Hannah Goes Fishing

A Fishing (and more) Blog


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Five Things I Love About Norway

We have officially touched down in Norway and have been here just over a week.  It’s been a whirlwind of new languages, jet lag, and really expensive coffee.  But, so far Norway is slowly stealing our hjerter (hearts).

This week, here are five things I’m loving about my new home country

1. Public Transportation
All week, we’ve been getting around via bus, tram, subway, and train. It has been nothing short of efficient, timely, and simple. While not as cheap as we’d like it to be, it’s pretty great to be able to travel nearly anywhere in the greater Oslo area with ease. One ticket is usable on any form of transportation within the area it covers, and the stations and trains are clean and orderly. It’s almost weird how quiet and tidy everything is. Like a post-apocalyptic city full of extremely polite and efficient people.

2. The People
If you consult the All Knowing Internet, Norwegians are sometimes described as cold or unfriendly. We’ve found neither to be the case. Instead, Norwegians are a very straightforward, pragmatic, and efficient. They are privacy-oriented people, and don’t need a lot of extra explanation, emotion, or…anything, apparently, to get on with their day. For me – champion of face-value emotions – this is the perfect culture. I can totally trust that when someone says something to me, they meant exactly that. It’s like interpersonal skill Heaven for me!

Plus, Norwegians are really nice. Since we’ve arrived, we’ve been hosted by Couch Surfing hosts, met at the airport, toured all over Oslo, and driven three hours (for free!) to our new apartment by our landlord, as a few examples. I’ve also accosted not a few people in the grocery store to get help translating product names (is this milk? what kind of milk?), and not a single person has been anything less than tremendously helpful.

3. The Government Efficiency
I know. No one, in the history of man, has ever written positive things about a government’s efficiency.  Okay, well maybe there is some precedent to this, but surely not many.  In our experience, Norway’s government has set new and lofty standards for what can be accomplished when everyone is prepared and on time. Case in point: I had an appointment at 1:00pm on Thursday of this week to submit my immigration paperwork and (hopefully) be approved for a work permit. I arrived at the appointed place and time at 12:15pm, because I am inordinately fond of being early to government functions. At 12:20pm, they started calling the names of everyone who had a 12:15pm appointment. When they finished, they moved on to the 12:30pm slot. After that, the 12:45pm slot, continuing to repeat the names of people who hadn’t been present earlier.  I had my 1 o’clock appointment at 12:26pm, and was finished by 12:31pm. They took my paperwork, printed me a missing form when I realized I had presented the wrong one, and even gave me an email address to which I could send said missing form so I wouldn’t have to make a second trip to their office.

They even had a coffee shop in the lobby area. If that isn’t efficiency, I don’t know what is.

4. The Weather
This isn’t something people normally brag about in Norway, but so far we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the moderate temperatures both during rain or sun. We are both lovers of rain and grey, which we’ve had plenty of here. But, we also like the occasionally sunny day, as apparently so do all Norwegians. Any time there’s sun, Norwegians treat it as a reason for national celebration.

5. The Lifestyle
In short, Norwegians really have got it together when it comes to how to run a society. Sure, I’m sure there are problems, but as a newcomer to this country it all seems pretty great. Women get all kinds of paid maternity leave, and new dads get some too! The work day ends at 3:00pm in the summer. Nearly everyone recycles, and it’s difficult to go anywhere without finding places to return your recyclable materials. There is essentially no litter anywhere, and green space has been incorporated nearly everywhere. People love to be outside. You are offered coffee at nearly every social function. FIVE WEEKS of vacation every year for most people!

The list goes on and on. In short, people treat their lives as if they are meant to be lived and enjoyed. We are learning that, even with high taxes and what some may consider to be “restrictive” laws (like Norwegian gun control), it’s very easy to enjoy life in a place where life is all about enjoyment.

‘Til next time, farvel (goodbye)!


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When You Try to Come Home Again

They say you can’t go home again, and I’ve never believed this to be true. Coming home from Thailand, from Nepal, from India, and even from bush Alaska, I always felt that Alaska was my true home and Homer was where my heart was.

This time, it’s a little different.

Rob and I returned to Alaska at the end of June, finished with our Peace Corps service and ready to re-enter the world of culinary delights and customer service. We immediately set about stuffing ourselves with every saucy plate of spicy, flavorful goodness we could find. We drove – for the fun of it. We watched TV. We frolicked through the internet and watched cat videos and Netflix and read every interesting article right when it was published. We drank (and drank, and drank) good beers and ciders (which seem to have become more popular while we were away). We rejoiced in pizza with real cheese and a fiesta of toppings. Later, we enjoyed quality bathroom time that didn’t involve squatting over a hole and wasn’t a mystery in digestive intolerance. It was glorious. It felt like home.

Rob and BB reunited!

Rob and BB reunited!

Slowly, though, we began to notice all the little things about America that we had forgotten about. Things that we didn’t miss while we were away, and were suddenly brought into stark relief now that we were home and amongst our fellow Americans.

Americans, we had forgotten, are really wrapped up in the little stuff. We care a lot about really trivial things. We have, in my post-Peace Corps opinion, waayy too many choices in most things. We obsess over diets and GMOs and all these other things that, unsurprisingly, are suddenly weird to care about when you’ve been living with people who are excited to have almost any food. We are really into privacy. We like space and ginormous houses. We make a breathtaking amount of trash. Perhaps most surprising/not surprising: we are, as a population, pretty darn fat. We eat an impressive amount of food. I’ve been amazed by portion sizes since coming home, and how rich everything is. And we do this all day, every day (#generalization, but you get the idea).

It’s been culture shock-y to come home. As much as we were sad to leave our Peace Corps service early, Rob and I have both whispered to each other with guilty expressions how glad we were to leave early and have immediate plans for our future rather than finishing our service and having time to “tread water” afterward. I think the transition “home” has been a lot easier than it might have been simply because we have plans, and a place to be. We are transients in America right now, and without even mentioning the pre-election media coverage (or Trump, because #Ijustcan’teven), I feel like that’s exactly how I want to be. America, and even Alaska in some much smaller way, just doesn’t feel like home right now.

You can’t go home again. – Thomas Wolfe

We knew that coming home from Peace Corps would be tough. Nearly every RPCV we’ve ever talked to say the hardest part of Peace Corps service is once it’s finished. The return journey and reintegration into our native culture is harder in many ways, primarily because we no longer have the excuses of language, culture, or nationality to excuse our ignorance.  In Zambia we lived with our heads in the proverbial sand when it came to any world event that didn’t make the BBC evening news. We rarely had contact with live media. Being home, we are bombarded by the news at a nearly constant rate, and it’s almost always stressful, upsetting, or scary. Living in Zambia had its stressors, but nothing like the constant-information age we live in here in the U.S. It’s phenomenal how much there is to read about, to listen to, or to watch, and how little of it actually contains information worth the energy it takes to absorb it. I feel exhausted by everyone speaking in idioms about climate change, the 2016 election, or DeflateGate. I want to scream at everyone, “Pick a topic and give a sh*t about it!”

Thankfully, Rob has A) helped taper down my caffeine intake and B) understands the process of coming home. Being able to relate to each other’s experience as we reintroduce ourselves to The West (and her wicked witches) has been indescribably helpful. I honestly can’t imagine what it’s like to do it alone (experientially speaking). Our first year of marriage is working out to be one for the record books. It’s pretty strange to not learn how your spouse drives until you repatriate rather than how one normally would – on a first date!

That’s not to say we’re not having a great time. As you read this, we’re settling into our new apartment in Lillehammer, Norway after three weeks in Alaska, a week in Florida, and a little over three weeks CO. We’ve had a wonderful time with family, hiking, dog reunions, and sampling all of our favorite foods (over and over and over again).

Rob hiking across Grace Ridge. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

Rob hiking across Grace Ridge. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

We’ve fulfilled our edible cravings and have been welcomed into the loving arms of family and friends. It’s been wonderful to come back to our respective stomping grounds and be “home”. But, we’ve both realized that Peace Corps changes something about how one sees the world, and we are slowly accepting that being the global citizens we want to be means that we can’t really ever return to our pre-Peace Corps lives where running water was unremarkable and social equity a given.

It hurts a little, almost like losing a friend. I guess, in a way, we’ve lost that part of ourselves that guided our views of the world pre-Peace Corps. Now, we owe it to ourselves and to those who were part of our service to see it differently. I think our challenge now is to rectify that difference in viewpoint with the relationships and homes we had before all those changes. We are different, and though it’s awkward at first, it’s also okay. That was the point. We didn’t join the Peace Corps to remain the same.

Fortunately, some things don’t change. Family. Great beer. Favorite pets. Best friends. We now appreciate more than ever that the most important things in life don’t have a physical address. They remain with us no matter where we call home.


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ET Goes Home

This is a weird post to write (hard? surreal?), because I never thought I would write it.

Quite a while ago, I wrote a post about early termination, and why people sometimes choose to leave Peace Corps. I wrote it at a time when I was contemplating just what the heck I was doing in Zambia, and what purpose my service was truly serving. Mine? Zambia’s? My government’s?

Over time, I fell back into the rhyme and reasons of why I was here. I didn’t doubt the reasons of my service, and I still don’t.

But, I’m going home anyway. Or, I should say, we are going home.  I never thought I’d say these words, but Rob and I are going to early terminate our Peace Corps service this week. On Tuesday, June 23rd we boarded a plane to America, and on Wednesday, June 24th, we landed in Homer, Alaska. Our Peace Corps service is over.

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Victoria Falls

Why did we leave? Well, because sometimes life doesn’t time itself perfectly, and because somethings an opportunity comes along that you just can’t pass up. For us, we were offered that opportunity.  For those of you who are long-time followers of this blog, you know that fisheries and fisheries research are a great passion of mine. A few months ago, I applied (on a long-shot chance) to a PhD program offered at a Norwegian university. The program is a fully-funded 3-year PhD that takes a multidisciplinary approach to anthropology and conflict over fisheries resources. It’s a social science degree, and as is rather unheard of in the world of social science research, this program has offered to pay the Norwegian krone equivalent of 50,000 euros to their social sciences PhD candidate. The research takes place in Norway, Germany, and France, with training programs aimed at early-stage researchers (such as myself) all over Europe.

If you’re thinking, “This sounds waaay to good to be true,” then you are not alone.  I thought the same. Funding? Travel? Being paid to study something that would shape my ideal career? Work with a robust and excellent department of social scientists? What parallel universe IS this?

Rob and I discussed it for several weeks before we arrived at the same conclusion: I’d be a fool to not at least apply.  So I did, and a few weeks ago, I received an email I had given up on ever coming. They offered me the position, and (after Rob and I jumped around with excitement mid-teeth brushing), I happily accepted the position.

But, we knew from the beginning, from the day I applied, that if I was accepted we would have to leave Peace Corps early. This is a one-time program; it starts in August and there won’t be a repeat. So, if we got the word to go, we knew we’d have to be on a plane quickly after.

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Snorkeling off the coast of Zanzibar

I worried a lot about how this would affect Rob; we were “married” just six months ago, he had moved to a whole new village, and he would be leaving for me and not for his own reasons. To my amazement, Rob never hesitated when I first told him about the program, and never lost faith (even after I had) that I would be offered the job.

Rob spent eight months living in The Hague during his undergrad, and traveled widely around Europe during his studies. His favorite country? Norway. His favorite city? Berlin (where I’ll be doing a substantial amount of work). We had discussed many times that the only way we’d leave Peace Corps (barring a medical separation) would be if the perfect opportunity came alone. When I read the call for applications to Rob, his first response was, “Wow, that sounds amazing.”

And it is, but not just for me. Because I will have the equivalent of residency in Norway as an employee of my university (PhD students are given employee status!), Rob will have access to Norwegian schools where he can pursue a masters degree for the grant total of about $100USD per semester. I will give you a moment to stare slack-jawed at your screen, because that’s what we did to each other when we figured out what tuition would be. $1-0-0 buckarooskies. Per semester. That is some kind of academic miracle (also known as socialism, I think) that, after both of us working our butts of during school to avoid crippling debt, gave us tremendous hope for our academic futures.

And that brings us to this week, where after 16 months of Peace Corps service, we find ourselves back home with six weeks of home time head of us before we make our big move to Norway. We are both on our way to the academic programs we want to be doing, and we will have the money from my salary (and a neat-o part-time gig Rob’s dad has helped him find) to live a modest but comfortable life. And, c’mon, after our time in the Zambian bush, any sort of running water and/or electricity situation sounds pretty high-roller.

None of this, of course, makes leaving Peace Corps any easier. Leaving our village and all the people who have been friends and neighbors to us was heart-breaking. We’ve made so many great friends in the Peace Corps, and we hope we will see them again in the future. We have gained more from our service than I could ever describe in words (or wedding rings), and I wouldn’t take back my decision to join Peace Corps for all the cheeseburgers and clean public restrooms in the world. Zambia is etched in our hearts. We wish we could have stayed another six months and been that much closer to our true close of service date (April 2016), but sometimes life calls you and there are things you can’t pass up. Peace Corps was one of those things, and this is too.

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So, should you find yourself in Norway, dear readers, look us up. Oh, and stay tuned to this blog! I have many more draft entries about Peace Corps and Zambian life that I’ll continue to publish, along with my This Peace Corps Life series and all my adventures to come. In the meantime, thank you for your continued readership and being so wonderful and supportive of my (and our) journey.

Good fishing to you all.


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20 Days and Counting

Ack! Sorry for another hideously long blogging hiatus. I’m leaving for Africa soon, you know? I’d like to say I’ve been super busy with packing and saying goodbye’s, but it would be a lie. I’ve been skiing, and snowshoeing, and spending beautiful wintery days in little cabins in the Alaskan woods. 

Here’s a picture:

Photo by Joel Markis

Heaven, right?

The last few pieces are falling into place as my Zambia departure group prepares to hop on a plane in (my case) just 20 days.  We (my Zamily and I) received emails just after the new year from our staging desk instructing us to call the Peace Corps travel agent and arrange for our flights to Philadelphia.  For me, that means my Peace Corps voyage is going to look a little something like this:

February 1st, 2014 (The Adventure Begins)

  • 7:30pm – Fly from Homer to Anchorage (AK)
  • 11:45pm – Fly from Anchorage to Phoenix, AZ
  • 8:05am (Feb. 2nd) – Fly from Phoenix to Philadelphia, PA

Have I mentioned that flying from Alaska (to just about anywhere) can also serve as a tour of the country?  Arizona? Sure, why not.

Once we arrive in Philly and have a crazy Zamily hug-a-thon in the airport and check in to our hotel, we start our whirlwind staging frenzy on February 3rd.

February 3, 2014

  • 12:00pm –  Registration
  • 2:00 – 4:25pm – Who We Are, What You Expect, What’s Next
  • 4:25 – 4:45pm – Break
  • 4:45 – 7:00pm – What We Expect, Closing

February 4, 2014

  • 2:00am – Check out of hotel
  • 2:30am – Bus arrives for loading and departure to the airport (JFK)
  • 10:30am – Fly from JFK to Johannesburg (nearly 15 hours in the air)
  • 10:30am – Fly from Johannesburg to Lusaka (Feb. 5th)

The good folks at our staging desk have also requested our participation in several conference calls later this week.  Mine is scheduled for 6am on the 16th, with this agenda:

  • The History of Peace Corps in Zambia
  • Peace Corps Programs in Zambia
  • Safety & Security as a Volunteer
  • Zambian Culture (food, dress, language)
  • Q&A

For those of you thinking, “6am seems like a little early for a conference call…” you’re not alone.  Alaska time is an hour behind Pacific Time (or West Coast time, as we often call it).  Peace Corps seems to run on Eastern Standard Time, and so I’ll be setting my alarm clock early for the 16th.

It’s really just beginning to sink in that in just 20 days, I’ll be flying away from my beloved little hometown to begin a 27 (+) month journey in Africa.  I’m excited (an understatement), but I’m also beginning to feel pangs of anxiety, nervousness, and not a little apprehension as the days at home rapidly disappear.


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Radio Silence Broken

Blogging hiatus? What blogging hiatus?

So it’s been a month or so since my last post, and that largely has to do with the time of year.  Alaskan summers are long in the daylight hours but short in the months of warmth, and so we are known for putting down our usual pursuits (say blogging, for instance) and chasing down every last moment of warm sunshine possible.  As the summer winds down, I’m back in Homer, AK looking after my father while he recovers from knee surgery. 

A quick recap:

– My dear friend Adrienne and I drove from Fairbanks to Salt Lake City together. From there, I drove solo through Zion and the Grand Canyon before meeting up with family in Santa Barbara. A month later I made it back to Alaska after visiting with all my aunts and uncles and recording their life stories. More about that project in another post.  You can read more about our road trip down the ALCAN and through the national parks here, here, here, here, and here.

Unloading fish on the Kenai River, AK

– I was invited to serve in the United States Peace Corps in Zambia, beginning February 3rd.  I accepted my invitation and am now wading my way through all the medical requirements before I’m given the a-okay to depart.  You can see my invitation post here, and catch up on my Peace Corps timeline here.

– I spent July commercial fishing for salmon in Cook Inlet and Kenai, AK with my Uncle C and dear friend Mal (Adrienne’s better if less attractive half). We had an okay season, but it really is the very best job on Earth. It was especially neat to take a more active role in the operation and teach Mal all that I know about fishing (not much). When I die, I hope I come back as a salmon. There is talk about buying a boat together and expanding the operation, but we’ll see how that pans out.

– I was nominated for the Western Association of Graduate School’s Distinguish Thesis Award by UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks).  A huge honor, and one that I am very flattered to receive. It has also been suggested that I turn my thesis into a book, and so my advisor and I are working on getting that done before I leave. Looks like my fingers have just seen the beginning of all the writing to do this autumn.

– It looks like I might have found a job working within the salmon industry between now and when I leave in February. The deal isn’t sealed just yet, so for now just keep your fingers crossed that everything works out!  I’m excited to have the opportunity to get some work experience so closely related to my masters work under my belt before taking off for two years.

– I’ve found a really neat group of folks within my PC Zambia recruit class and am enjoying getting to know people who have such similar ideals and motivations to my own. There are so many great blogs out there talking about the Peace Corps experience, and I’ve been finding myself up until the wee hours of the morning drooling over photos and blog posts.  Here are a few of my favorites so far:

That last blog is by my good friend and fellow PCV Zambia 2014, Craig.  He hails from the East Coast and writes primarily about his experiences interning with The Mountain Institute in Nepal.  He’s a fellow advocate for sustainable practices, small carbon footprints, and living a mindful and eco-oriented life. While he hasn’t started blogging about Zambia yet, I’m sure it’s coming. I’m excited to serve with him and folks like him over the next few years. 

– My fellow PCV hopeful Zane finally got his invite just a week or so after I received mine.  In case you don’t remember Zane (I mentioned him here…right?), he is a Floridian who received the exact same nomination as I did waaaay back in the fall of 2012.  We have been in touch ever since with promises to keep each other posted the second anything Peace Corps related occurred. We’ve both had setbacks and disappointing moments throughout the process, but he’s been a strong ally in keeping my chin up.  We had hoped to end up in the same country so we could collaborate over the course of our service.  Zane was my first phone call when I found out I was heading to Zambia, and I was excited to be his first excited call when he learned he was heading to Tanzania!  Not quite the same country, but neighbors will be close enough!