The shocking part about coming back to the United States after more than two years of life on the barely-habitable edge of the Sahara was just how smooth the transition was. One day I was crammed in the back of a forty-year-old Mercedes with three other men, chugging down a one-lane road without a tree in sight; a week later I was alone at the wheel of a 2000s-era Camry, cruising down a divided highway at 65 and watching the North Carolina greenery go by. I hit the ground running and hardly looked back, life in Morocco quickly fading towards the edges of my conscience, pushed aside by the demanding deluge of catching up with old friends, eating Mexican food and cheese-drenched pizza, using a “high-speed” Internet connection (though that’s debatable), and trying to figure out plans for the future, the proverbial next step. Since then the time has flown by, and oddly enough, I’ll be heading back to North Africa in just two days. Asking myself what I’ve actually been doing over the course of the last few months, I tried to come up with a makeshift list. Here’s what I’ve got:
Graduate School Logistics
My first big task upon arrival home was wrapping up graduate school applications and figuring out exactly how I wanted to articulate my research interests and proposed plan of study. I’d done a lot of the legwork while in Morocco, including writing out a general statement of purpose, lining up recommendations, and excerpting an appropriate writing sample, but I had yet to refine some elements and tailor them to the different programs. I wrapped everything up with time to spare, and had applications submitted by early December, and then got around to the most time-consuming aspect of the process: waiting patiently to hear back. At the beginning of March I was ecstatic to learn I’d been admitted to the Arabic Studies program at my top choice of UT-Austin, and offered a great fellowship for the privilege. So as of this fall I’ll officially be a Longhorn, working with some really amazing people while continuing to engage Arabic and Berber dialects in North Africa from a linguistic angle. My short visit to Austin last week was really outstanding, and I can’t wait to move down and settle in for the next few years.
I haven’t spent much time at my parents’ house in recent years, but whenever I do I end up playing the role of perpetual repairman. This time around I don’t feel as productive as I would have liked, but there are two less leaky bathtubs in the house and one less computer with viruses. My “big” project was to renovate my own room, an endeavor that seemed rather urgent prior to getting my fall plans together and knowing I wouldn’t be in NC indefinitely. I somehow managed to clear nearly two decades’ worth of junk out of the entire room, much of which went to the thrift store, and within 4 or 5 days had a completely new living space with repainted walls, a laminate floor, and a patched ceiling. The floor in particular was significant given I’d ripped the carpet out a few years ago in an allergic rage a few years ago, and had been walking around barefoot on the splintery baseboard ever since. I also managed not to cut off any digits despite my first tryst with a circular saw, and cut over 150 square feet of laminate without wasting a board. Above are before and after photos of one corner.
I built my last computer at the beginning of high school, a monster Pentium IV with a 128 MB graphics card that could handle nearly any of the 3D challenges of the day. A decade later, on the other hand, I’d beat Half-Life enough times that I decided it was time to move on to better things. Everyone in Peace Corps called me cheap for managing to save half of my $200 salary each month, but they should now rest assured that all the meat I didn’t eat went into funding the mammoth computer I put together only a few weeks after touching down in DC. With a Core i7 running at 3.06Ghz, 6 GB of DDR3 overclocked to 1600 MHz, a Solid State Drive for the operating system and common programs, and two 1 GB video cards configured in SLI mode, I’m hoping that this desktop will remain relevant for at least a few years. I ordered all the parts and put them together almost effortlessly, only having to hacksaw one clip off an ATX connector that didn’t want to fit. The only real issue I had was a bad stick of RAM that wouldn’t work at cold boot, but after a couple of months of testing I identified it, sent it back to G.SKILL, and got a free replacement almost immediately. The computer’s now running flawlessly, and has been a boon to at least the following two “accomplishments” of mine.
What’s work without some fun on the side? On my second day home my buddy Adam showed up at my house with a gift: Starcraft 2, the holy grail of nerd-dom. While admittedly a computer game about the galactic battle between three warmongering civilizations, the graphics are gorgeous, the storyline fun and intriguing, and the strategies required for winning surprisingly demanding of brainpower and attentiveness. I’ve probably logged an average hour a day on this game (which isn’t bad given most Americans sit in front of the TV for four or five, right?). Adam and I climbed the ranks to the #1 team in our league, and now we’re stuck waiting for the magical ranking algorithm to move us into the next, more competitive league. Where we’ll probably get crushed by people who play SC2 around the clock.
Oh yeah, I established a web start-up. Nothing too serious, but sometime over the last year I had asked myself what would happen if there was a Twitter-like entity where, by community rules, you could post only in haiku format. Having now tested my hypothesis for over a month, I have come to the conclusion that I was correct: it would be a nerd Mecca of sorts. With over 1400 “haiku” (using a rather loose definition) and people other than my friends actually using it, the website has at least been a fun experiment so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with it. It’s free and you’re welcome to check it out and join by clicking on the screenshot to the right.
Music and Recording
Starting my sophomore year of high school, I dreamed of having a Les Paul guitar. Yes, they’re iconic and beautiful, but more so than that feel better to play than any other guitar I’ve ever laid my hands on. Heavy guitars with thin necks and tight action are my modus operandi, and when I play a Les Paul it’s like I’m not even putting any effort into fretting and playing — I just dabble around and it comes out sounding great. Yet again Adam hooked me up, selling me his Les Paul and kick-starting my renewed musical pursuits (as well as my red guitar collection, pictured). When friends James and Jerry came over to jam, we ended up putting together some pretty rocking recordings. It’s nice to know that, despite the fact we’ve all been living in different places for years, we can still meet up and make music that’s remarkably well-orchestrated. I’ll miss playing with these guys when in Texas, but am hoping that Austin will nonetheless live up to its status as the “live music capitol of the world.”
I’ve been up and down the east coast in the last few months, with repeat trips to DC, Delaware, and the North Carolina Piedmont, and I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with a lot of friends and family. But the travel is only beginning — in a couple of days I’ll be flying to Spain, soloing it in Andalusia for about a week, and then ferrying across the Straits back into Morocco. I’m trying to fortify my Arabic before starting graduate school, and with the Middle East experiencing dramatic changes it’s becoming harder and harder to resist the desire to be in a coffee shop feeling out the sentiments on the ground. I previously lived in southern Morocco, and this time I’ll be in the North, two days’ travel from that town, so while familiar I do expect the coming months to be a new experience in their own right. It’s been great to have some time off, but I am itching to get back into a daily routine of reading, writing, and speaking Arabic, and now feels like the right time to go. I only hope that the transition back to North Africa will be as seamless as was the transition from it. Not too worried though — I have reason to believe it will.