"I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult." E. B. White

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Deployment

What I’m about to write isn’t part of my trip, but it is part of my story. 

Today I went with Gene and kissed him goodbye as he departed for his 8-month deployment. There is no planning or conversation that can prepare you for that. Trust me – we tried.  He was strong for my sake. I was as strong as I could be for him. 

I’m still feeling the pain of our last few minutes together, and expect to be for some time, but we left each other with the promise to find ways to be present in each others' lives while he’s away and to look forward to the wonderful lives we’ll continue to build together when he comes home.

In the two hours we waited between arriving at the base and Gene boarding the bus, I had the opportunity to see dozens of families and hundreds of Marines.  800 Marines, actually. That’s how many men and women were boarding buses and deploying today. 

It was obviously the first deployment for so many of these young men. They were visibly anxious, excited, and eager. They hugged their fathers and mothers, brothers, friends, young wives, and children. Most of them still look like children themselves. But they've shown themselves through their dedication and training to be hard-working, brave men.  

I also watched as long-time Marines with several deployments under their belts hugged their children, kissed their wives, and struggled to fight back tears. These men are strong, brave, masculine combat veterans, and I was moved to see the love and softness they showed to their families in their final minutes together. 

The majority of the Marines, however, had no one there to send them off. Maybe their families live too far to travel. Maybe they had already said their goodbyes.  But it was clear to me that these men still felt like they had family present - in the brotherhood with their fellow Marines.  They laughed, joked, kissed their friend’s babies, and supported one another.  Of everyone that I observed today, I was most comforted by these men, who reminded me that Marines are a support-system who protect and serve each other so that they all come home safe on the other side. 

I can’t think of a single reason that I would want to be apart from Gene for so long, but circumstances being what they are – I’m glad it’s him. I’m glad for the sake of these men and woman that they have Gene on their team. I wouldn’t trust my life to anyone more than him, and I know the many young Marines are in good company and hands with him around.

I was overwhelmed this afternoon both by the sadness and emotion of saying goodbye-for-now to my fiancé, but also by the display of strength and love by the many Marines and families. These men and woman give so much of themselves, and I am honored and grateful to them for their service and sacrifice. It is a huge sacrifice, indeed. 

So to those of you reading this – please keep the sacrifices and safety of these men and women in your thoughts.  Keep the airmen and coastguardsmen, keep the soldiers and the sailors.  And keep the Marines.  Especially Gene.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bound for Nepal

In just three weeks, I’ll be taking off on one of the biggest adventures of my life. In less than three days, my fiancé, Gene, is taking off for an 8-month military deployment. I’m sure it goes without saying that this is both a very exciting and very trying time. I’m so proud of my Marine and will miss him more than I can anticipate or explain. At the same time, I am so looking forward to my opportunity to explore Nepal. 

I’ll be traveling to Kathmandu with my friend, Anna.  We’ve both spent the past several weeks planning and preparing – booking plane tickets, applying for visas, arranging for dog and house sitters, and getting the necessary vaccinations. I ended up with a bruise the size of a baseball from getting shots to protect against typhoid, adult polio, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. I could barely lift my arm for days!

We’ll be spending our time in Nepal engaging in some voluntourism – splitting our time between travel and volunteer work. We’ll be living in a house with other volunteers and mid-week we’ll be working in the mornings in a small, privately-run orphanage. In the afternoon, we’ll be teaching English and basic computer skills to young monks in a Buddhist monastery.  We’ll use long weekends and evenings to travel and explore. So far we hope to rent boats and explore the city of Pokhara, visit the elephants in Chitwan, and possibly look into either rafting or trekking with a sherpa in the Himalayas. But who knows where our travels will lead us?!?

I’ve learned that the orphanage where we’re volunteering has extremely limited resources and the children that live there share only two toys. I’ve seen pictures of bare walls and book-less shelves. So I’m planning to pack an extra suitcase full of coloring books, crayons, bubbles, toys, games, and anything I can carry to bring these kids some joy and access to the little things that we often take for granted. 

As Gene has been packing and preparing for his deployment, he found several pairs of sunglasses that he’s used for various other military deployments and exercises. He’s given me around a dozen pairs to take to Nepal, which I hope to leave with the young men in the monastery. 

Anna and I have been reading blogs from previous volunteers and talking to friends and family who have traveled to Nepal for advice on what to see, what to do, and what to know before we go. We’ve received so much support and enthusiasm and have been fortunate to get some excellent and legitimate pointers from people who are invested in our trip including Anna’s uncles, my college friend who travels to Kathmandu for work, various family friends, and a friendly Nepalese server at a local Indian restaurant. 

My favorite two (less serious) suggestions so far are: 1) Watch out for thieving monkeys.  They are pickpockets and will steal the scarf from around your neck if you’re not careful. 2) The best way to avoid a rhino attack is to run in a zig-zag because they can’t turn their bodies that quickly. Don’t run straight because rhinos are fast. Good to know…

The next few weeks and months are uncertain and exciting, and I’m looking forward to the unknown adventures ahead and sharing them with you here, through stories and pictures in this online journal. 

Most importantly, I want to thank my mother, sister, fiancé, boss and co-workers. You have all supported me as I have considered, planned and committed to this trip. You are taking care of my home and work while I’m away and have agreed to this selflessly without question or hesitation.  It’s an understatement to say that I could not do this without you. I am so fortunate to have each of you on my team. Thank you.