It’s been a very long time since I thought I had something blog-worthy to write about.
Eleven years ago this spring, I was about four months into my service as an environmental education and management Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Macedonia. I would frequently use my laptop to compose lengthy email missives to family and friends about my experiences in Macedonia, back during a time when email was the primary means of non-verbal communication. In those days, if you went online and tried to Google search images of Macedonia, you wouldn’t find much, as I discovered between accepting my invitation to serve and desperately trying to glean a clue about what Macedonia looked like.
At that time, there was also no Facebook, no MySpace, no YouTube, and no Twitter. I didn’t have a cell phone for the first year of my service. The only updates my family and friends heard from me were through those emails, unless they managed to pin me down for a quick chat on MSN Messenger, or reach me at home on my landline, an old red rotary-style phone that sat on a shelf in my hallway, its curled cord twisted tightly with the memories of confidences shared over an expensive, halting connection.
I guess 2003 wasn’t that long ago, but in terms of technology and mainstream culture it seems like a relatively long time ago to me. It’s true that today’s Peace Corps Volunteers probably have a very different experience than I did due to the connectivity to home that modern technology offers. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that technology makes the service of those serving “easier”, any more than my service was easier (vis-à-vis those who volunteered pre-information super highway) because I served during a time when email existed. All Volunteers are still going to have to face the challenges that cultural immersion poses, and chatting via webcam with family isn’t like being there.
Technology offers a refuge, a distraction, a means of escape. More importantly, it offers an opportunity to share, to connect, and to fulfill the Peace Corps’ Third Goal of helping Americans understand the people and cultures of other countries. Besides, if you are willing to pack two suitcases for two years and go somewhere new where you don’t speak the language and don’t know how you will manage to accomplish the smallest task, all in service to those less fortunate, my hat is off to you.
I was lucky enough during my own Peace Corps service to have a dial-up internet connection in my third floor apartment that cost me about one euro an hour, the cost of which was automatically added to my phone bill. Because my internet speed was sometimes slow or unreliable, and because my living allowance budget afforded me roughly six dollars per day for all of my needs, I would usually write my emails offline. Sitting at my “desk”, a white plastic patio table in my dining room, complete with umbrella hole in the center, I chronicled anything I thought interesting that had occurred in the days or weeks since my last message. I struggled to craft messages that would resonate with my intended audience, while the sun bathed my apartment with light through the tall, southern-facing windows overlooking my mountain town. I would then connect, log into Hotmail or Yahoo Mail, send my messages, copy/paste any new emails I had received into a Word document, and then log back off again to enjoy reading the new correspondence with a steaming cup of chamomile tea.
In those moments, I was close to home (connected) and at the same time so far away (the disconnection that occurs when people grow apart and no longer know what questions to ask each other, or what to do with the answers). One day, looking for a place to do “online journaling” I stumbled across the Yahoo site Geocities, and realized I could use the Geocities platform as an online journal and post pictures without clogging people’s email inboxes. My Peace Corps Macedonia website was born.
As I struggled to learn PageBuilder (So easy, they said! No HTML code, they said!) and organize the layout of the site, I was contacted not only by curious friends and family, but also by prospective Peace Corps Volunteers for all eastern European countries, travelers and couch-surfers of all stripes, and Macedonian expatriates in England, Australia, Canada and beyond. A byproduct of my openness online was that total strangers would stumble upon my site and leave a comment or ask me a question. Some of them I began to correspond with, and a couple I am still in touch with to this day, although we’ve never met face to face. I inadvertently became a “blogger” long before it became common, although at the time I thought of it as “online journaling”.
After I finished Peace Corps, and added the obligatory postscripts to my site, it seemed unnecessary and even a little narcissistic to continue to post there. (Look at me! What am I going to do next!?) Again, please remember, before Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and all of the other self-promoting and narcissistic tools we love. So I wrote a goodbye message, posted my forwarding email address in case anyone had questions, and I moved on. I traveled through the Balkans, moved to Sydney, Australia to complete my post-graduate studies, and eventually I relocated to Washington, DC, the area where I’ve spent the last seven and a half years.
So, do I have anything blog-worthy to say these days? I might. My intention with launching this blog is to process and share my thoughts on my now 2.5+ year journey to enter the U.S. Foreign Service. I am certainly hoping that I will be accepted soon, and will use this as a platform to “collect postcards”, something I’ve been doing my entire life – learning about new places, and sharing those experiences with others. Whether it’s through snail mail or a blog, the outcome should be the same.
In the hopes that something I write will be informative or interesting to others, I am rejoining the online cacophony of stuff seeking your attention. Happy reading, and please feel free to follow and comment!