Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Enjoyment Of Unemployment....Part II

If I’m remembering correctly, the idea first began making its way around my head at some point in 2006.  I think it was that year that the concept of living abroad and filling some sort of position in the overall category of “development” began to take hold and occupy an increasingly hospitable place in my thoughts.  There were plenty of things that I found to be appealing in it all.  I was interested in gaining a deeper insight with respect to the world of poverty, immersing myself in a new and foreign culture, and trying my hand at proficiency with a foreign language.  Most of all, though, I was interested in dedicating one year of my life to living in an altruistic manner, to set aside a period of twelve months to focus solely on the act of directing all of the resources I had been given over the years in an outward direction.  

From there, I began researching organizations that do this type of work in the developing world.  I spent months online, looking at various NGOs and the specific work they were carrying out at the time.  I wrote emails.  I made phone calls.  I filled out a few applications.  At one point, I even headed to Arizona to spend a week of “pre-employment training” with one group.  I went on to speak with everyone from the United Nations, to Peace Corps, to your friendly neighborhood missionaries, and in conjunction researched the large, the small, and all organizations in between.  For nearly two years, I looked around without finding that perfect fit, which really, due to the fact that I had a great job and situation back in Colorado, posed no real problem whatsoever.  After all, there was no real hurry.  Eventually, though, in late 2007 I stumbled across an opportunity that sounded and felt right, and within a short time all lights turned to green and all compasses pointed in the southern direction, to Nicaragua. 

One of the challenges I came across in those two years of searching was found in my unique “background”, or “skill set” (skill set is one of those cool terms I picked up in Arizona).  I had a formal education in biological science (with no real experience) and had spent the previous ten years working in the area of emergency services.  What I found was that in looking toward potential projects in this new area (new to me, that is), the general consensus was relatively positive.  The classification, on the other hand, proved a bit more difficult. 

So why do I mention all of this background material?  I mention all of this to make the point that, as it was in pre-2008, I’m once again LOOKING FOR A JOB!!!  I realize that it’s an obvious statement in a Blog entry surrounding unemployment, but I figured I’d go ahead and clear up any confusion that might be present.  I also mention those things above to say that, as was the case before, such an undertaking is not coming without its challenges.  For one, although I’ve been fortunate enough to add a few items to the skill set over the last several years, I’m still a difficult animal to classify in the world of development, especially when the animal is requesting a modest paycheck.  Also, in an attempt to carry out such initial objectives as cultural immersion and poverty education over the last few years, I’ve typically avoided those communities characterized by their lighter skin color and/or economic advantage.  And although I do think there can be something of value to be found there, I have to say that when in search of employment, those living on a dollar per day are NOT going to be one’s most profitable resource. 

Regardless of one’s language, however, the word “challenge” isn’t necessarily classified as a negative, and “difficult” never automatically implies impossible. On a positive note, I think I’m learning a few things these days and hopefully picking up a bit of personal growth along the way.  I’m learning (and re-learning) such practical skills as the compilation and presentation of the resume, the do’s and don’ts of the interview process, and perhaps most notably, the value of networking.  I’ve been gaining perspective and insight with respect to the overall concept of work (more specifically, work that carries with it a monthly paycheck) and the value and role it occupies in one’s life.  And recently I’ve found myself exploring that fine line dividing such traits as persistence and diligence from the simple allowance of letting events and opportunities unfold and present themselves as they are meant to, in their own way and in their own time.  Perhaps more than anything I’m just learning to find a place of peace in a moment often characterized by such less than attractive words as restlessness, frustration, worry, or doubt.

On the lighter side, I’ve been reading some great books, getting more than enough rest, and catching up on the Oscar nominated films of 2010 (a personal recommendation…127 hours).  As for the matter of finding a job, something will eventually turn up, of that I’m confident.  And when it does, I’ll have additional topics about which to Blog.  In the meantime, though, I think I’ll just focus on the enjoyment of unemployment

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Enjoyment Of Unemployment....Part 1

I suppose it all started back in mid November, IT being this current status that I am attempting to enjoy, or at least view in a positive light on a daily basis.  OK, at VERY least, I’m working on being at peace with it all.  There were the initial differences of opinion, which lead to a bit of occupational conflict, which in turn lead to some very positive changes, which then took a sudden and unexpected turn to this place of looking for a new job.  Unemployed.  There, I said it.  It’s out there.  Unemployment.   Unemployment.  Unemployment.  Hey, it kind of has a nice ring to it.   

The good news is that unemployment is something relatively new for me, as my unofficial work history began at what most would consider to be a young age.  I mean I was mowing lawns and babysitting younger kids in the neighborhood when I had not yet entered the teenage years.  Prior to that, there were a number of sporadic employment experiences ranging from office clerk to school maintenance man, uh, boy.  At 14, I started my first “official” job, and ended up working as many hours AFTER school as I spent IN school.  And although I did choose to spend the majority of my college years hidden in the bowels of the university’s library rather than immersed in the local work force, this was a choice (i.e. luxury) that I was allowed.  Following graduation, I was back in the workplace.  OK, so maybe I eeeeassssed in to the work force a bit, but I was back out there, contributing to the overall economic production and benefit of society.  And it is THERE, in THAT place, that I had comfortably resided until......mid November.

From this junction, I think that this entry could take a number of different paths.  I could talk about how unfair and wrong the whole situation was, how disrespectful and damaging it was on a very personal level.  I could talk about how cruel and horrible the people are that contributed to my new found status.  But in the end, there wouldn’t be anything especially productive to be found there.  I could also talk about my own range emotions, the range that closely parallels that whole “stages of grief” cycle and ends with a great sense of freedom and optimism upon looking toward the future OR a desire to punch someone in the face, depending on which day of the week you happen to catch me.  But again, I’ll save that for another day. 

Instead, I’m going to focus on those things that I find to pass the time, to fill the hours from one day to the next.  Because if there's one thing that I have at the moment, it is a LOT….and I mean a LOOOOOOOT….of free time.  And with that, here are a few of the list toppers.

I’m a Sudoku Guy in a Sudoku World

In early 2007, I took a trip to Panama.  The idea was to take one of those immersion type Spanish courses and expand my bilingual tongue beyond such words as taco and bano.  When I arrived, I found that I was essentially the ONLY student in the school at that moment, and therefore had no shortage of available hours in the day….solo hours (wait a minute, this is starting to sound a little redundant).  Fortunately, someone had given me one of those little books of Sudoku, and I quickly found myself engrossed in the Japanese pastime of filling numbers into tiny square boxes. 

I hadn’t done much with respect to the Sodoku world over the past several years.  In fact, upon starting anew, I had to reread the directions to remember how to begin.  But before long, I was back at it, immersed in a world of one through nine, and within very little time, finding myself progressing beyond the “EASY” puzzles and into the world known as “Intermediate”. “WOW, I thought, I remember the intermediates being SOOOOO hard when I was in Panama”.  “Is it possible that I have somehow increased my intellectual capacity over the last few years”?  When I progressed to the “DIFFICULT” level, I began to think I was encroaching upon genius territory.  “Maybe THIS can be my new job”, I thought.  “I’ll be a professional SUDOKU player!”  Of course that bubble was quickly burst when I showed the kid in the neighborhood the ancient art from the east, and watched him rapidly progress through the designated levels.  These days, it’s all I can do to stay one step ahead of him, and he’s all of 11 years old. 

Regardless, I’m enjoying the puzzles, and a good one can easily take between thirty minutes to an hour.  Besides, I figure it’s like exercise for the brain.  It’s all about problem solving, and if handled correctly, does lead to a great sense of personal satisfaction.  I avoid TV as much as possible.  Sudoku, on the other hand, is just good, healthy, brain-building fun.

Back In The Saddle Again

Speaking of exercise, let me just sum it all up here in three short words….I’M BACK, BABY!!!!!.  I’ll explain.  To truly understand the significance of this statement, you have to understand a little something about my prior, prior meaning “pre-Nicaraguan”, life.  I was living in Colorado for the eleven years leading up to 2008, and I was fortunate enough to take advantage of the lifestyle offered by its geographic location.
Depending on the season, I was generally found to be on some road, trail, slope, cliff, or mountain, participating in some type of sport or activity falling under the genre of “outdoor adventure”.  On the days that I was working, I was utilizing the provided workout facilities and/or running in circles around the fire stations.  The point is that prior to coming south, I was one active muchacho.

When I arrived in Nicaragua, I did make an attempt to maintain some basic level of activity.  I was living just outside of the city at the time and had at my disposal both a small swimming pool in the yard and miles of dirt roads immediately outside the front gate.  But I quickly grew tired of running in the intense heat and humidity, and the combination of being heckled by the locals and chased by numerous angry dogs on a daily basis proved to be somewhat of a detractor from the overall relaxation and enjoyment of it all.  As for the pool, its minimal size (thing large in-ground baby pool) made me feel as though I were the proverbial hamster (with fins and snorkel, of course) running on the wheel.  Besides, I’ve always claimed to be a land mammal.  The water has never been my forte. 

The point is that for the last three years, I’ve found myself to be on the other extreme of the spectrum.  I went from literally hours of physical activity on a daily basis to, well, zero; zero, that is, until recently.  These days, such activities as jogging and homegrown strength training (that refers to push-ups and sit-ups in my room or pull-ups on the local playground…..like one of those guys on the monkey bars in those inspirational Al Queda training videos) are a regular part of my routine.  I've also been sprinkling in a bit of yoga and hope to be standing atop a local volcano by the end of next week.  AND, last but not least, as an added bonus to my current lack of transportation (yet another story for another day), I’m spending literally HOURS each day in a more subtle and often overlooked form of exercise, namely walking.

As enjoyable as it is, I do have to say that there ARE a few downsides to the walking.  In a city where the overall crime rate is somewhere along the lines of, oh I don’t know, 100%, it can take on an element of danger.  But I figure that in the case of an attempted robbery, I can simply use it as an opportunity to participate in additional track and field events, such as sprinting or the shot-put (i.e. running away furiously while screaming and throwing chunks of broken concrete).  The other downside is that although I really DO want to be in shape again (and feeling really good at the moment), I really DON’T want to lose any weight.  Despite my lack of physical activity over the last few years, I’ve struggled to maintain a healthy weight.  The good news was that I was finally starting to put on a few pounds.  The bad news is that with my new found level of fitness, I think I’m going in the wrong direction.  Well, in the words of my niece and nephew, I’ll just say this:

“More fried cheese please!”  

Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

Despite a strangely large number of biblical references to standards of personal and communal hygiene, I seriously doubt that the act of tidying up oneself or immediate surroundings has much to do with one’s level of spirituality.  But to be fair, I should mention that I’ve always been a bit of a “neat freak”.  I figure that cleanliness is one of those things, in addition to the opposable thumbs of course, that sets us apart in the animal kingdom.  And besides, is there any real reason to live in an environment defined primarily by one’s own filth?  I say NO!  But even the cleanest of the group can get a little behind the 8 ball every once and a while.  And for me, I watched the 8 ball roll by at some point near the end of the rainy season in October of last year. 

I think there were three primary factors that contributed to what I now refer to as “The Perfect Bacterial Storm” that took place in the room where I currently live.  First there was an especially RAINY (i.e. SUPER WET) rainy season.  This, combined with the fact that the room, despite its lack of windows, does have a concrete wall that opens to the great outdoors on the other side, created a moldy predisposition.  When I closed the place up for several weeks and headed north for a bit of time with the family, things got a little out of hand.  What I returned to was what I would describe as wall to wall carpeting.  The walls.  The floor.  The mattress.  The clothes. The shoes. The paper and books.  The sheets and pillows.  EVERYTHING had seemingly bathed in a furry fungal substance. 

For the next several weeks, I armed myself with bleach and various scrubbing agents and went to work.  Fortunately, this event coincided with the END of the rainy season, so I was able to take advantage of the intense tropical sun to reach a level of dryness unseen in the previous six months.  I discovered that the roof was an excellent place to dry out one’s freshly scrubbed possessions, and at the end of a 20 to 30 day period, I joyfully declared an end to all major combat operations in Altagracia.  There were, of course, a few casualties, but what can you do? 

What I noticed, though, was that after spending the previous three years working in the area of “international development”, it was strangely rewarding to see a “finished product”.  In other words, after participating in a line of work that is characterized by INCREDIBLY slow and subtle results (if ANY), cleaning brought about a welcomed sense of instant gratification.  Before long, in addition to volunteering for dish duty after most meals, I was washing and waxing vehicles, cleaning closets in preparation for garage sales, and hand washing socks and underwear at a pace equal to that of my personal utilization.  Along similar lines, I also began repairing every damaged item I could get my hands on. Doors. Toilets. Motorcycles (remember that part about walking from above?).  Anything that was nonfunctional or could use a little improvement….I was on it.  The point wasn’t so much about the activity itself as it was about the end result.  Again, it felt especially rewarding to, after any number of minutes, hours, or days, take a step back and admire the beauty of a finished product. I am certainly one to appreciate the patience required by a long and arduous road, but I’m learning that a tangible representation of the fruits of one’s labor can be something particularly valuable.  I suppose that if I am particularly astute here, I should take note of some valuable insight in all of that.  Insight, that is, that could come in handy for the next chapter of my occupational life.

….to be continued