The Last Full Measure

This past weekend, I was able to visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the most notable battle of the American Civil War, and one of the biggest battles in American military history. The battle of Gettysburg is also notable for being the main turning point of the Civil War. The outcome of the battle concluded with the Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, being prevented from invading further into the Northeast. Lee and his army were forced to retreat back into Virginia after the battles’ end and never again stepped foot in Union-controlled territory.

Set over a period of three days from July 1st – July 3rd of 1863, over 51,000 men from the Union and Confederate armies were killed, wounded, captured, or declared missing. It was the largest land battle ever fought in North America. More than 160,000 soldiers from both sides fought in the battle during those three tumultuous days with the town of Gettysburg and its civilians’ being caught in the crossfire. The battle of Gettysburg was fought on fields, marshes, hills, and sloping ridges over 10 square miles and around 6,000 total acres. In addition to the battlefield, Gettysburg is also home to a national soldiers’ cemetery close to the battlefield where the thousands of Union and Confederate troops, now long passed away, are ensconced in their final resting place.

The first thing one notices about Gettysburg is just how quiet and peaceful it is. One would have never guessed that a major battle had been fought here or that thousands of lives had been lost while fighting for their principles and values. The battlefield of Gettysburg, now devoid of soldiers and horses, still retains its wooden barriers, its replica cannons, and artillery. The National Park Service should be commended for restoring the grounds of the battlefield and keeping it clean for the more than one million plus tourists who visit the national military park each year.

What I was most surprised and pleased about during my visit was the amount of memorials, monuments, and tributes paid to the thousands of soldiers on the Union and Confederate sides. The armies, brigades, corps, divisions, etc. from each of the thirty states on both sides of the Civil War are each commemorated and memorialized in some form.

The most striking memorial to me was Pennsylvania’s state monument, the biggest and most awe-inspiring of them all. The Pennsylvania monument lists all of the soldiers’ names that fought for the commonwealth in the battle of Gettysburg. This monument in particular is Greco-Roman in design and has tributes to President Abraham Lincoln, and to notable soldiers and commanders from Pennsylvania. It also overlooks the entire battlefield of Gettysburg and can be seen from every part of the area.

Another notable memorial from the Gettysburg National Military Park can be found at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. In the center of the cemetery and overlooking the thousands of graves lying in repose is the Soldiers’ National Monument. This monument pays tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives at Gettysburg and is unique in quoting an allegory at its’ base that states, “Peace and plenty under freedom…following a heroic struggle.” In addition, this soldiers’ monument depicts the concept of ‘Liberty’ signified by a woman who carries a sword of war, while holding a wreath of peace. At the base, there are four separate statues representing ‘War, History, Peace, and Plenty’ in a chronological, circular order. In total, there are over 1,300 monuments, memorials and tributes at Gettysburg. It’s nearly impossible to see them all without spending a week or more at the battlefield because they are spread out over miles and miles of land. This is why it is known for being “the largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the world.”

You cannot come to Gettysburg without learning about the Gettysburg Address, and the process that led to President Lincoln delivering this famous and historic speech. While the spot where Abraham Lincoln gave the speech is not open to the public at this time, you can still see into the cemetery to view the general speech area. In addition, park rangers from the National Park Service are available for questions about the Gettysburg Address and a tour of the cemetery upon formal request. There’s also a bronze statue and monument of Lincoln’s bust along with an emblazoned copy of the entire Gettysburg Address close to the cemetery’s entrance.

American history was one of my favorite subjects from my high school days. The ability to go and visit historical battlefields like Gettysburg, Normandy, Lexington and Concord brings the history to life for me. I’ve been lucky enough so far to see some of the most notable locations of the American Revolution, Civil War, and World War II.

By visiting these places, you gain a great sense of gratitude and reverence around the conflicts, which these men fought and died in. You can better understand the costs and sacrifices that come with making war. Its’ also good to appreciate what we have today in our united country. There were times in our collective past as a nation when the concept of a ‘United States’ was very much in peril. Hopefully, we can continue to avoid the mistakes of the past, and learn from these dreadful conflicts.

The importance of seeking a brighter and peaceful future for our nation and the world is what I took from my visit to Gettysburg. These memorials, monuments, and the military park remind visitors and patrons alike why peace is something to strive for, even if it comes at a great cost. Sometimes, peace can only come through means of warfare, and that is why we give thanks to those men who gave their “last full measure of devotion.”

To learn more about the Gettysburg National Military Park, you can visit these websites for more information:

1.) https://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm

2.) http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org

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Fulltime Nomad – Istanbul, Turkey (Living Abroad Series)

Recently, I wrote an article and submitted pictures for a guest blog post on the travel website, Fulltime Nomad, as apart of their “Living Abroad Series.”

Johnny & Radhika of Fulltime Nomad were nice enough to let me share my thoughts and experiences on their website on what it was like to live in Istanbul, Turkey.

In the article, I talk about what life is like for a foreigner in Istanbul, the unique food and culture of the city, and how best to navigate the challenges and adaptations that come with living and working as an expatriate.

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

What did you love about living there?

“I loved a lot of things about living in Istanbul. I really enjoyed the Turkish cuisine with my favorites being menemen, iskender kebab, baklava, lahmacun, borek, etc. I could go on and on about the food in Istanbul but you’ll have to visit for yourself!

Being within walking distance of the Bosphorus was a real treat for me too. I’m a big fan of history so I liked learning more about the Ottoman Empire, the founding of the Turkish Republic, and visiting all of the great museums and monuments that Istanbul has to offer.”

What are the local people like? Were there any challenges that you faced?

“Istanbul is an enormous city with a lot of different people from different backgrounds mixing together. It’s similar to a lot of other major cities where there’s a lot of hustle and bustle so people may not be as warm or friendly as they would be in smaller towns or communities. However, there are a lot of smaller neighborhoods within Istanbul that are unique in that they feel smaller and people look out for each other. Overall, Turkish culture is very hospitable and kind. When you’re invited to a Turkish person’s home, be ready because they will feed you, enjoy your company, and care for you as a foreigner in their country.

The biggest challenges I faced were battling the horrendous Istanbul traffic on a daily basis and becoming advanced in the Turkish language. I tried to avoid it as much as possible by taking Istanbul’s rapidly developing metro system but it’s inevitable that you’ll hit traffic 90% of the time. That’s why I encourage people who come to visit Istanbul to stay close to the major tourism spots and/or near to the cool, hip neighborhoods. The Turkish language isn’t that hard for foreigners to learn but you really have to memorize the grammar structures and be prepared to work on your pronunciation and vocabulary skills. It’s not easy but the local people will respect and admire you very much if you try to learn Turkish.”

And, finally, any advice or encouragement for someone wanting to take the leap and live overseas?

“Do it. Have a plan and know what you’re getting into but I highly, highly recommend it. If you’re young, want to explore the world, and have a little money saved up; it’s a worthwhile investment. It’s a lot different living overseas than just being a tourist but it’s a much more special experience. You get to experience the culture more, go deeper into the language, and a gain a more mature perspective of the world.”

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You can read my full article here: Full Time Nomad – Living in Istanbul

I want to thank Johnny & Radhika again for letting me be apart of their ‘Living Abroad’ blog post series. It was a real pleasure for me to write about my past experiences and memories of Istanbul.

If you’re interested in learning more about the digital nomad lifestyle, go to Fulltime Nomad to learn more about Johnny & Radhika’s story. You can also like them on Facebook at FulltimeNomad and follow them on Twitter, @FTNomad.

 

Patriots’ Day Weekend In Boston

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Locations: Lexington, Massachusetts; Concord, Massachusetts; Boston, Massachusetts; Wellesley, Massachusetts

The Limits of Perception

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“Do you see what I see?”

“Perception” is an interesting word when you think deeply about it. No, I’m not just talking about your two eyes, and the vision that allows you to perceive the world visually. In other words, we can only perceive the experiences that we have or had in the past, the people we met, the places we visited and lived in, and the choices that we make or made.

Human beings are mortal which means we have limited time on this Earth to see and experience all that life has to offer. For some people, this is a very frightening and gloomy notion. However, others would see this fact as a way to get the most out of life and expand their perception of the world as much as possible.

A limited “perception” of life and the world has consequences when you think about it. If you don’t have the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes or to imagine or experience life as they do, then your ability to emphasize with them would be diminished. Yes, you can have sympathy for their plights or jubilation for their successes but you wouldn’t be able to connect with them on a deeper level.

A consistent problem in human nature is our lack of ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see life as they do. When we are unable to break down barriers between social classes, races, religions, and gender, disagreements and hostilities between these groups is likely to continue. From my perspective and my past travels, the similarities of humans around the world drastically outweigh the differences. That doesn’t mean that these differences are bad or that they should be eliminated. I happen to believe that cultural and social differences are part of what makes humanity unique and should not be demonized.

This leaves the question that my blog readers would wonder to themselves hopefully after reading this entry: How do I expand my perception of life and the world around me? Now, when I ask this question, I do not mean for you to go out to the nearest pharmacy and get yourself some contacts or a pair of prescription glasses.

What I mean and what I believe is that we humans have limited time on Earth and we can’t live forever to experience everything and to meet everybody around the world. However, there are ways to expand this perception by traveling the world, reading books, and meeting different kinds of people. These three concepts are not crazy ideas but rather novel concepts to create greater empathy in yourself and for others along with a more profound view of humanity as a whole.

Traveling has always had the highest return on investment for me and the experiences I have had have helped me view the world in a different way. I know that it’s not feasible for everyone to travel but if you can’t make a huge jump to another country, try to travel to different places and cities within your own country. Learning about the local culture and customs, enjoying the local cuisine, and indulging in the history and background of the society are important for any seasoned traveler.

You will start to view the world in shades of grey rather than pure black and white. You would also learn that cultures and societies are complex and that it takes a lot of time to immerse yourself in its deeper reaches. Most of all, you are communicating in a different language which is fascinating and complex in its own right. Above all else, you are seeing the commonalities and similarities that exist between your family and their family, your town and their town, and your country and their country.

Meeting new people from different backgrounds and places ties into traveling as well but it really makes your perception of the world grow. If you stay in the same town where you grow up and never leave, chances are that you’ll have a limited perception of people and life itself. Talking to different people, hearing their stories, cooking with them, and sharing a meal or drink has many benefits. You may be able to build a friendship that lasts for years even if you don’t speak the same language or come from the same culture.

By hearing their story and listening to them, you expand your own perception of the world and the people who inhabit it. You can get beyond the stereotypes and the clichés and really get into deeper social connections with people, especially in this interconnected world that we all live in.

Lastly, reading books is an integral park for learning about the world and facilitating a deeper perception. As individuals, we cannot experience everything or know everything there is to know. However, by reading about the stories of others who have come before you and who had lived, and died, you will gain greater knowledge and wisdom. Regardless of whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, you’re reading someone’s life story or reading about a subject that spans a part of human history.

Book by book, you are enlightening yourself by learning about the experiences and perceptions of others. By learning about the men and women who have come before you and who have lived exemplary and distinguished lives, you can take lessons from their existence and apply those lessons to your own life. If you can’t travel or meet different kinds of people, reading books by those authors who have and whom shared those unique experiences with their readers is the next best thing.

We all have one live to life, and you can only see what’s right in front of your eyes. Make sure that you continue to give yourself the opportunities and chances to indulge in the knowledge and wisdom that can be gained by expanding your perception of the world and its inhabitants. Travel, read books, and meet different people for as long as you may live. Only then will you gain true enlightenment and wisdom.

CooTrans Oriente

Speeding down, swerving in and out of traffic along the ‘Ruta Caribe’ at 100-120 km/h is the well-known and distinctive mode of transportation known as the ‘CooTrans Oriente.’ These auto-buses are affordable, widely used by the locals, and timely by arriving and departing every 20 minutes from town to town on their way to and from Barranquilla.

Established over twenty-five years ago here in the Atlantico department, CooTrans Oriente has become a mainstay when it comes to transporting people, goods, and services along the coast. Because of my Spanish classes and/or due to my technical training sessions, I am often riding the CooTrans Oriente multiple times per week so I have been accustomed to the norms and rules of this transportation enterprise here on the Atlantic coast.

I have taken a lot of buses in my life so far and most have been boring and uniform in design, color, and the attitude of both drivers and passengers. However, the CooTrans Oriente is unlike any other bus I’ve ever taken before. First of all, it’s colorful with every color represented in the spectrum from white to black, red to green being shown in the exterior of the bus. Each driver is allowed to design the interior and you can often see shag carpeting used for the steering wheel or for the gear shifter.

The conductors of the buses will pay tribute to Jesus Christ, God, and the Virgin Mary with religious scripture and sayings from the Bible. In addition, often, the drivers will highlight their family members and pay tribute to them by putting their names on the front dashboards in colorful font and lettering. CooTrans Oriente is a small company but it is extremely unique in allowing the drivers to personalize the buses, especially the designs for the interiors and the back windows.

It is very difficult to imagine bus drivers in the U.S. or in Europe being allowed to design their own buses or being able to display religious symbols or sayings so openly. Each bus is similar in its CooTrans Oriente lettering and the exterior has the same colors in mostly being red and blue. However, it’s a different story when it comes to the side and back windows. I have seen various tributes to video games like ‘Gears of War’ to displays of fandom for the popular ‘Juniors’ football team of Barranquilla to intricately designed religious murals depicting ‘The Last Supper.’ It is a real joy to just watch the buses go by and try to see the different symbols, designs, and murals that each make them unique.

More than just the colors and designs of CooTrans Oriente is the culture of the bus itself. Passengers will help each other out and have also helped me out tremendously. When I’m standing up on the bus after a long day of meetings or classes and I’m carrying two bags of groceries from the grocery store, a fellow passenger will allow me to put one of my bags on their laps to ease my carrying load a bit. It’s an extremely thoughtful and kind gesture, which I have not seen replicated elsewhere in the world thus far.

Also, it is common and allowed for venders to come on the bus to sell different snacks and drinks for those passengers thirsty and/or hungry enough to want to partake in especially if there’s a lot of traffic. There is also a more personal touch on this bus as you have an ‘Ayudante’ or helper who is present to take your money for the bus fare instead of loading your money on a card or putting the money in a machine near the driver as I’m used to from riding the buses back home.

Traveling on the CooTrans Oriente is quite an experience in of itself. Drivers will often offer a rolling stop to you when passing by the bus stop, which means you’ll have to hoist yourself and climb up the stairs quickly to catch the bus before it departs without you. Certain drivers will not follow the speed limit on the highway and will usually drive very quickly at 20-30 km/h above the normal speed for autobuses. This can be a bit harrowing to deal with at first but by driving very fast, you do catch an amazing wind breeze sitting by the windows which helps alleviate the Caribbean heat. The ‘Ruta Caribe’ for part of its highway only has a one-way express/lane for either direction. There is also no barrier in the expressway present, which would separate the drivers who are going in the opposite directions along the route.

There has been many times where the bus drivers will end up driving in the lane heading in the opposite direction to avoid traffic or speed ahead of the cars/motorcars/taxis in front of them to reach their final destination quicker. I have to be honest in that this rash decision-making honestly terrified me at first but the bus drivers here are extremely experienced and knowledgeable. They will only drive onto the lane heading the opposite direction if they don’t see any cars/trucks coming head on. I am not sure about the safety record of CooTrans Oriente but I do know that the seats are very comfortable and are made of some sort of leather material. So far, I haven’t witnessed or been involved with any accidents while riding the buses so I must say that the drivers here are quite good and that they know what they are doing.

Also, without any doubt, there will always be Colombian music played through the speakers for the passengers to enjoy during their travels. Sometimes, it’s Vallenato, and other times it’s Champeta, Cumbia, etc. There was one time recently where they had a music video playing with an actual TV at the front of the bus, which was pretty cool to see. The music video had scantily clad women dancing next to the main hip hop guy as he rapped in Spanish about their physical characteristics that he enjoys the most. None of the parents with children on the bus seemed to mind the video though.

Overall, I have enjoyed riding ‘CooTrans Oriente’ so far during my time here in Colombia and will continue to do so. The buses will take you to any part of Atlantico department from what I have noticed and it’s an affordable, cost-effective way to get around from town to town. The passengers, especially those sitting down, are very courteous and will help you out with your bags and even give up your seat for you. For female passengers, especially, the ‘Ayudante’ will lend his hand to help you ladies off of the bus and able-bodied men including myself will give up our seat for you whenever necessary as well.

In many ways, ‘CooTrans Oriente’ reflects the Caribbean Colombian culture. A deep love of their music, being colorful and animated, very open with kindness and warmth even to strangers, and having a wild side as well that comes out every now and then. There’s also the distinct feeling that like the people, the CooTrans Oriente doesn’t take itself too seriously, and knows how to have a good time even when driving down the highway at 120 km/h.

A Trip to Minca

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This past weekend, I was able to make my first road trip here in Colombia with a few fellow Peace Corps trainees. When I found out that we would be going to visit a current volunteer in the Magdalena department, a different and very unique, beautiful part of Colombia that is much different from where I have been currently living in Atlántico.

It was quite the trip for the four of us trainees, as we had to use three different modes of transportation such as cars, taxis, and buses in order to get to our final destination. However, the scenery and landscape changes that we were able to see and enjoy could not be matched. Going from the savanna/dry flatlands of Atlántico to the lush tropical mountains and hillsides of Magdalena was quite fascinating for me. It was almost as if we had transported ourselves to a different country but in fact, we were only four or so hours away from our original starting point.

This small road trip was able to put into perspective for me just how biodiverse and unique Colombia is as a nation. I have only seen a little bit of the wide range of landscapes and scenery that this country has to offer but I have been really impressed with how different it is even when just describing the Atlantic coast. Along with China and the United States, Colombia ranks as one of the most bio-diverse and naturally rich countries in the world, which is amazing considering its size compared to those two aforementioned countries. I really do hope to see as much as Colombia as I can and to be able to see how diverse and unique it really is.

Getting back to the trip, it was smooth traveling for us all even when we had to take a car halfway up the mountain to about an altitude about 1,000 meters. Our host, a current Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia was generous, gracious, and showed us around the town of Minca and all it has to offer. When you’re up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you can indulge in a lot of different outdoor activities.

Minca recently has become a more popular tourist hotspot with cafes, restaurants, and small hostels being filled with French, German, and other European tourists. It is difficult to conclude whether or not the locals of Minca have benefited or not from this influx of tourists who have come to see the natural sights and sounds. I would argue that this is part of a growing trend for Colombia as more and more tourists come to explore the country given that the safety and security situation has been improving.

During our short stay in Minca, we were able to meet some of the locals who have benefited from the Peace Corps’ volunteer being there to help with their English. In addition to working full-time at the school, the volunteer here gives English lessons to adults and also those business owners who would like to have a decent level of proficiency for dealing with the incoming tourists. I really admired the hard work and effort that the volunteer has put in to the community there and the close comradery, affection that the local people have for the volunteer too.

In addition, the teachers and students at the school in Minca welcomed us with open arms and allowed us to observe their lessons, answer their questions, and answer our many questions as well. I believe that it will be vitally important for myself, as a volunteer-to-be is to establish a productive and successful working relationship with my Colombian counter-part. It’s also important to really get to know all of the students in the school on some level and be able to interact with them, which should help when it comes to classroom learning.

We were truly lucky to spend a day with a current Peace Corps volunteer and to observe them at work and at home to see what kind of life may await us for our two years of service. Minca is a really peaceful, unique town nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The beautiful vistas, and the cascading waterfalls will stay in my memory for a long time.

Even if my site placement puts me far from that type of location and environment, I definitely hope to be able to visit the Magdalena department of Colombia soon again. If for anything else for the fact that I really enjoy hiking up the mountains, breaking into a sweat, and then cooling off by diving into the cool, refreshing waters of the many waterfalls to be found there. Stay tuned for more road trips in the future. Colombia is a very big country and I hope to visit more places here in the future.