Friday, July 1, 2016

Packing up: What I want to bring back

We are now just over a week until I am on my way home. In this entire endeavor I have had to pack multiple times. Packing to come to South Africa to begin with, Packing when I changed accommodations in Cape Town, packing when I moved from Cape town to Hawston, packing when I changed accommodations in Hawston, packing for various Holidays, packing when I moved back to Cape Town from Hawston, and now looking towards packing to leave Cape Town to return to the states. This is a big pack job, because I will have to decide what I want to bring back and what will be left behind. While I am thinking of various possession to bring back, I thought it might be fun to make a list of all the non-material things I wish I could bring back. Things that they do here in South Africa that they don’t in the United States. Throughout my time here I have made various mental notes along the line of “oh, that’s cool, I wish we did that back home” and so I will put them on this packing wish list.          

1) Moving over to allow passing. On two lane roads here (one lane of traffic in each direction) it is common practice to pull over to the side (the left here, since the side you drive on is flipped) onto the shoulder to allow faster moving traffic to pass you. You don’t pull over and stop, just move to allow more room for the passing car (the shoulder is usually wide enough to accommodate this, so the car won’t have to encroach upon oncoming traffic). This is a level of consideration and awareness that I feel is lacking from American driving.
2) Use of 4-ways (hazard lights). It is also common practice here to flash your 4-way blinkers to signal appreciation. I have encountered it most commonly in reference to the aforementioned action of passing. When someone moves over to let you pass you flash your 4-ways after completion of the act to thank them. It can also be used as an apology or acknowledgment of a wrongdoing. An example would be if you cut someone off (learned that from an Uber driver after someone cut him off, but they flashed an apology so it was ok). I think that many people in the states don’t communicate properly on the road. This includes simple things like using a blinker to signal a turn or lane change.
3) TEA TIME! Ok, so I love this common practice. Tea, or coffee, seems to be an accepted part of the culture here. At the care center everybody had a scheduled tea break (30 minutes). In the Cape Town office, there’s not a scheduled tea break, but it is common practice to fix a cup of tea or coffee when you come in, and then perhaps get one or two more throughout the day. Typically you bump into one or two people while fixing the cup, and it turns into a social event. I think of this as a replacement for the “water cooler” chat in the American office, or the smoke break for those that don’t smoke.
4) Mentioned in the previous one is the social aspect. This country (at least the communities I have been around) is a very social one. This is something I both love and don’t. I enjoy talking to people, don’t get me wrong, but I am very much an introvert as well. I need my time to be alone and that can be clash sometimes with people here. It is not uncommon (especially in the community I was in) to drop in on other people randomly or planned for tea or coffee and a chat. When I was staying with a family in Hawston, their grown children would regularly stop by every day for tea and conversation. Otherwise, one could just be walking through the community and pass a house of someone they knew and decide to just stop by. In the office in Cape Town, we take a communal lunch.

5) The Food. Once again, it could just be the area that I am in (Cape Town being a major City and the Hermanus area being a vacation spot), but the food and restaurants I’ve visited have all been really good. I’m not talking the chain one or the fast food ones (though some of those are not bad), but the local ones. When Alexis visited, I don’t think we ate at the same place twice, and we enjoyed each and every one of our meals. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like each meal was absolutely stunning, but each one did have at least one dish that we both thoroughly enjoyed, even if what the other one ordered wasn’t good. And with the exchange rate being what it was, meals where we both ordered an entrĂ©e, drinks, and either an appetizer or desert were quite affordable. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016


I hate goodbyes. It just feels so awkward to me. I’ve recently been watching The Office (the US version) and there is an episode where Michael is leaving. He tells everyone his last day will be a certain day, but actually leave the day before. I wish I could do the same thing.

Yesterday was my last day at the Care Centre in Hawston. Tomorrow I leave Hawston and move back for my final two weeks in Cape Town. I have mixed feelings about all of this. While I will miss many of the individuals here, I cannot say that I will miss everyone. While I will miss some aspects of my job here, I cannot say I will miss all of the drama and problems. There are some things I will miss from this area, but not in a heart wrenching, crippling way. Maybe it is just the way I am. I have always been more of a moving forward kind of person. I had things I would miss of highschool, but I was eager to move on to university. I was sad to be completing my degree and leaving all the wonderful people I met along the way, but I was excited to see what was next. Leaving for my year here was difficult, and I knew there were many things I would miss, but I was looking forward to the next adventure. I guess it is the same now. My time here was my time here. There was good, there was bad, there was great, and it is all coming to a close, and I guess I am ok with that.

Yesterday, the care center threw me a going away party. I had voiced previously that it was not necessary, but I knew that would be ignored. The thing I have realized over the years is that goodbyes are as much for the people staying as it is for the people leaving. I hate being the center of attention, I hate everyone making a fuss over me, but I understand that this is their way of showing their appreciation for me. Nothing would have made me happier than to just have a normal day of work yesterday, but I understand the sense of closure needed. In the end I am glad it happened. It helped me realize how much I have grown to like and appreciate the people I worked with here. A joke amongst many people here is that when I get married, I have to invite them to the wedding. I always, half-jokingly half seriously reply that it’s fine that they get an invitation, as long as they understand I don’t expect them to actually show up. It was yesterday, saying goodbye, that I realized there were more than I few people here that I wouldn’t mind being surprised by at my wedding (as long as they were ok arranging airfare and accommodation themselves. I’ve got college loans to pay off). So I put up with the party with a grin.

Last week, a smaller group of people threw me a going away braai, and honestly, I would have been happy with just that send off. It was just a group of people I have met and worked with here, hanging around, grilling some meat, and enjoying each other’s company. It was hosted by Edison, a worker at the center who has gone from part-time finical officer to fulltime head guy following the departure of the front office. He and I are around the same age and we have struck up a pretty good friendship in my time here. Part of what I enjoyed about the braai at his house was I wasn’t really treated special. Edison and I were in charge of the fire together, and most of the evening was spent just hanging out getting the fire ready and then cooking the meat (you start with a wood fire, and then use charcoal here. None of that propane nonsense we use in the states).

In the end, both were good send offs. The social event and the formal event. They each had their strengths, and I am glad for everyone here and what they have allowed me to learn about myself and the opportunity to grow. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

These are a few of my…..

Hey everyone. I mentioned in a previous post that I would be doing a lot more blog posts. Tying in another post, I mentioned that I watched a lot of tv/movies and read a lot of books to keep me busy. I thought that for this blog I would list some of the books/tv shows/ games that have kept me company this year.

Part 1) Books.
                For those of you that do not know, I love to read. My preferred genre is fiction, specifically science fiction as well as fantasy. Most of my book choices will reflect that. Here (in no particular order) are the books (or series) I have read since I have been here.
1) The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.
                2) The Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher.
                3) Ex-Heroes series by Peter Clines

The next few series are all going to be by the same guy, and I want to just acknowledge that quickly. Brandon Sanderson is a fantasy writer, but has that rare gift of being able to write a multitude of diverse series that are all great, and all churn out books at a pretty steady rate. I mean, if this guys was writing the Game of Thrones books we’d be done by now. And I mean really done. Like the series and everything you could ever hope to be explored in that universe done. And he would have put out another series or two at the same time (seriously, as I was checking facts on him for this post I found out he released two books in one of the series just since I’ve been here). Eat your heart out George. I was turned onto Brandon shortly before I left by a friend who knew my tastes. I owe that person an amazing (belated) wedding present because I have not found a book of his yet that I have not completely enjoyed. He does a great job of creating unique and interesting magic/power systems for his characters, and then letting them explore and improve on and revolutionize them in the books. He also does a pretty good job of writing complex, unique, strong female lead characters (think Arya Stark and not Sansa Stark)

                4) Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
                5) Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
                6) Wax and Wayne series by Brandon Sanderson (a kind of sequel to Mistborn).
                7) Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson
                8) Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
                9) The Harry Potter Series (following Alan Rickman’s passing) by J.K. Rowling
                10) Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb.
                11) 2 (so far) of the Hyperion Cantos Series by Dan Simmons
                12) Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne
                13) the complete Naruto manga
                14) The Crossed graphic novel series (not for children or the faint of heart).
                15) Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi
                16) Traitor Spy trilogy by Trudi Canavan
                17) American God’s by Neil Gaimen
                18) Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.
                19) Various books from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchet
And there were probably more books that I am forgetting about. As a note, this started off with me writing a little blurb about each series, but I found myself writing way too much for the space, so I cut them all and just gave a list. If you would like to ask me about any particular series or what I would suggest, please feel free to contact me and I will point you towards one or another of the series (or just give my thoughts on the various series if you would like to hear them).

Part 2) TV
                Here are some of the TV shows I watched while here (in no particular order)
                1) Scrubs complete
                2) How I Met Your Mother complete
                3) How to Get Away with Murder (almost up to date)
                4) Modern Family (up to date)
                5) Teen Titians complete
                6) Silicon Valley (through season 2)
                7) Band of Brothers complete
                8) Big Bang Theory (almost complete)
                9) Rick and Morty complete
                10) The Last Kingdom (almost up to date)
                11) The tomorrow people
                12) Vikings (up to season 3)
                13) Wilfred season 1

There may be some more series I am forgetting about. My external hard drive is messing up right now and so I cannot access them all. For this reason I will not list any movies either because I can not remember off the top of my head what all I have watched. (I remember seeing Deadpool, Star Wars, and Xmen all in theatre since I have been here). Like the books, I am more than willing to talk about any of these shows with you as well as give you my opinion on them if you ask.

Part 3) Video Games
                Here are the video games (PC gamer) that I have played the most since I have been here. In no order they are
                1) Mass effect 1 (finished the last bit while here)
                2) Mass effect 2 (I’ve gotten a good chunk of the way through)
                3) Shogun Total War 2 (Specifically the fall of the Samurai Expansion. It’s like The Last Samurai but without Tom Cruise, and you get to be on the side with the Gatling guns if you choose.
                4) The Batman Games (Asylum, City, and Origins)
                5) City Skylines
                6) Company of Heroes
                7) Darkest Dungeon
                8) Massive Chalice
                9) Portal 1 and 2
                10) Sid Meiers Civ V and Beyond Earth.
                11) State of Decay
                12) Stone hearth
                13) Wasteland 2
                14) Banished

Now, this entire post may make it sound like I have done little but read and watch and play games since I’ve been here, but that is far from the truth. I have gotten out and interacted with people quite a bit, but there is also a good chunk of time during the day (especially when trapped at home before I got the car) that was unused, and so I found ways to fill it. I hope you have enjoyed reading about entertainment I have used while here. Once again, feel free to ask for more information on any of them or my thoughts and impressions on them. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Game Plan

So, just under four weeks left here in South Africa. The original plan held another three months, at the least, so to suddenly be limited to four weeks to wrap up everything I’ve been working on seems a little constrictive. It basically breaks down into 2 sections, closing up shop at the Care Center and tying things up nicely with HOPE. This week and next will be in Hawston at the center, and then the final two weeks will be in Cape Town working from the Hope Main office.

Now, like I mentioned in the previous post, the decision to leave in July was finalized around June 1st, so I have had a little time to get started on the care center work. The largest project I have undertaken is writing down everything I handle at the center. When Martin passed away in January, I took over a number of his responsibilities that he either had instructed me on how to do, I figured out by asking others, or through trial and error. When a temporary nursing coordinator was hired, I retained responsibility for a number of those tasks, especially the administrative ones. A few more were added once the front office all abandoned ship at the same time. Between that, and the fact that I tried to digitalize and update a fair number of procedures done, especially on the day to day administrative side of things, we end up with a decent chunk of tasks that only I really know how to do. The challenge is taking all of that, and creating user friendly guides for people who 1) may not have the greatest grasp on technology 2) learned English as a second language 3) may not have me around to ask questions to (hopefully anyone who comes to the center, either as an administrator or nursing coordinator, will be able to utilize these guides, even years down the road). Once I have created these guides, I will begin the training of practically everyone left on how to do the tasks. Sr. Barlow, the current nursing coordinator, will receive the training since realistically, most of it should be done by her. Robin, an intern the center acquired around February who has been working in the office, will receive the training because Sr. Barlow stands a pretty decent chance of not grasping all the technology fully (she came out of retirement for this post) and will thus either require help or will pass some of the responsibilities to her. And then Edison, the former part-time finical person who has stepped up (been thrust into) the position of practically running the center from an administrative stand point, will receive it because he is the one who will most likely understand how to do everything and also I believe that everyone in an organization should have at least a general idea of how to handle others work, in case that person(s) decide to just up and leave without passing on how to handle various situation (*cough* I’m still a little bitter *cough*). I will also, if time can be arranged, have a refresher course with all the carers on the physio training I gave them.

The last two weeks will be spent in Cape Town, where I will wrap up a few things at the main office. The biggest thing I will try to work on is HOPE Africa’s new Website. Back in March HOPE gained another Intern from Germany name Thomas as well. One of his focuses was social media and our online presence. He started a push for a new (or at least updated) HOPE website. I ended up being paired with him towards the end of his month and a half here when it became apparent that it would take more time to get the website close to finished. My work in this regard will be very similar to what I am doing at the center. My first goal will to be getting the website as close to finished as possible. The second goal will be creating a series of guides on how to edit the website, as well as creating a social media plan for HOPE to follow for a period of time around the new website launch as well as general guides on how to utilize our social media presence. These guides will then be passed on to various HOPE personnel along with training on how to use them. These are all areas that I have little knowledge and only slight experience with, so it has been/will continue to be an interesting challenge.

So, as I enter the home stretch, I find myself both eagerly anticipating my departure, and dreading all the work I need to accomplish before then.

 Also, as a side note, a requirement of this year of service is this blog you are currently reading. We are asked to write at least two posts a month for our time here. If you look back at my blog you will clearly see I have fallen a bit behind. This blog will make post number 6 since February, meaning that I am at least two short of where I should be (better than the 6 short I was just over a week ago. I mean, I posted only two blogs between February and June. What is wrong with me?). That number is not taking into account the total number I should be at right now for the entire year, let alone the number I would be responsible for in I was here for the entire time. So, with that in mind, I will attempt to make up for my past slackerdness (I’m making it a word) and reach the promised 24 posts before (and maybe a little after) I leave Cape Town. That means for the next 4-6 weeks you all will be receiving a ton of new blog posts to entertain you. Just in time for the summer boredom. These posts will range from silly topics to serious reflections on my work, experience, life, etc. both here in South Africa as well as in general. So tune in regularly to be (hopefully) entertained. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Homeward Bound

I am both pleased, and saddened, to announce that four weeks from now, I will be boarding my flight out of Cape Town to return to the United States.

For those of you playing from home that are capable of simple math, let me answer your upcoming question. “But Thomas, that will mean you only spent about 9 ½ months in South Africa. I thought you were there for a year?” You would be correct, the original idea is to be in your placement for the full 12 months (give or take a month in either direction). The problem with that is my original Visa was only granted through the 20th of July. For the past month and a half to two months I have been trying to go through the process to have my visa extended, but it has proven to be a lot trickier than I had anticipated. Between missing an interview due to protesting closing a road into Cape town, and then their website being down and not being able to get any advice on how to get it to work properly (you have to apply online first), and then job prospects back home, and etc. I finally just had a conversation with YASC and HOPE Africa, and it was decided that I would just continue with the original ticket date of July 10th, instead of continuing to attempt extend the Visa.

I am happy to be going home because I miss my home and family and friends. I am saddened because I feel like I am not honoring the commitment I made, despite that it was not (fully) my fault (there is a decent chance that my application for an extension would have been denied anyway. South Africa has really cracked down on their visas the past few years). I also feel like there is a lot left for me to do here, and now much less time to do it (the decision was made around the 1st of June, giving me just under 6 weeks to wrap everything up).

I will keep this post short and sweet (so unlike me) and end it here. I will post another blog within the next few days to talk about what my plans are for the last few weeks. So, United State, I will see you all on July 11th

Friday, June 10, 2016

Island in the Sun

My last post was a very difficult one, and was quite dark. This post will attempt to be the opposite. The focus will be the recent visit of my significant other, Alexis. If you don’t want to hear about our awesome adventures together, or see pics of some of the cool things we did, then please tune out now.

I left for South Africa on September 28th around 2pm.  Alexis landed in Cape Town on the 18th of May, around 9:45 pm. That means that roughly 7 1/3 months had passed since we had seen each other in person. That is 233 days. That’s 5,578 hours. 334,680 minutes. 20,080,800 seconds. Give or take some time on all of these calculation for math errors on my part. It goes without saying that I was excited to see her. My coworkers could all attest to my excitement. They were bombarded with my plans for her visit, and even suggested some activities of their own on what we should do, for weeks leading up to her landing. .

We spent the first 6 days in the Cape Town area. Part of the time was spent allowing Alexis to adjust to the time change and get over her jet lag. The place we were staying was wonderful for that task. This is the first trip I have even taken where I used the site AirBnB, and I would highly suggest it to anyone traveling anywhere, especially areas that are usual tourist destinations. We visited the HOPE office one of those days for lunch, but unfortunately only about half of the staff were there, and it was not a long lunch because everyone was very busy. The same day we hiked up Table Mountain, which was both wonderful and extremely difficult (those of you that remember my Christmas Holiday adventures post may remember my talking about the hike there). Other highlights included seeing X-men apocalypse (at least it was for me) in a super comfy theater that is called the “prestige experience” (I want more theaters in this style in the states), eating dinner with coworkers, exploring the waterfront area, going to the aquarium, visiting one of my favorite coffee shops in Cape Town, visiting the watershed and shopping, then exploring an exhibit on poisons and venoms throughout history and fiction (we were able to hold a snake at the end. Check out the pictures below), going to Hout Bay,  visiting the World of Birds wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey park, and in general just enjoying each other’s presence and company after such a long time apart. Each of these highlights could be expounded on for paragraphs, but instead I will just talk about a few.
Us Holding the snake at the end of the exhibit.
Us outside of the Water Front mall

Alexis feeding a seal at Hout Bay
Me feeding a seal at Hout Bay


Alexis standing a little too close to an exhibit
 (as she found out 5 seconds after this pic was taken)

Alexis clearly ignoring the "no touching" signs

The wildlife sanctuary was probable one of my favorite stops. It was interesting to explore all of their exhibits and learn about the different birds and animals kept there, but the real highlight was stolen by the monkeys. There was one enclosure where you could enter and walk among a group of 38 (according to their site) squirrel monkeys. We were greeted by signs and attendants giving us the same instruction; 1) do not reach for or touch the animals. We could lift our arm to them to let them climb on us if their approached, but we were not to restrain them in any way. 2) make sure all food and drink is left outside the enclosure. 3) make sure all bags are securely closed. 4) enjoy. When we first entered there were not many others in the enclosure so we did not know what to really do or expect.  We just walked along the path and enjoyed watching the monkeys and tried to tempt some of them onto our arms, but none really accepted. Suddenly one of the handlers appeared and told us to sit on a bench. We did, thinking that maybe they were more likely to approach a stationary target. Next thing I knew, the handler tossed something in our direction and what felt like 20 monkeys followed it onto us (Their site states each monkey can weigh between 1-2 ½ pounds). It was AMAZING. The handler was more than willing to continue to toss peanuts our way as we laughed and giggled and attempted to take pictures of ourselves covered in these adorable little monkeys. Fyi, it’s difficult to get a good pic when covered in monkeys and experiencing extreme joy. The best ones will be below. The exhibit started to fill up after us, so we didn’t get to spend the rest of the day in blissful monkey land. We grudgingly allowed another couple to take our bench (there were maybe 4-5 in a row for this exact purpose) and moved on to see the rest of the sanctuary.

The monkeys found a perch
Baby monkey

It is REALLY hard to get a good pic
while monkeys are jumping on you
The is probably one of the better pics.

After our time in Cape Town, we spent a night at the Caledon Hotel. While there we were able to visit the Natural hot springs on the grounds, as well as enjoy their Spa and other amenities (like steam room and Roman bath). Unfotruntely, due to their computer system being down, we were unable to get the couples mud bath we wanted. In the evening we were able to visit the hotel’s casino, and ended up winning just over 200 rand (we started with R200 as a part of the promotion from the hotel. So we basically came out 20some rand ahead). After the night at the Caledon we headed down to the Hermanus area for 5 more days of activities. These included quad biking, exploring Hermanus and the surrounding area, visiting the care center, eating at a lot of interesting and unique restaurants in the area, seeing more HOPE coworkers (in town for a meeting at the care center), and Shark diving. Once again, I could expound on any of these, but I will explore just the one.

Alexis Climbing on rocks
Dassies, a local wildlife.

You are not supposed to feed them, but once again, Alexis ignores that.
(Shes just trying to feed them grass. She actually was successful).

Some Dolphins we saw from the cliffside in Hermanus

Shark Diving. It was Alexis’ only real request of her trip. We ended up going with a company called Marine Dynamics. It was a really nice trip. We were asked to arrive at their building in Gansbaai (about 45 minutes away from Hermanus in the opposite direction from Cape Town) at noon. It started with a lunch followed by a safety and informational briefing. After that we received our gear and everyone headed down to the boat (there was maybe 20-25 customers on the trip and 10-15 staff members/volunteers). After a 15 minute boat trip, we arrived at the site they used for the dive. There was a boat from another company already in the area, so we didn’t have to wait long to see the sharks. The way the process works is they attach the cage to the side of the boat, and 6-8 people go into the cage at one time. The use a cardboard cutout to simulate a cape seal (a great white’s preferred meal) and a “Chum Ball” as bait to lure the sharks close to the boat. When a shark approaches, the baiters call “DOWN” and those in that cage pull themselves under to try and see the shark under water. During this time, everyone on the boat is more than welcome to take pictures of the sharks in the water. Let me just say, it was an awesome experience. Even from the boat, the sharks are impressive. Every so often a shark would approach the chum from underneath, and erupt from the water in a majestic display of power that was near impossible to capture on camera unless you were very prepared. Most of the time the shark would just swim up and then along the boat following the bait (marine dynamics attempts to guide the sharks along the boat instead of running them into the cage. This reduces damage to both shark and cage). We finally got our turn in the cage, and it was easily one of the top 10 coolest experiences in my life. From the boat they are impressive, when they are swimming less than an arm’s length away, the great white is terrifying and awe inspiring. While Marine Dynamics does not intentionally lead the shark into the cage, it still sometimes accidentally approached the boat straight on. There was twice where the shark impacted the cage directly next to us, and it was incredible. Another highlight of the trip was seeing a whale breach very close to us, which happens very very rarely, according to the guides. Another great thing about Marine Dynamics is that each trip has a marine biologist on board, so we got to learn many interesting facts about great whites, marine life in the area, and the efforts of the company to preserve the habitat. After the sharks, they take you by where most of the Cape Seals hang out, and it was nice to see them. Then it is back to the main building for soup and sandwiches to warm up again. 

(Pictures of this activity to come. Alexis has them all on cameras, and she has to find the cords and then transfer them onto a computer and then send them to me. Trust me though, they are awesome)

Sadly, Alexis had to leave on the 31st. The last night was spent in Cape Town, where we just enjoyed dinner together and prepared for her departure the next day. Her visit was a refreshing respite for my time here. I have missed her the most in my time here, and being able to share my work here as well, as this beautiful country, was great. Saying goodbye to her was very hard, but our time together was a highlight of this year. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Paint it Black

This is the first post since the end of April. 2 months. The post before that one was a month and a half. I’ll be honest dear audience, I have been slacking on this whole blog thing. There is plenty that this blog could be about; The state of the Care Center, my work for Hope, Alexis’ visit to South Africa, the job hunt for when I return home, my troubles with visa renewal and subsequent plans for departure, the other intern HOPE had for a while (also named Thomas), or any number of things I have experienced and done in my time here. Instead, this blog will focus on another topic, a subject lurking behind some of my other posts. I have sat down to write this post multiple times in my service here, but I could never finish, not to my satisfaction. It got to the point that every time I would try to write about something else, this one would slip back in, and neither would end up getting written. Well today, I will finish what I have started so many times. The writing may be a little disjointed, I do have plenty of drafts to pull from.

Depression: “a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness”. Straight from Merriam Webster’s dictionary. It is a definition that both accurately describes and horribly underrepresents what I, and many others, experience. You (or at least I) see articles, memes, and snippets on the internet all the time about this topic. Some are joking, some are ways to deal with it, some are just statements of what it is, some are how to prevent it, etc. I will attempt to share what depression is for me, specifically in this setting.

Depression is not the sadness extreme sadness I have experienced here. It is not the loneliness I feel, separated from my family and friends. It is not the hopelessness I feel that my work may account to nothing, or the feelings of failure in my purpose here that I suffer. The loss I have felt here, the difficulties I have gone through, the challenges I have faced, these are not depression. All of these are a part of it, but depression is greater than the sum of its parts. The examples I have given are all both causes and symptoms of my depression. At what point is my inability to muster the effort to get out of bed, wash myself, do my dishes, clean my house, get outside and get fresh air, etc. change from a symptom to a cause of my continued depression? Are my self-doubts and social anxiety part of the cause, or symptoms?

My writing is beginning to become cyclical (like depression can be), and I am just restating myself. A part of this is because it is difficult to write about depression. Heck, it is hard to talk/think about depression. I feel like depression in our society is one of the most well-known psychotic disorders yet there is a giant taboo surrounding it. In a society that doesn’t encourage weakness or vulnerability, or even being different, it is easily dismissed as just sadness, and we are told to keep our sadness (or emotions in general) to ourselves. It is not easy for me to admit “weakness”, or to ask for help. It is a part of me that I am not super happy about. I can view how it effects my personal and professional life, and I do not like the results. It is something I am constantly working on. In a way, this post is a part of that. By writing it, by putting my personal emotions in the public’s eye (something I hate doing) I am attempting to improve my vulnerability.

Depression is also hard to write/think about because while I am caught in a “depressive episode”, it is hard to muster the will to focus on doing anything, let alone writing a blog (especially a blog about what I am going through). There have been entire weekends where I barely moved from my bed. I have had a sink and counter full of dishes that I could not muster the will to clean. Instead, I would either wash the dish and utensils just before using them, or just pick the least dirty dish and use that. The effort, even to draw a bath (I don’t have a shower) and wash myself seemed like the hardest thing in the world. There have been many days where getting up for work seemed pointless. And the worst times are when, even when I can get out of my bed and go participate in life, I feel utterly alone and hopeless. I just go through the motions, feeling disconnected and gray. It is not sadness, but more the lack of any emotion. It is easy to picture depression as being a stormy day on a wave tossed sea where tears and loneliness reign supreme. It is harder to associate depression with a bright sunny day, in a beautiful country, with a refreshing sea breeze blowing in (a norm here). But when I am depressed, that bright sunny day seems unenjoyable. Not bad, just incapable of being reveled in. 

In my rambling way I think I may have covered what my depression is (not fully to my satisfaction, but to the best of my limited writing abilities). The next step would be to write about how I deal with it/overcome it. Honestly, I think it is like alcoholism. No one ever really overcomes depression, you are just a “recovering” depressive.  You ride the waves as best as possible and mitigate the symptoms. The best course, would most likely be treatment, but I dislike the idea of medication. Talking about it with others helps, to a degree. I am a big fan of getting plenty of exercise and fresh air. Distractions also prove useful. I have read a lot here. I have embraced this countries habit of downloaded tv shows and movies (all gotten from others, none downloaded illegally myself *shifty eyes*). I have completed more of the video games I own than I have before (I played my first game to full completion here. I have finished shorter games before, but they were usually spaced out over a longer period of time. More often I get bored with them before the end). But those all get stale after a while, and the effort some of them take seems too great during some episodes. When that happens, all that you can do is just wait for it to pass. Hope that tomorrow, you wake up, and being able to see the bright side is easier. (For those of you who are expecting a Missionary to include prayer and meditation as the answer to the problem, don’t feel discouraged. Those fall under list of things that help, but they are not the end-all-be-all solution. I have not written about them here because my faith is more of a personal thing and I am striving to keep from forcing my beliefs onto anyone in my time here).

This post is completed. Well, it is not truthfully, but I am finished writing it. I ramble on, it does not cover the subject fully, and I am unhappy with it, but I have made a promise to myself to post it today. I want to write about other parts of my experience here, and hopefully now that this blog is completed, I can. Please do not view this blog as me saying this has been a horrible time, because it is not. I will strive in future posts to prove that, but I have already taken up too much space here.