Tag Archives: Nepal

‘Wealthy’ Neighbors

When your neighbor appears wealthier than you, it affects how you view your own life. I’ve seen this in both of the countries where I’ve served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, in how Nepalis view India and how Moldovans view Romania.

Most Americans probably view India and Romania as developing economies, which they are relative to ours. But in Nepal, India is the wealthier neighbor next door, as is China to the north. In Moldova, which was once part of Romania, many people look admiringly at their western neighbor’s economy, which has prospered since joining the European Union in 2007. This is especially true in our home city of Ialoveni, which has strong cultural ties with Romania. In some other parts of Moldova, the outward focus is more on Russia, whose economy is also much wealthier.

Many Moldovans are eligible for dual citizenship with Romania. If they can obtain a Romanian passport, they can work in EU countries. Every day, they line up outside the Romanian Embassy, which is located down the block from the Peace Corps office. In between are passport photo shops, travel companies and employment agencies.

The three high school students who were on my Diamond Challenge entrepreneurship team last year are all studying now at universities in Romania. Several of the girls on my current team may study in Romania, too. A young man from Ialoveni who I tutored in English is now there as well, as are people from across Moldova. Many others are in Italy, Germany, France and other Western countries, as well as in Russia and other countries to the East.

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Before we came to Moldova, we visited our nephew Shankar and other members of our family in Nepal who live near its eastern border. India is on the left side of the river behind us in this photo.

It all reminds me of what I’ve seen in Nepal, where India is a larger, wealthier and more powerful neighbor — and one much more accessible than China for most Nepalis. A large percentage of Nepal’s adult population has left to work across the border or elsewhere, especially in the Gulf, although there are also Indians who come to work in Nepal.

When Champa and I visited Nepal before we came to Moldova, we spent several days at her sister’s home in a small village near the Indian border. In the evening, we could look across the river into India and see homes whose brighter lights contrasted with those on our side, where electricity was weak and  irregular. We often had to use candles and flashlights. So did the family next door, which had a television and other nice things purchased by their son who worked abroad.

Here in Moldova, many of my colleagues at the library earn a bit more than $100 per month. Monthly pensions for retirees are far lower. Highly-educated employees at the local county government earn only a few hundred dollars per month. No wonder some Moldovans look lookingly at their counterparts in Romania, whose GDP per capita in 2016 was $9,474 compared to $1,900 for Moldova, according to the World Bank. (For the United States, it was $57,467.)

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We saw Romania’s economic growth for ourselves when we visited Transylvania last spring.

All I can say is that what I’ve seen here in Moldova feels familiar to me, as does the irony that the same Romanians whose economic situation seems better may aspire themselves to get a green card to live and work in the United States. Likewise for people from India and other countries whose economies look impressive to their poorer neighbors but remain behind our own and, of course, include wide disparities in income and opportunity.

It’s all relative, and we’re not immune from these comparisons ourselves. When Champa and I flew home from Nepal last time, we stopped for several hours in the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar, whose Doha airport felt like a palace compared to many of ours in the United States. I was impressed, if not a little jealous, even though I was glad to leave and continue home.

Our sense of other people and places begins with our own lives. Wealth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

 

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200 Posts: Top Ten

This is my 200th post on Not Exactly Retired, which I started in mid-2015.IMG_0992 As we’ve traveled around the United States, spent time in Nepal and served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova, the blog’s audience has kept growing, with more than 26,000 visits so far. Thanks to all of you who have joined us on our journey!

FullSizeRender 808“Not Exactly Retired” advances two of the three official goals of Peace Corps: to promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans, and vice versa. (The other goal is to “help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.”)

Here’s a Top Ten list of the blog’s most popular stories so far, as measured by views. There’s more to come, so stick around — and if you know anyone who might enjoy Not Exactly Retired, please tell them about it and invite them to subscribe.

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The Most-Viewed Stories on Not Exactly Retired

  1. Peace Corps After 50 (featured on PBS/NextAvenue)
  2. Peace Corps: Now vs. Then (comparing service in Nepal and Moldova)
  3. Funny Peace Corps Videos (the joys of pooping in a hole)
  4. Moldova’s Marathon (a recent story about runners here)
  5. Are Volunteers Over-Connected? (from WorldView Magazine)
  6. Older Peace Corps Volunteers (a 5-part series about Moldova)
  7. Message in a Bottle (discovering your impact on someone, decades later)
  8. Life is Calling (making a big change doesn’t need to be scary)
  9. Reading in OverDrive (how to read books on your e-reader for free)
  10. The Smokehouse Experiment (former PCVs open a restaurant here)

Other popular stories have focused on the perils of downsizing after decades of American life, Thanksgiving in Moldova, an amazing Romanian salt mine and the adventures a friend and I experienced years ago while backpacking across Afghanistan, Nepal, Sudan and other places.

Not surprisingly, most of the blog’s views have come from readers in the United States, followed by Moldova. Rounding out the Top Ten are Romania, the United Kingdom, Nepal, Canada, Germany, Ecuador, India and the Philippines, all with at least 100 views.

Are you enjoying “Not Exactly”? Do you have any reactions to these lists? Requests for future stories? As always, I welcome your feedback and comments.

 

Where Are You, Reader?

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 11.27.18 AMMore than 12,000 readers have visited “Not Exactly Retired” since its launch two years ago. I was curious where all of you are located, so recently ran a search on WordPress, which hosts the site.

Here are the results, in order.

Not surprisingly, the largest group of readers is in the United States, followed by Moldova, where we are serving as Peace Corps Volunteers.

The Top Five also includes Nepal, where Champa was born and we maintain close ties, so that’s not a surprise either. Nor is Romania, which is next to Moldova, especially since I wrote a series of stories in April about our trip to Transylvania, some of which were featured on sites within the country.

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 12.02.12 PMSome of the other “Top Dozen,” though, surprised me. Who are all of you reading “Not Exactly” in Ecuador or the Philippines? Are you fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in those countries? How about in India, Germany and Italy? I know at least one loyal reader in Singapore (hi Corinna!), but who are the rest of you? The data provided by WordPress provide only a glimpse.

I’d love to hear from you, even if your country is not on this list. You may be in one of the other countries shown in yellow on the map. I’m so happy to be sharing our journey with you. Please comment here or send me a message at djarmul@gmail.com. Tell me who you are!

Two Anniversaries

We’re celebrating two anniversaries this month: two years since I left my job at Duke and one year since Champa and I arrived in Moldova to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers.

20150615_180259As a new book makes clear, the “not exactly retired” path we’ve charted for ourselves is not exactly for everyone. Many people want to be retired in a traditional sense — playing golf, gardening or relaxing in other ways. Others seek to remain connected to their previous workplace or profession, or to search for new meaning in their life. Some end up watching too much television or getting depressed.

In Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age, sociologist Nancy K. Schlossberg explores the different paths people follow. She describes the six most common routes as “continuers,” “adventurers,” easy gliders,” “involved spectators,” “searchers” and “retreaters.”

Since we made the leap, traveling across the United States and Nepal and then joining the Peace Corps, Champa and I have mostly been “adventurers.” Schlossberg describes this route as “an opportunity to pursue an unrealized dream or try something new.” In my case, there’s also been an element of “continuer,” since I’ve remained active in communications, albeit in a very different way from when I was running a university communications office.

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Even though I was more than ready for the transition, it took time to adjust to my new life, just as my sister Nancy had warned me. (She is the author of Second-Act Careers, which I recommend highly.) I had trouble letting go of my professional identity, which I continued to highlight on my LinkedIn profile for several months. Only later did I change it to emphasize my role as a blogger and, later, as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Taking extended trips across the United States and Nepal helped loosen my grip. Serving in the Peace Corps then provided me with a new identity and a well-established mission and structure to serve others.

In one year, though, I will finish Peace Corps and again face the challenge of defining “who am I?” for both myself and others who know me, together with Champa. I will also need to reaffirm my identities within my family and my community back home. It’s a process that will probably never end.

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Champa and I know how lucky we are to have these opportunities, even though we really miss our family and are counting the minutes until we see them in a few weeks for a brief vacation.

Schlossberg’s book reminds me how other members of my generation will have their own retirement journeys, which may be very different from our own yet equally valid and compelling. All of us entering this phase of our lives share the challenge of finding the right blend of identity, relationships and purpose to fit our circumstances.

With two years and many miles now behind us, I now recognize our most important choice so far to have been choice itself, to act instead of drifting. What we actually chose is not everyone’s cup of tea (or even Moldovan wine), to be sure, but it’s worked for us. We all face life transitions sooner or later and can either resist or embrace them, however much our destinations and routes may diverge.

I welcome comments about your own dreams and journey, regardless of your age.

100 Posts

This is my 100th post on Not Exactly Retired, which has attracted more than 7,500 visitors since it began in mid-2015. I’ll be celebrating the milestone with a special series about older volunteers in the Peace Corps, starting with my next post.

First, though, especially during this holiday season, I want to pause to tell all of you how much I love producing this blog and appreciate all of you who read it.

img_2535Before Champa and I began our journey 18 months ago, I spent a career doing communications for nonprofit organizations, much of it ghost-writing articles and speeches for others. For four decades, I largely put my own writing aside.

Only after I started Not Exactly Retired did I realize how much I’d missed speaking in my own voice.

Now I get to report first-hand on issues such as immigration or the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal. I can be silly, as with the adventures of our traveling gnome. I can produce videos one week and share recipes the next. Some posts get picked up elsewhere and reach national audiences.

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What I’ve enjoyed most is sharing the incredible experiences Champa and I have had since we walked away from our conventional American lives to pursue new lives of adventure and service, most recently as Peace Corps volunteers in eastern Europe. I treasure the many messages I’ve received and posts I’ve seen from people saying the blog is inspiring them to consider changes in their own lives.

I’ve always been a quick writer, so I can produce the blog while remaining active with everything else I am privileged to be doing as a Peace Corps volunteer. Things go even faster because the layers of my institutional vetting process now work as follows:

Me talking to myself: “So, David, do you approve this?”

Me answering myself: “Yes.”

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-11-22-25-amMost blogs fail. A 2009 New York Times article cited a Technorati survey saying 95 percent of blogs were “essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.”

Not Exacly Retired is going strong thanks to all of you who read it, offer comments and send encouragement. I hope you enjoy the upcoming series and everything that follows. If you have a friend or relative who is pondering how to live the second half of their lives,  or who just has a sense of adventure, I encourage you to share Not Exactly Retired with them, too. Perhaps they will find it useful, or at least entertaining.

As always, I recommend you subscribe directly to the blog. If you’re just linking to it from Facebook, you’re missing out on some of the best stuff.

I also welcome your comments.

And now, on to the series and whatever comes after that. I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly finished yet.