A Dream Deferred (But Not Really)

I hesitated in publishing this post. I still am not sure if it’s something I should be sharing or not. For some reason it feels more intimate than any of the other stuff I put on here. However, I do have a newfound respect for putting yourself out there on the internet. People like to read one’s inner secrets. I feel exposed. I feel naked. But this is my life.

Have you ever had a personal dream that is kind of silly, but which you wanted to accomplish nonetheless? A goal that if you tell someone about it, even if it’s a close friend, they might look at you strangely or laugh.

I had a dream of being a dram millionaire. Saving, over the course of 27 months of Peace Corps service, a MILLION dram. I liked the goal for several reasons. It meant living life in a smart way. It was slightly ridiculous in that you could even dream to save such an amount while supposedly living on a stipend that puts you on par with the locals in your community. And it was just funny too – to be a millionaire, but in a currency where that doesn’t exactly translate into a high-tax bracket existence. But most of all, I liked this idea because I knew it was possible. My sitemate and mentor Wayne was able to do this after 2 years of hard work.

So, as soon as I came to Vardenis I got to work. I set up a spreadsheet to track my expenses. I carefully monitored my bank balance. Got a receipt before and after using the ATM. Entered in the little receipt balances every now and then whenever the receipts started making my wallet a bit too fat. That was the due diligence, data gathering part.

But most of the work was in making decisions and living a certain way. Choosing to take a local marshrutka instead of a taxi in Yerevan. Avoiding staying overnight in Yerevan whenever possible. Smart food shopping. Limiting the alcohol. Using the phone and internet as a limited resource. Basically, a lot of it was accepting life as it is here instead of paying to get rid of a lot of the inconveniences we face.

Anyway, I found myself with a bank balance hovering around the 600,000 mark lately. I was averaging 40,000 dram in savings a month since moving out of my host family. I was on track to hit the 1,000,000 milestone in July 2012, right before the end of my service. I was pretty proud of that, especially looking around and seeing a bunch of people in my group in disbelief that you could do such a thing and still enjoy yourself, see the country, go to Yerevan, and meet with other volunteers.

Over my months here I have often wondered what to do with my future 1,000,000. Besides taking a photo of the ATM and sending it to my friend who also likes to dream about the same thing, I wasn’t sure what I would do. That amount is more than a couple thousand dollars. So it is enticing to take that money to do some traveling on the way home. Or to just save it (after all, 2 years of almost no income does hurt the personal savings rate back home). But I also thought about giving some of it to my host family or to other people who could use it to buy something nice for themselves. After all, this money is given to us as volunteers to be spent in the country, right? Armenia probably needs the money more than America does.

So these 2 thoughts, saving a million dram and what to do with it, were always floating around in the back of my mind guiding my actions. What to do with my mil always seemed like an issue to deal with on a distant day in the future.

Then, the other day I was helping my friend harvest the potatoes from her garden. She is a person whose character shines through in the way she lives her life. A genuine, happy-with-what-she-has, sweet, nice, caring 60-something year old widow. She is the kind of person that you are happy to help just because of who she is. So when I learned that she was going to sell her cow to pay for an operation, the gears started slowly grinding in my head.

It wasn’t immediate. I didn’t see the big picture until the next morning. After breakfast I sat there reading Season of Life, which is a book that my mom sent me. It’s about being a man for others. Its main character works at redefining what it is to be a man. No false masculinity. Being a man is not based on athletic accomplishment, sexual conquest, or paycheck.

“Masculinity ought to be defined in terms of relationships. It ought to be taught in terms of the capacity to love and to be loved. If you look over your life at the end of it…life wouldn’t be measured in terms of success based on what you’ve acquired or achieved or what you own. The only thing that’s really going to matter is the relationships that you had. It’s gonna come down to this: What kind of father were you? What kind of husband were you? What kind of coach or teammate were you? What kind of son were you? What kind of brother were you? What kind of friend were you? Success comes in terms of relationships. And I think the second criterion – the only other criterion for masculinity – is that all of us ought to have some kind of cause, some kind of purpose in our lives that’s bigger than our own individual hopes, dreams, wants, and desires. At the end of our life, we ought to be able to look back over it from our deathbed and know that somehow the world was a better place because we lived, we loved, we were other-centered, other-focused.” – Joe Ehrmann Season of Life

Finally the idea precipitated out of the quite random clouds of ideas that float around in my brain at any given moment. I have money. I don’t need it. She doesn’t have money. She needs it. Boom.

There were some questions swirling in my head when I first thought about it. Will people think I am a bank? I wonder if it’s possible to withdraw so much money? Will she accept the money? Is this bad for the legacy of other volunteers? Am I really gonna do this?

But there was also a warm confidence with this decision that quickly extinguished all those worries.

I know that if it wasn’t for reading that book at that time, I might not have thought of it. If I didn’t see Wayne generously giving away his million before he left, I might not have thought about it. If I wasn’t harvesting potatoes with her, I definitely wouldn’t have thought about it. It was a culmination of a lot of things, some which I can identify and others that I can’t, which led to me handing over the majority of my little fortune yesterday.

So, now I won’t be a dram millionaire. In that way, my dream is deferred. But more importantly I realized that it’s not important to have my bank account be a certain number. What I’m grateful for is that a.) I am in a situation to save that much money and b.) this opportunity presented itself. Now I know that money is going to a person who really needs it.

Actually, I don’t miss the money one bit. And last night I slept like a rock for 10 hours after thanking God for everyone and everything I have in my life.

Why the hesitation in publishing? Mainly I don’t want to brag about a good deed. I don’t want to put this out here just to hear praise. But, if I am completely honest, I am proud of myself for doing it. After considering the repercussions of posting these thoughts, I decided that it’s worth it. It’s worth it to make it known that this happened in hopes that it may one day inspire another person (sharing something so that you can be an inspiration for others – [sarcasm]now that is the most modest thing I’ve done in a while[/sarcasm]). I am not going to go around talking about this with people in the community or even my other friends in Peace Corps. Maybe they will find this blog and find out that way, which is fine. But I did want to share it directly with you, my readers, who are also my main supporters here. I guess it is a way of saying thanks. Thanks for supporting me.


6 Responses to “A Dream Deferred (But Not Really)”

  1. Constance Speake Says:

    This is a wonderful idea! We in America have so much compared to the rest of the world. I’m sure when you give her the money she will also sleep very well! Thank You, IceNugget
    PCV, Armenia-14

  2. Peter Says:

    Why sell the cow when.. Wait.. Why get the milk for free if. Bah I can’t think of a joke that makes sense on that old saying.

    Is it masculine so much as it is other virtues like charity or empathy to put others before you? Either way, there’s no question that what you did was the right thing to do. Only good things can come from it.

  3. Wayne Burt Says:

    I feel good that I had an impact on at least one person in Armenia. Just your actions, I know, make you a millionaire. When you print the final receipt from the bank that puts you over the top, just add the drams you have already generously given away and you can see all those zeros fulfilling that dream. I’m not sure of the impact my giveaways had on people, but to help save a life far exceeds anything I was able to accomplish.

  4. icenugget Says:

    Peter, I think the book is trying to get those virtues associated with masculinity rather than the typical machismo you see on TV, the internet, and all around us.

    Wayne, I disagree with your last sentence. The way I see it the gift allowed her to improve her life, just like the gifts you gave did. They are all equal in my eyes. She asked me to help haul hay the other night, so that means she is keeping the cow 🙂

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

  5. ejehle86 Says:

    Kevin. I totally get the doubts you had about handing it over…even though it seems like a no-brainer. Just had a discussion with a couple other PCVs and the main contention was that giving away money is not sustainable….but my thing is, she gets this surgery, she is maintaining her health, she keeps her cow, she remains self-sufficient. And all of this has reverberating effects down the line. You did an great thing.

  6. icenugget Says:

    Emma, thanks for your comment. I like how you choose to see the sustainable aspects rather than the non-sustainable. After all, LIVING is not sustainable if we nitpick it enough. At least not for mortals.

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