getting into my job, learning my way around, meeting people, learning a few local sayings like “good morning” and “thank you,” and curling up in my very own space at night…I have arrived!

Still Stuck

Still Stuck

Stuck here on day three at the airport base in Kabul because of motorcycle bombs right outside our base. I just heard that Camp Leatherneck in the south where Prince Harry is based (that’s for you, Mom) was infiltrated and two Marines were killed last night, and a base here in Kabul was hit early this morning. I have to say that it feels a bit like I’ve moved to a crazy inner-city in some futuristic movie where all hell has broken loose…oh wait, that IS where I am!

But inside this base, there is a sense of “normal”…once you get past the constant rotten egg smell and the crazy diversity of nationalities because it’s a NATO base. There is an internet cafe (where I’m at now), a rec-”center” with pool, ping pong, and Xbox; a gym; a bazaar selling electronics and rugs and jewlery and such; restaurants (though I’ve been warned that the “Steak House” has made many people sick and that they’re not even sure it’s actually steak); and even a “bar” with music at night. They sell the non-alcoholic beer and pump up the dancing music at night – last night was salsa night and tonight is club-music night…I’m assuming that’s like pop and stuff. Just keep in mind that all of these places are in big tents – buildings seem to be a rarity. It was cool watching the salsa dancing last night because soldiers of all nationalities were in their uniforms just dancing away with each other…instead of peace talks I think we should have peace dances…dancing makes everything better! There were Italians, French, Portugese, US, Romanian, South Korean, Canadian, and Australian soldiers there last night…all getting their sober salsa on!

My main challenge seems to be my gender…which I was sort of expecting. I definitely don’t blend in like any other male contractor walking around in civilian clothes (which is usually khaki pants and a collar shirt). And the NATO soldiers don’t hide or make subtle their acknowledgment of this difference…they rubberneck it like I have a cleaver sticking out of the side of my head. This morning I went to the cafeteria alone and it felt like a scene in a movie where I was naked and the record screeches and everyone stares as I awkwardly walk with my tray through a sea of staring, camoflaged men to find the nearest open seat. I know it’s because I’m a girl, but it doesn’t make the trip from the food line to the seat any less uncomfortable! The key: look straight ahead and know where you’re going so you can walk with a semi-appearance of confidence and purpose. What’s difficult is that I’m an uber people watcher and I love seeing all these nationalities in one place. On the inside I feel a bit like the open-jawed tourist wanting to see everyone, but I have to keep a straight face and at least look like I know what I’m doing. Hopefully someday soon I actually will!

Every time I hear about a soldier dying at the direct hands of terrorists, I know that this fight has to be fought and has to be won. Many of my friends (Hawaii, you know who you are!) don’t think we should even be here and think we should just leave and let this country implode on itself…but the emboldening and empowerment that would inevitabley be given to the terrorists here would have immeasurable impact for our own country and all the innocent lives there. No. Keeping the fight over here and treating the terrorists as enemies who we need to be overcome instead of inconveniences we need to ignore is the only answer. I am so honored to be a part of this – ok well not yet because I’m just getting paid to write blogs and go to the gym, but hopefully one of these days!

I love you family and friends!

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Listen. Dream. Go.

Listen. Dream. Go.


“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~Steve Jobs

As I stop in the middle of this sand and heat, I think about the lessons of life – the many lessons of life that we will at some point inevitably learn, and I ponder which one was most significant in getting me here to this place I’ve dreamt about for years. I think it’s the importance of listening to and believing in myself. When I began to voice what I wanted – which was to come here to Afthanistan – I faced some confused and strongly opposing opinions. If anyone has read prior posts, they know that I’m a default people pleaser…or as I like to say now, a recovering people pleaser…so expressing an idea that is in opposition to others took some lady balls. It took a long time to voice even to myself what I wanted, and longer yet to boost up the courage to say it out loud. At first I felt silly and I would add disclaimers like, “I know it’s a stupid idea, but I think I want to go to Afghanistan.” Thank God I found the fire in my belly to keep listening to myself and take action on doing the thing I could barely speak. I couldn’t tell anyone in my life – wait, I told my sister because she could tell something was up – and felt like I was living a deceptive life when I submitted my employment application to various companies. Then when one was interested in me, I would break out in a nervous sweat in replying back that I would like to continue forward with the hiring process – like I was committing a crime or some awful act.

But I stuck with it. I think part of me was afraid that I’d buckle if I told people too early – that I would listen to unsolicited advice about what a dangerous idea it was and I wouldn’t go through with it – so I protectively stayed silent. But I listened to my heart when my words weren’t even there yet and pushed on. It didn’t feel wrong, but felt good and exciting and right when I pushed “send” on those employment emails.

I’m not promoting living a double life in order to do the things you want to in life in a careless fashion – that’s not the lesson at all. I’m putting out the voice of encouragement to trust in your own dreams and don’t shy away from them because of other people’s criticisms. Listen to yourself. Listen to your heart. And if you think you’ll buckle, then yes do what you need to do for you to dodge those fire hoses (that’s what my high school running coach used to call people that like to squelch dreams). Ultimately, everyone in my life got behind me and is supporting me now. But even if some hadn’t, I was prepared to ask them that if they didn’t agree with me, could they just love and trust me?

I regret that I held back on jumping off my cliff and doing this thing I’ve wanted to do for so many years. I tried to accept the life I was in before and become the person that I needed to be to make that life work, but ultimately I wasn’t very good at it because I was so restless and unhappy and living counter to my dreams…which would always seep in again and permeate my imagination. Now I can stand here and smile a smile from the inside out – a contented smile of happiness with myself that I did this – I took the steps to put me here. I finally listened to myself.

Self-Rejection

Self-Rejection

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen (one of my favorite authors)