Wrapping up round 3, tying up loose ends in Deming, saying goodbye and preparing for the trip home consumed most of my attention, so it wasn’t until we were back on campus that it finally began to sink in that this was the end. Our 11 months of service with Americorps NCCC was coming to an end, and it was time for us all to say goodbye [see you later] and begin looking forward to the “What’s next?”. With my past of consistent travel, continually meeting new people and not long after saying goodbye, that part didn’t phase me too much, what was a shock though was having a wide open schedule. I had grown accustomed to having somewhere to be, people to look after, rules to follow and work to be done; now released on my own after graduation I finally had time to relax, or rather crash.
While the teams time in New Mexico was a continual roller coaster of ups, downs, twists and turns, it also presented everyone with numerous challenges and learning curves. Towards the end of the round the pace of everything began to pick up speed with the end of our service, and return to Colorado, quickly coming into focus. Before leaving this unique spot on the map the team wanted to fit in some R&R, taking in some of the beauty, history and culture of the cities surrounding our small home of Deming. Up first was a day trip to White Sands National Monument, where we would also have the opportunity to meet up with Earth 5, another team from the Aurora campus serving in Fort Stanton, New Mexico. The trip required approval from staff, considering it was nearly a two hour drive, a possible exhorborent use of Government resources (Black Betty our trusty Ford Transit family van), and we were grateful to get that approval.
zEarth 4 is still alive and well, sweating it out in that dry heat of New Mexico. Everyone keeps telling me that it has been unseasonably cool down here this year and honestly, I wouldn't want to see a "normal" summer if that's the case. The team has continued work on various projects, rolling with the punches and staying flexible. Over the course of the last few weeks things have settled down at the refugee shelter, thanks either to more organization being put in place or a decrease in the number of migrants being dropped in Deming. Either way this has meant the team has been able to step back a bit from our support there and focus efforts on different areas of the community. Unfortunately, things never fell quite into the rhythm we had hoped, projects constantly waiting on other factors before we can step in, but there always seems to be something for us to work on.
After an arduous week back on campus in Aurora it was time for me to pack my red bag once again, this time for the last time and head south, almost all the way to Mexico. My third round placement would be taking me to Deming, New Mexico in Luna County, one of the poorest in the state. I was both excited and apprehensive about the project, with immense need in the area I knew there would be work to do, however being a first time sponsor I was also worried about the organization of the 12 weeks lying ahead of my round 3 team. It's now been two weeks since my round 3 team and I have arrived in Deming, and I must say I'm glad I came in with that apprehension because things are going just about as I had expected. Our project sponsors are eager, yes, but the execution of things has yet to really take off. Never the less I'm currently 33 miles away from Mexico surrounded by desert and mountains, quite the shift from the "homey" feeling I had in Missouri, so much so I sometimes feel like I'm in another country - so that's a plus!
While I was enjoying my second round team, the staff of Habitat for Humanity Saint Vrain, the city of Longmont, and being in Colorado, I was also ready for a change. I'm not sure what's wrong with me and routine, but they don't last. I knew half my team would have loved to stay in Longmont working on these homes until completion, that's not how the program works, we had other places to be. While I was mostly tired of the construction work, waking up and putting on my boots, I wasn't really ready to leave the new friends we had made at each site, both staff and other volunteers.
My first few weeks in Colorado, back during the long hours of training, I wasn't quite sold on the attraction of Colorado. Sure, the mountains in the distance were pretty to look at, but I had also been surrounded by that for my four years in South Korea. Longmont though had a little more appeal, a quaint downtown, free buses, multiple breweries, good restaurants and a few parks, I was cool with living there for a few weeks. The town, the project, the staff, it was all going pretty swell, so I guess it makes sense that our departure came before some were ready. Me being me though, I was ready to go , six weeks and I was growing stir crazy, ready for a new city, new routine and new friends. I often wonder how I'll ever settle down somewhere, but that's not really necessary, is it?
After spending six weeks in Texas working with the Fuller Center, one would think that I picked up a slew of construction skills and knowledge, however one would be wrong. Sure, I learned a bit about drywall installation, tiling and floors, but I somehow didn't feel that I learned that much. That could also just be my discrediting my own abilities, who knows. Like I said, I wasn't initially excited to be building homes in the cold, but I kept my fingers crossed and hoped for the best. Compared to the Fuller Center, I knew that our work with Habitat would be vastly different in one key regard, organization. While in Texas, I often wondered what the team would be doing on a day to day basis, I knew that this time around I'd have a little more direction. Every week our first day of work would start with an all staff construction meeting, discussing the progress from the prior week and a rough layout of plans for the week to come. This was like music to my (Type A) ears, actual organisation and plans, things were looking up for this project.
After the whirlwind that was round 1 everyone was given a break, 10 days to do with as they pleased. While I would have been perfectly content staying on campus, enjoying the quiet, I was overdue for a holiday at home, after being away for so many. It was nice to be home, I caught up on a lot of sleep and spent time with family, but after a few days I began to grow bored. The longer I sat around 'relaxing' the less I wanted to head back to NCCC, instead I started looking up flights to Europe and Asia, despite knowing that I would go back to Colorado. The day I left campus I decided to change my return flight, combing back on New Years Eve to hang out with a few new pals, rather than scrambling to find plans at home. My flight arrived late, so our plans were also a bit ad hoc, but I was happy to be back in my element. I relished the two days I had on campus with only a few others back, but that quiet quickly disappeared.
Six weeks of living with 10 other people, crawling under houses, painting, hanging drywall, flooring and a hundred other things went a lot faster than expected. By the time we were back in Colorado and one of the other team leaders said "six weeks ago" I had to think twice, it felt like I had only just left the Aurora campus, and there I was back in the thick of it. I had no expectations going into my first round of service with NCCC, which is probably part of the reason it went so swimmingly. I'm not saying there were no issues, bouts of exhaustion and frustration were inevitable, but it was an eventful six weeks, filled with loads of laughter and smiles to counter the moans and groans.
I've began to lose count of the number of places I've been told that this would be the place I'd build friendships to last a lifetime. First it was high school, but no those friends won't last, my real friends were supposed to be found during the transitive years of my life spent at UW-La Crosse, college roommates and classmates, those would be the people that stuck. Then I grew up, got a job and moved half a world away, a place where I didn't expect to find friends, but now seven years later have people in my life I can't imagine being without. You may be seeing a trend here, my picking up and rearranging life, shuffling the daily occurrences, throwing in new challenges and obstacles, but the great thing about all of this is that with each new change comes a whole new set of friendships. In the first few weeks of my service, back in the days of training at our campus in Aurora, I began to doubt how close I would grow to my counterparts, something felt lacking, but the last six weeks have changed all of that, and I now know I've let some people into my life that will remain for years to come.
A Year of Service
My life, being anything but predictable, has taken another turn. Rather than moving to Jeju, South Korea - my original plan for Fall '18, I'm going to test drive Denver, CO and its surroundings, an area people just keep telling me "I'd love".