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Dakar!


It’s crazy that I haven’t written in this blog for close to two years! It took me awhile but I eventually adapted to the pace of life in Toronto. It was a good two years – not always the most exciting but definitely more balanced than my life abroad. And at the end of the day, exactly what I needed after 14 months in Haiti. That said, I was ready to go at least six months before I left – it’s funny once you start to live a “normal” life you get attached to that normalcy and leaving seems like such an effort. But, at the end of the day your spirit won’t let you stay in a situation that isn’t right for you. It took four months but eventually I found a job! And here I am. Dakar, Senegal.

I’ve never lived in West Africa and in fact, have never really thought much of it. I had my impressions of course – great music, nice beaches, boisterous people, good food, colourful clothing, crazy drivers, intense insanity, french speaking. I guess as a half Jamaican, I’ve always felt like I could “do” West Africa fairly easily. My impression was that – we are of similar people, eat similar food, dance in similar styles etc. But man, while I recognize the roots of West Indian culture in Senegal (and probably more likely in Nigeria – haven’t been there yet – but will be going). This place has a distinctive and lovely character of its own.

And the people are ginormous. Like really tall. And I’m 5’4 so I notice tall. THe men. The women. Stunning and tall. I don’t know what’s going on over here but damn.

Dakar is a special city. It feels extremely peaceful – which is a strange thing to say about a city. I remember arriving at the airport and feeling light. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a peninsula…Sandy roads, breezy lanes, nice weather (in the summer), palm trees. I also live on the outskirts of the city. Most NGO offices and some great restos/bars/hang out spots are on the outskirts as well (in Almadies/Ngor neightborhoods). And so are the beaches!

OK – that’s it for now. Getting back into the flow of writing so will update soon. Hopefully, with much more interesting reflections ūüėČ

 

Some pics:

Re-entry


So there you have it – I went to Haiti.¬† Unfortunately, I didn’t end up writing there. But, I plan on writing at my next posting.¬† And where is that? Good question.¬† Right now, I’m in Toronto. I decided to go domestic for a year and see what normal life is like.

I spent the summer lying in parks and riding my bike – an amazing change from Port-au-Prince where walking is off limits¬†for most NGOers.¬†¬† It’s been 3 weeks since I started my new¬†job and I’m already bored. Not a good sign.¬† The job itself is great (I work for a non-profit¬†¬†as a Program Manager – not an INGO so I don’t get to leave the country…)

The problem is me.¬† I’m different. What I find interesting and engaging has changed. Or perhaps, I’ve always been this way but I am just more aware of it now.¬† I can appreciate why it’s amazing to be able to work 7.5 hours a day instead of 10 or 12, meet friends for drinks, or grab some sushi, effortlessly stream endless TV shows and download movies, feel safe, feel free, visit family regularly, go shopping, buy stuff you don’t need.¬†

What I can’t wrap my head around is how I’m supposed to live with¬†not¬†leaving the country more than once a year (and for only¬†TWO WEEKS!), not meeting anyone new in months, not obsessing about¬†my work (It’s engaging but not¬†at the levels I’m used to….), not going on RnR, not feeling deprived of¬†everything I love and then¬†feeling ¬†insanely¬†appreciative to¬†experience it all again….

By the time I left Haiti¬†I was DONE. I was tired, burnt-out, frustrated, confused –¬† and not sure if I wanted to do this work anymore. ¬†By the end, I was dreaming of normal life and all it had to offer.¬† Now that I have it. I’m¬† not sure that I’m going to make it to Christmas. There are moments when I am seriously tempted to¬†pack up my bags and jump on the next plane to anywhere.¬†¬†

I’m wondering if I’m in¬†a rehab of sorts¬† – suffering from withdrawal from my old life¬† and need¬†time to re-acclimatize to normal.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

As if normal is a place….¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

11 months to go….Wish me luck.

The job hunt


October 8, 2011 – It’s¬† been¬†almost 2 years since I last wrote in this blog.¬†¬† My apologies for leaving so abruptly – it was quite a whirlwind by the end of my internship. Trying to get out of Khorog¬†in February is always an adventure but that trip was once in a lifetime.¬† Avalanches, mudslides, rockfalls – all the natural disasters that Tajikistan has to offer rolled up in one.¬† We made it to Dushanbe¬†in one piece but by the time we got there I was dreaming about Turkey.¬† The food, the wine, the beaches (despite the fact that it was Winter), the men (let’s be honest Khorog is not the most happening place for a single lady)…¬†¬†

Saying good-bye to my colleagues, my friends really Рwas very difficult. Particularly, because I knew that I would likely never see them again.  

Anyway, I was checking out this blog and realized that I had forgotten to post my last entry. So thought I’d so so now.

—–

Feb. 23, 2010

I’ve spent the past 8 weeks obsessively applying for jobs.¬†¬† I have a tendency to go a little nuts when it comes to applying for things.¬† Luckily, I have friends who are also kind of crazy.¬† My friend Jeff put together an excel control sheet for me a few months before I left.

Basically, it tracks every job I apply for and documents:¬†¬† location, salary, application deadline, follow-up date etc…I was looking through it today and realized that in the past 2 months I’ve applied for 32 jobs.

THIRTY TWO JOBS!!!!

And today, I finally got my first interview.¬† With a French NGO.¬† So the interview’s going to¬†be in French….Apparently, I speak that…..¬† I haven’t spoken a word of French since I left Montreal 8 months ago…..¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

I am so happy to have this interview – I¬†was starting to get a bit discouraged.¬† It’s a well-known fact that breaking into this field is very difficult.¬† Most people pay their dues for a few years (volunteering, internships etc.) before getting solid paid employment with a good organization.¬† I always thought that if you put in your time, the job would come…But i’ve come to realize that this field has a lot more to do with who you know.¬†¬† And aside from the other 23 interns I went through boot camp with – I don’t know anyone. ūüôā¬† I guess that’s not entirely true….if I wanted to stay in Tajikistan I could probably get a job.¬† The expat community in Dushanbe is small and pretty tight.¬† But, as much as I’ve loved my 8¬† months here – I’m ready to hit the next country.¬†¬† I haven’t seen enough places in the world to want to repeat any at this point….

Wish me luck!    

UPDATE: ¬†I got a job in Haiti!¬† As an¬†M&E Manager for a mid-sized NGO.¬† Heading there after a quick (2 week) stop in Turkey with one of my roommates.¬† I think Haiti is going to be quite an adjustment after Tajikistan but it’ll be nice to be near home again.¬† Hopefully, I’ll keep this blog going there. Until then, thanks for reading my ramblings and posting comments. I’ve really enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you – it’s gotten me through some challenging times. And of course, a lot of amazing ones.

Winter Wonderland


I live in a winter wonderland.

Having grown up in Canada – I know snow.¬†¬†¬† But never have I experienced the immense amount of snow that has fallen in the past two weeks.¬† It’s non-stop and it’s everywhere.

And¬† it’s spectacular!

The temperature in the¬† mountains is much warmer than¬† I had expected. ¬† Montreal gets a lot colder than Khorog.¬† I don’t think we’ve experienced a day much colder than -15¬† (yesterday it was +5) and with no wind chill that’s fairly comfortable. ¬† ¬† Khorog is very well insulated from wind with mountains on every side.¬†¬† So, you can actually walk around and enjoy the beauty of it all.¬† The trees especially beautiful, weighted down by all the snow. ¬† In some places the snow on the ground reaches a couple of meters.

On the downside, this much snow causes a lot of avalanches.  So far, there have been 5 or so.    And in some cases the  avalanches have reached homes and the main road.    Sadly, there have already been a couple of fatalities.

Avalanches are difficult to predict.¬† Although,¬† they generally occur after a few heavy snow falls¬† and certain places are prone to them on a yearly basis.¬†¬†So, driving around at this time of year is a bit stressful.¬†¬† Last week, I spent a few days evaluating an emergency response training program that we are conducting in one of the villages.¬†¬† The idea is to build the capacity of community members to respond to natural disasters (to evacuate and provide medical assistance to victims until help can arrive).¬†¬† These types of trainings are very important in an area as isolated as GBAO.¬†¬†¬† Getting to the scene of a disaster can take hours and people usually don’t have that long….

Part of our evaluation required visiting former participants in the villages.   The route crosses the path of a common avalanche zone.   In fact, an avalanche had happened in that spot the week before.

The Road Maintenance department had cleared a path for cars through the mountain of snow that covered the road.¬†¬† Driving through the path,¬† I could see the walls of snow on either side of the vehicle.¬†¬† It was a fairly small avalanche….But seeing it, I could easily imagine how an avalanche could wipe out vehicles, homes, and everything/anything in its path…

In any case, the drive through the zone was pretty uneventful .¬†¬† I was on avalanche watch, which basically entailed sticking my head out the window and looking up.¬† Don’t ask me what I was supposed to do if an avalanche actually came hurling down the mountain….But having my head out the window seemed to make Roxy and the driver feel better so I obliged.

So why all this talk of avalanches?¬† Well, we are getting ready to head back to Dushanbe and the 18 hr drive through avalanche hot spots has us all a bit stressed out.¬†¬† It’s a treacherous trip in the summer let alone in the winter time.¬†¬† The mountain road is slippery, there are no lights,¬† sheer 1000 m drops on either side and of course the constant threat of avalanches and rock falls.¬†¬†¬† Couple that with the fact that we’ve all had some pretty interesting journeys on that road….

I got stuck once in the absolute middle of nowhere at 3am (22 hrs after I’d left Dushanbe:) in a car with no windshield wipers and a battery that refused to work for longer than 30 minute intervals.¬†¬† Luckily, we were close to a village and someone in the village had a car¬† and jumper cables.

On  our way back from our trip to Uzbekistan, Rachel, Allison, Persia and I  had to spend the night in a small town about 6 hours from Khorog because a 5.3 earthquake had struck the region and caused a huge rockfall that had blocked the road.  Thankfully, no cars were driving in that spot when it happened.   But the earthquake caused some very serious damage to homes in the Vanj District of GBAO, with  over 6000  people negatively impacted by the disaster.

Long story short, people avoid traveling to/from this¬† region if at all possible.¬† But, our time is up and we’ve got flights to catch ūüôā¬† Everyone’s got their fingers crossed that the helicopter will fly the day we leave (the heli can only fly if the weather is PERFECT – which happens a couple times¬† a month in the winter).¬† ¬† Admittedly,¬† I didn’t love the helicopter ride here – I’m glad I did it but I really wasn’t planning on doing it again….However, I’d rather take the 45 minute ride of terror through the mountains than face the 18hr drive at the foot of them….

On a happier note, I am getting pretty excited about leaving. ¬† It’s time to go!¬† ūüôā¬† ¬† There is no question that I will miss the friends that I’ve made here and the projects that I’ve been involved with….

But most of all…. I’ll miss the mountains.¬†¬† No matter what kind of a day I am having, no matter what is going on in my¬† life, I¬† look up and around at the glorious mountains and I¬† can’t help but feel their magic. ¬† I see them everyday.¬† And every single day I am in awe of them.

The Death Trap


We’ve moved.

Our 6 mouse¬†traps –¬† filled with¬† 4 spoons of jam, one jar of honey,¬†a 1/2 kilo of peanuts, countless raisins AND 14¬†cubes of poison stuffed cheese –¬† were useless against the insurgent.¬†¬†¬† Not only would he not¬† die – he was having himself quite a feast – much to our disgust.

To add to that our house was freezing!¬† We’d get home at 6pm and jump into bed to stay warm.¬†¬†¬† Despite blasting the heaters all night, the house refused to warm up.¬†¬†¬† While I was in Dushanbe on an assignment our only heater in the living room caught on fire.¬† It was the middle of the night! ¬† Luckily, Persia saw the flames and woke up.¬†¬† Thankfully, there was no major damage.¬† But it left our living room wall scorched¬† and Persia with some disturbing¬† flashbacks.

The last straw came a couple of nights before I left for Uzbekistan.¬†¬† The water heater exploded in the middle of the night.¬†¬† I woke up to use the bathroom and found our electric heater floating in 2 inches of water.¬† Still plugged in…..

SO we’ve moved out of the death trap and into a lovely Soviet style cement block apartment complete with wall to wall carpeting, central heating (a RARE find) a real kitchen (with a stove and everything!) and a working shower ! ¬† I didn’t fully appreciate how bad my living situation was until we moved into the new place.¬† It’s been a month and I¬† couldn’t be happier. It’s a pleasure to go home at the end of the day.¬† Plus, Rachel lives with us now!¬† An incredible bonus.

Our contracts are up in a month and it’s going by very quickly.¬†¬† The job hunt is in full swing along with all the anxiety that comes with not knowing your next move….

where to go next..

that’s what I have to figure out this month…….


I know. I did it again. It’s been over a month since I’ve written anything on this blog. And the thing is – the longer I don’t write the more overwhelming it becomes¬†trying to express what’s been going on over here.¬†¬† I think I’ve reached a point in my placement where I’ve slipped into a bit of a routine. It’s harder now to notice things that used to strike me as highly unusual and interesting.¬† But I’ve missed writing so I’m hoping to get back in the game this week.¬† In fact, I have to since I’m heading to Uzbekistan on Friday and will have all kinds of new stuff to share with you about that interesting Stan.¬† And photos.¬† I’m pretty excited about it.¬† Ancient cities, lots of jewelry, food that isn’t covered in layers of oil (hopefully). And just being on the road again.¬† Travelling. Man, I miss that.


I spent many an hour¬†sitting in my office back in Canada day dreaming¬†about life as a¬†humanitarian aid worker-¬† travelling around the globe,¬†living in new and interesting places and working with¬†passionate/crazy people from all over the world.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Certainly, as I am learning, ¬†there are also challenges to working in this field –¬†¬†¬† spending the majority of your life away from friends and family, always on the move with no real base,¬† constantly falling in love – ¬†with a country, a¬†people, a culture – and having to¬†say good-bye every 6, 12, 24 months to embark on¬†the next adventure.¬†¬†

Thankfully, there are a lot of great bloggers¬†writing from/about some of¬† the most fascinating¬†places on earth and sharing their experiences – both good and bad- about working in this field . ¬†¬† Their stories and experiences have¬†been a huge inspiration to me.¬† ¬†¬†¬†So,¬†for those of you¬†who enjoy reading about¬†other people’s adventures, or¬†day dream about embarking on¬†your¬†own – ¬†I thought¬†I’d occassionaly¬†highlight¬†blogs that I lived vicariously through and¬†continue to enjoy reading¬†;0)

 This week check out:

The Road to the Horizon –¬†the author describes himself as¬† “a serial expat, addicted traveller, desperate adventurer, wannabe sailor and passionate aid worker”

There are a lot of great posts on this site like this one and this one.  But if you are particularly interested in becoming an aid worker start here.