Let me get right to the point first and foremost:
I am going to Afghanistan for a year. I am leaving sometime in late January or early February.
Now that I have the summary out of the way, I want to write about why I am going and a few of the things going through my head in regards to this trip.
First, the financial side. This is easy. I got a job, which is great news. After nearly a year of floating around, working at jobs that didn’t fit, or trying to make ends meet with freelance gigs, I figured it was high time I got a job that would allow me to make some money. With all my experience working with the military, a job in Afghanistan allows me the ability to make up for lost income and save money for when I get back, since who knows what positions will be available and how the defense budget will look when I get back.
That said, I am not going just for the money. There is a scene in Star Wars: A New Hope after Han and Luke rescue Princess Leia when Princess Leia denigrates Han for thinking only about the cash and not for the deeper meaning of his actions.
HAN: It is for me, sister! Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money!
LEIA: You needn’t worry about your reward. If money is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive!
She angrily turns, and as she starts out of the cockpit, passes Luke coming in.
LEIA: Your friend is quite a mercenary. I wonder if he really cares about anything…or anyone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this scene and how Han Solo went from mercenary rogue in A New Hope to leader of a community and man with a purpose by the end of Return of the Jedi. Although I was never a smuggler living life on the lam, I can see how I had few of the wrong things in common with Han.
(Yes, that was a weird Star Wars tangent, and I apologize, but it was relevant to me.)
While I was not steadily employed I did a lot of thinking about my life and career and whether or not I was happy with its current direction. Looking back, I definitely was not. I wrote about this before, but although I was making money and that made me successfully happy, I never could envision long-term happiness until I found something new. Many of the people I talked to called this “following your heart” and I like that term. Not everyone gets to do that, but because I don’t have anyone currently depending on me for their life essentials, I think it’s time I gave it a try.
(Another quick aside: My friend Andrea has a really good post on her blog about following your dreams. She is also trying to figure it out.)
But there is a big problem with following your heart and making a career change: I have to start at the beginning. I have to work my way up from the bottom and I have to network all over again. That’s not easy, it takes time, and odds are I won’t be making much money while in the nascent stages of a new career. Going to Afghanistan and making a year’s worth of tax-free income will provide a nice economic cushion for whatever route I choose.
Maybe my new career will be in writing. If you are familiar with this site, you might know I’ve done quite a bit of that, whether writing about the Tampa music scene, sports, or other miscellaneous projects. I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to continue to write in Afghanistan during my time outside of the office. I’m sure I could work on my short stories and maybe even write a book review or two. My writing network might weaken a bit from time being out of the loop, but it won’t disappear. And there are several projects I am sure I’ll be able to step right back into when I get back to the US.
One of the other thoughts I have had upon my return is a tour of various minor league baseball parks. I talked to a few people who did this during the 2011 season and although costly, they found it fun. And it would fall in very well with my work with Bus Leagues Baseball.com.
I could also take the money I make and use it as the backbone of life as a road comic. This would be much more difficult, but I do have some experience on stage. Not much, but some. And I could travel around the US doing open mics and attempting to network and make a name for myself. Maybe I could go to New York City or Los Angeles for a year and submerge myself in their respective comedy scenes and not have to wait tables like many struggling beginning performers do.
I’ve also visited and exchanged emails with the professors of the University of South Florida’s anthropology department in regards to starting PhD work in August 2013. I am especially interested in working in media anthropology, or the study of media-based creative culture to include fan groups, wide-spread social media usage, and being what Professor Henry Jenkins of University of South California calls an “aca-fan”, or academic fan. Some of the writing I have done on this blog has leaned slightly in that direction in an amateur way, and I think further pursuing that would be a great fit for me. Of course, PhD programs are not cheap, and the money made in Afghanistan will help me pay for this venture.
Am I scared about being in one of the worst places in the world, in a place where there are people who likely want to see me dead? Of course. But that fear is tempered by the fact that I know there are people there who are trained to protect civilian workers such as myself and they are very good at their job. I am also reassured by the dozens of people I know who have been over there already and have come back healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Also comforting is the fact that I will not be there alone. There are friends of mine, some from my career and some from college, who are there right now and some who will be showing up during my time there. As of this time, I am not sure exactly where I am going as there are many US bases in Afghanistan, so I don’t know if I will run into anyone I know, but I’m sure they will be going through many of the same experiences I will be going through.
I am also reassured by the fact that I have gotten emails and even Facebook comments from friends while in Afghanistan which leads me to believe that I can stay in touch, albeit not as often as when I am home. It won’t be the face-to-face, but at least it’s communication, which is a good thing. I’m not sure how my access will affect this blog, my other blogging endeavors, or my ability to post on twitter, but there are strings available to keep me in touch. And I will be sure to share my physical address when I find that out.
Will I miss my family and friends? Definitely. There is no doubt I will miss seeing my parents, my brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and my 4-year old nephew. They are a big part of my life and being away from them for a year is going to suck, point blank. But when I was in the military years ago, I would only come home for Christmas and this is not much different than that, although the me back then was a 19-21 year old me, a less mature me, a more adventurous me, a less-family conscious me, and one that didn’t value the connections as much as I do now. I’ve also been thinking that various people go away all the time, such as military members of course, and inmates. And I have a leg up on inmates, they go away longer and don’t get paid as much if they do at all.
On a sorta related note, like having to start over professionally, I am a little worried about how this trip will affect me socially. Although I have plenty of friends and people to hang out with, I’ve been single for a long time and lived by myself for most of my time in Tampa and am just now realizing how kinda silly that was and is. While I am sure I won’t have my own tent or room or whatever other living arrangements there are in Afghanistan, I am also pretty sure I won’t be doing any dating over there and the odds that I meet a woman over there that becomes a friend stateside that I could hang out with regularly is probably pretty low. So the social life that I want to work on to has to be put on hold for a year. But like any other goal, as long as I keep what I want in mind and remember not to fall into another social rut, I should be ok.
Sorry this is so long, but it is my blog and this is what I am thinking about in regards to going to Afghanistan. It’s going to be a lot of work packing, putting things in storage, and preparing, but I am sure I will be ready when the time comes. I’m planning on putting a few more posts on this blog between now and the end of January, so I will be around for a little while longer, but I wanted to tell everyone what I know now so it’s not too much of a shock when I do take off.