Time to say goodbye
Well folks, I guess this is it. I'm not sure I completely believe it myself, but this year has finally come to an end. Wow. I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am to finally be going back home. Before I get into the rest of what I have to say, let me pause for a quick second to answer a question that's been on everyone's mind (well, on Laura's mind at least) as my time here has drawn to a close. Yes, I do plan to continue blogging. It's funny -- last summer I barely knew what a "blog" was, let alone how much a part of my life this one was destined to become. I was simply looking for a way to effectively keep in touch with my friends and family back home, and it boiled down to either sending a mass email to everyone on my contacts list once a month or so, or doing this. I figured this was a little bit less intrusive and a little bit more user-friendly, so I went with it. Along the way I've discovered that not only do I enjoy it for my own sake, but it turns out that my readers have enjoyed it, too. I've done what I set out to do -- keep in touch with family and friends -- and I've even managed to strengthen some of those relationships. I've also managed to pick up a few "strangers" along the way -- people who've stumbled across the blog one way or another and enjoyed what they read. To me, that's just icing on the cake. The new blog will function to serve much the same purpose that this one has, namely keeping in touch. I've been surprised at the number of "long lost friends" that I've reconnected with through this website (some going as far back as seventh grade!), and I'd love to try and keep those connections strong. If writing a story or two every week or so about my life will allow me to stay in touch with those friends then I'm all for it. Plus, all of my family and relatives that are scattered all over the country will be able to stay a little bit more current on my life. You can find the new blog over at http://dltbgyd.blogs.com/. There's not much there yet, just a short (and hopefully educational) post about the title of the web page. Give me a week or so to get back to the States and get settled, and then you can expect some regular updates. With that out of the way, let's get on to the rest of this post. I'll start by answering a question that was posed by Jen, one of the aforementioned "strangers" who came across this site and then kept coming back for more. She asks, and I quote, "Are you glad that you made the decision to spend a year of your life in Afghanistan? Do you have any regrets?" I have two answers for those two questions: YES, and NO, respectively. I am glad that I made the decision to spend a year out here, and I have no regrets at all. None. Now the question that's not asked directly, but is most definitely implied, is "why?" To properly answer that, let me give you just a little bit of background. (my apologies to the family and friends that have heard this all before...but you know what? This is my last post, which means it's supposed to be something of a summary. In order to properly summarize, sometimes you have to rehash material that's already been discussed. So deal with it). A little over one year ago, I was struggling. More specifically, I was struggling financially. Don't get me wrong -- I had a job and my needs were met, so things weren't desperate. But things weren't exactly wonderful, either. I found myself a couple years deep in the "real world" (a term that I despise, by the way), and I was growing more and more cynical by the day. See, there's this thing you have to deal with in the "real world" called financial responsibility, and I wasn't very good at it. My bills were getting paid, but I was growing increasingly frustrated with how little of my paycheck I got to keep for myself. Not surprisingly, it was during this time that I discovered and began to appreciate the Libertarian Party, but I digress... It wasn't just the government that was taking my money, in fact they weren't even taking the biggest chunk of it. I was also losing money each month to three different credit cards (my own stupid fault, I know), three different student loans, an auto loan, and a company that was supposed to be helping me consolidate all this debt and pay it off faster. After everyone took their share, I discovered that I had less than half of my monthly income left over. I used that remainder to write checks for rent, car insurance, a cell phone, food, and gas, and when it was all said and done I usually had less than $100 left over each month for myself. I realize I'm being fairly candid here, but I just want to paint an accurate picture for you. One tank of gas to get myself to the mountains and back for a weekend of snowboarding, and I'd blown a third of my disposable income for the month. $100 or less each month that I could spend on clothes, CDs, movies, beer, snowboarding, and general entertainment, and that's if I didn't save a dime of it. You can see why I wasn't doing a whole lot of dating at the time ("how 'bout some Ramen at my place?" wasn't exactly bringing the ladies running). When I finally decided to tighten the belt and start saving money, I had even less disposable cash, and even then it took me six months to save up less than four hundred dollars. At the rate I was going, it would take me two years to afford a decent, one week vacation. It wasn't a pretty picture, and I wasn't happy with it. At all. That's when I discovered the opportunity to spend one year of my life in Afghanistan. It sounded crazy at first, but I then noticed how much they pay. Suddenly it was a very, very tempting idea. In return for one year of my life, I was promised enough money to pay off ALL of my debt, with a chunk of change left over. It didn't take long for me to sign on the dotted line and get on a plane. In the one year that I've been here, I've seen and experienced more than I could ever hope to condense into one short essay. I've visited a side of the planet that I never thought I'd see. I've seen how the people of the country of Afghanistan live, both in the big city of Kabul and in the small village of Jegdalek. I've observed a little bit of what it is that our government and our military are trying to accomplish over here. I've met people from more countries than I can name, and forged some friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. I've taken a vacation to Europe, a lifelong dream, and I did it a lot sooner than I ever could have hoped, given my situation back in the States. I've fallen in love with the idea of travel, with the prospect of seeing as much as I can possibly see on this vast Earth. I've endured a lot, but I've learned a lot, too. Most importantly, after one year in Afghanistan, I've accomplished the very goals that I set out to achieve. I can now proudly say that I am 100% debt free. On top of that, I have a significant sum of money saved up. I'm not "rich" by conventional standards, but the feeling I get from being financially secure says I might as well be. If you'll allow me to gloat just a little bit, I'll tell you a story that would have been nothing more than a daydream before I left the States. When I get home, I plan to take two months off. That's two months with no job, and no income, and it doesn't stress me out at all. My calendar for the next two months is already full of trips and social outings that I'm eagerly looking forward to. As soon as I get home, I'll be on a plane to Washington state to visit some family and friends for a few days. I've even talked half of my cousins and an aunt and uncle into coming along with me to the Reel Big Fish/Catch 22 show in Spokane. As soon as I get back home to Colorado, I'll be treating several friends to three amazing ska and punk shows (including the two bands I've just mentioned) in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins. On the 10th of August, the day after the third show, I'll be hopping in a car with my brother and heading out to Las Vegas for three or four days of the kind of fun that only Vegas can provide. When we get back from that trip, I'll be looking forward to the arrival of an old high school friend who will be in town around the 18th or 20th. On the 23rd, I've got plans to see another great show in Denver with a new friend of mine. I'll spend the very next weekend canoeing down the Colorado River and into Moab, Utah with my immediate family. A few days later I'll be hopping in the car with my sister and road-tripping across the Midwest to visit a whole different set of cousins/aunts/uncles and a grandma. We'll return just in time for my sister's wedding, and then a few days later I'll celebrate my birthday. When it's finally all said and done, and I've recovered from whatever is to become of my birthday party, I might finally start to think about getting a job. Maybe. It's going to be two months of relaxation, fun, vacations, socializing, and just plain bliss. It's a break that I never would have been able to take had I not spent a year in Afghanistan, and I can't wait. It's not just the "break" that I'm looking forward to -- it's the fact that I'll be able to do some things financially that I'd never dreamed possible. I'll be able to buy a car, in cash. I'll also be able to re-accumulate some of the material possessions that I sold before coming out here -- I plan to buy myself a new snowboard and maybe a new computer. Who knows, maybe I'll even start dating again. I'm trying not to be entirely short sighted with my hard earned cash, so I'm sure a significant amount will get set aside for retirement and other savings. The point is that I am now experiencing a level of financial freedom that I never dreamed of before. I've endured a year of separation from my family and friends, a year of working a job that I don't enjoy, a year of dealing with meager living conditions, but it has all been worth it. Am I glad that I made the decision to spend a year of my life in Afghanistan? Yes. Do I have any regrets? No. Wholeheartedly. Emphatically. No. Thanks to everyone for reading this website for the past several months, for being a part of my journey. In a matter of days I'll be able to say that to you face to face, to see your smile and give you a hug. Cheers to that.