Tuesday, April 7, 2009



I was just chatting with one of the people in charge here in Agok, and he seemed to be having a bit of a tough night. It's been a challenging couple days, I think, and an issue with money put him in a bad mood that seems to have lasted.

"Why do you want to do this job, Nathaniel, honestly?" He asked, as we sat in the dusty area outside the main pavilion, swatting mosquitoes.

Good question. I wonder myself sometimes.

Why exactly is it that I'm willing to live in some of the hottest, driest, poorest places on Earth, eat crappy food, sleep in a tent, and deal with latrines that feel way too full? Seems crazy right? At home, I could have a good life- not that I'd be likely to be well-off, or anything, but at least I could have a salad once in awhile, and travel wouldn't be on roads that feel like they're 80% crater, 20% gravel.

But I know why I'm here- it's not about those things. Yes, conditions are rough, but every job has it's challenges- the ones here just happen to be a bit more in-your-face. Yes, I could be home, living in a comfortable place, but I know I'd be missing something.

As cliché as this sounds, being in Chad, and being in the Peace Corps changed my life. Five-and-a-half years ago, had someone asked me if I wanted to go live in a village in a poor, hot, corrupt, and violent country, I would have simply assumed they'd taken an extra shot of crazy in the coffee that morning. Now, I feel like I get it.

Since I began doing this in 2004, I've been places nobody else in my family would dare to go, and seen things so tragic that you feel them eat away at your soul. I've observed poverty beyond anything most people can imagine, where $1 literally would be the difference between life and death.

But I've also seen resilience beyond anything I could imagine, and signs of progress in places one would never expect it. Seeing someone 'get it,' over something as simple as the reason to send their child to school, or how drinking water from a pump instead of a pond will help them avoid a bad case of amoebas is what makes it worthwhile, the knowledge that you did some small thing for the better.

My brother, the chef, asked me the same question once.

"What is it about this?" I remember him asking, as we drove over the Bay Bridge back into San Francisco, the lights of the Ferry Building and the Embarcadero beautiful as always.

"Think of the thing you're most passionate about," I said, "and try to explain to someone why you care so much about it."

It might not make sense to anyone but yourself, but if you have a passion, you know why you follow it. The question, though, is do you take the steps you have to do to make it a reality, or do you let it go, in favor of something safe, something comfortable?

Not me. I'm still following it- hard to say where it'll lead, but I bet I'll be happy along the way.

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