15 June 2013

Let's be revolutionaries

Read today - a letter from Che Guevara to his children:

Dear Hildita, Aleidita, Camilo, Celia, And Ernesto,

If you ever have to read this letter, it will be because I am no longer with you. You practically will not remember me, and the smaller ones will not remember me at all.
Your father has been a man who acted on his beliefs and has certainly been loyal to his convictions.

Grow up as good revolutionaries. Study hard so that you can master technology, which allows us to master nature. Remember that the revolution is what is important, and each one of us, alone is worth nothing.

Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.

Until forever, my children. I still hope to see you.

A great big kiss and a big hug from, Papa

Let's be revolutionaries, can we?  

It doesn't mean we have to start coup d'etats or take over as dictators.  

But by being revolutionary, we will never stop learning, never stop growing, always be committed to trying to understand what is happening in the world we live and work in, but more than learning, growing and understanding, we must take action - be action people, committed to put forth every effort to change what needs to be changed.  

There is no complacency in the life of a revolutionary, rather there is the knowledge that the road to change is hard, that change is not always possible, that change will be difficult, will take time and one step forward may often be accompanied by two steps backward. But in order to actually achieve change, to revolt against the injustices in the world, we must at least try.

And we must never give up.  

We must stay loyal to our convictions. It is only then, that we may see real change happen. Change taking place from the involvement of our hands. Our hands joined together with those committed to the same cause.  

So, let's be revolutionaries. Yes, I like that idea.

Motorcycle Diaries

06 June 2013

Which one are you? aka MMMM Book Review

When I was in Haiti, I often said that the stress of it all would end up making everyone a smoker, alcoholic, adulterer or anorexic. Or all 4.

One NEEDED the vices in order to just keep a grip on reality.

Ok, if you were really smart, you would just channel it all into a good workout at the gym. Or actually learn to escape – physically, mentally, emotionally (Cocoye trip anyone? Or how about even a day at Karibe, where we can pretendlike we don’t know that loud group of Americans or MINUSTAH sitting next to us?).

And then Disastrous Passions began – a blog documenting the Harlequin-romance-like life of young aid workers in Haiti, falling in and out of love and lust. And it was like someone was following my life! Well, maybe not mine… but it was like a Gossip Girl-esque entity had arrived in Haiti and began documenting all the gossip that emerges out of the need to escape and all the debauchery that ensues.  And who doesn’t love to find out what’s reallyhappening around outside of the office.

“Gossip Girl here. Your one and only source into the scandalous lives of Petion-ville’s aid workers.”

Not that it was true…or so the author, J., wants us to believe. But some of it sounded distinctly familiar to REAL stories I was hearing around town.

Well… Real or not, this blog-turned-book (yes, I was most definitely was one of the first to purchase it) was written by someone who knew. An insider who was telling the story in a jargon that only those who knew as well would understand.

I must admit I have read it a few times…sometimes when you were sweltering alone in your room in Leogane, hoping that the mosquitoes didn’t get too bad, that the inverter would stay on so you could keep entertained by your computer / internet, and daydreaming (or night dreaming) about that hot, loggie Irishman you just met, a read of the self-proclaimed humanitarian romance fiction was just necessary.

Buy the book here!
So when the author contacted me and asked if I would review the next instalment in the series, Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit or MMMM, I quickly jumped on board. Ok, I was EXSTATIC! Find out what happens next to Mary-Anne and Jean-Philippe? Yes please!

And yet again, this book feels like it is telling the story of my life. It picks up after Jean-Philippe, the established, French aid-man, had moved from Haiti to Nairobi to be with Mary-Anne, the innocent, American programme officer and love of his life. But Mary-Anne is pulled away to Dolo Ado, Ethiopia and the Somali refugee response, while Jean-Philippe traipses around the world attending “life-saving workshops.”

Mary-Anne is faced with new situations, new faces, and potentially a new man – the classically named, Jonathon Langstrom. The book’s abstract reads (an excerpt): “Now, with a new organization in Dolo Ado, Ethiopia, she struggles to balance life, love, and career in the wake of ARRA’s decision to open a new refugee camp at Bur Amina. Will this new opportunity stretch her to the breaking point? Or will she rise beyond the challenges? And what will become of Jean-Philippe? Will their prolonged separation cause their hearts to grow fonder? Or will she find comfort in the arms of the mysterious, brooding Jonathon Langstrom?”

Now, I don’t want to spoil the book for you all aid workers who are going to (i.e. should) read it.

But it’s good. And no, J. didn’t pay me to say that.

Ok, honestly, sometimes it is quite negative and/or snarky – BUT anyone who has ever worked in a response knows that there is a heck of a lot of negativity. And J’s reputation of snark precedes him.

And sometimes it a bit dramatic – but AGAIN, for anyone who has been there, drama tends to travel ahead, around and behind any semi-effective emergency response.

BUT… And now the real buts start…

This novel is not written for the general public. Seasoned aid workers may get annoyed with it. But it’s not attempting to provide answers – nor should it! It’s fiction. But for those of us who are living the humanitarian life, whether you are at the beginning, middle or end of your career, will recognise yourselves or others in it.

There’s a lot of reality in the book. It deals with the questions that every aid worker has asked themselves at one point or another. It deals with the career move questions that we all ponder. It talks aid philosophy, work-aid-life-balance, that odd disconnect we have as ‘expats’ living with ‘national staff.’ It talks about the states that all humanitarians end up in at one point or another – as Missionaries; as Mercenaries; as Mystics; as Misfits.

And, of course, it ends ‘To be continued…’ as all of our stories (i.e. lives) do.

And we have J, our own Gossip Girl, to tell it. ("And who am I? That's one secret I'll never tell. You know you love me. Xoxo, GossipGirl")

Although, J? I most definitely did NOT agree with Mary-Anne: “The St. George was just okay. Better than Prestige. Not quite as good as Tusker.”

I haven’t tried St. George. But Prestige is DEFINITELY better than a Tusker.

What I wouldn't give for a nice, cold Prestige right now. Or maybe some Barbancourt…

And, please stop following me around, writing/predicting my life. It's getting awkward.

Just in case you didn't get it from all the links above...
Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit Facebook Page: Here
Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit on Amazon: Here
J's Author Page on Goodreads: Here

And 2 more reviews here and here...and more to come this month!

02 June 2013


One of the things about doing the work that I do - living internationally and all, travelling around from place to place - is that you meet a lot of people. And each person has a purpose. Some, they are there to entertain you just for an evening. Some are there to give you company while you are in that location. Some will be long term friends (although this is more difficult and less likely). 

And some are unexpected. As in, you meet for a night or two, have great discussions and then move on, thinking that you will never see them again. 

Fast forward to this week, when one such person, has re-entered my life for the 3rd time...unexpectedly.

I first met T on Christmas Day 2010, in Haiti. I had just arrived in country, didn't know many people, so when I was invited by some colleagues to a Christmas dinner at another NGO house, I of course accepted. It's kinda lonely spending Christmas by yourself... 

When I arrived, I noticed T - he's kinda hard to miss, with big eyes, big arms, and a big Cockney accent. We chatted a bit about life, living in Haiti and such and then moved on. 

I think we were all out on New Year's eve too. 

I next met T in August of 2012 - over a year and a half later. He was living with a good friend of mine in Haiti, working for another NGO. And even though I had been over to my friend's house many times and had even talked with him on the phone, I had never met his roommate, T. So on my friend's last night, we all went for leaving drinks at their favourite place. 

As soon as I walked in the restaurant, I knew I had known T, but neither of us could remember from where...it was only on a random discussion around Christmases spent abroad that BAM! I remembered...

And that was the second time we met. I never saw him again in Haiti. 

Now, T, my good friend and I are all working for the same NGO. T works in Malawi (just moved), my friend, B, lives in Ireland, and I am in Kenya. So, even though that may bring us a little closer together professionally, the likelihood of all 3 of us being in the same place at the same time was slim-to-none. 

Or so we thought. 

We took a lot of photos. This was the best one.
This past week, all 3 of us were in Nairobi together. Both T and B had booked last minute trips to/through Nairobi for completely different reasons. And I live here, of course. 

Let's just say that a fun night was had, reminiscing and laughing and making fun of each other.

I love it when life throws unexpected things your way. Like friends who unexpectedly move from someone who you barely remembered to someone who you will probably go visit at some point. 

21 May 2013

Showing Dignity

So today I went out to interview some street boys who have taken part in one of our programmes. We went to one of the slums, one I had been to before, one that I knew for being quite... Rough, to say the least. 

I love days like these. They get me our of the office and into our programmes and into life in Kenya. I get to learn what life is like for people living in poverty here. 

Last week, I went out and got to speak to a very passionate teacher and a shy but dedicated girl. And it was awesome! I loved the learning, even though much of what I was told was shocking, saddening and more. 

Now, when one goes out to collect stories, there is a proper protocol to go through, specifically that the individual is the owner of their own information. And that they are human and not worthy of being exploited, no matter what their situation in life. 

We show dignity. Because if you were in their situation, you would not want to be pitied, or feel like someone is using you or taking advantage of you. 

It all goes back to the golden rule. Treat others as you want to be treated. 

And it's usually not super hard to treat people with dignity. I am there to listen. You tell me whatever you want! If you are uncomfortable, that's fine too. 

But today was hard. There was this boy, you see. A teenager. Drugged up on something or other. Huffing, coke, MJ, it's all present in the slums. 

As soon as I stepped out if the car, this boy was by my side. Wanted to be cool with the mzungu you see. He was touching my camera, talking to me, trying to touch me. I just tried to work around him because I could tell he was on drugs. As I was interviewing another teenager, he was standing right there too, I could tell he was waiting his turn. 

But when it became apparent to him that I was not going to interview him, he started becoming unmanageable. Fuck you's were thrown around, as was the finger; it took much of the group to keep him busy while I continued my interview. And many times it just was not possible. To keep him busy. 

I tried to promise 'Next time.' And then he started asking for money. He deserved to be paid if I was going to make money off his story, his photo (I'm not... I didn't even take a photo). 

He was causing a stir all around. This slum is a tough one. I was beginning to be worried for my safety. One never knows when threats to throw rocks are true. 

And from then on, it was hard to focus. It was hard to be open. It was hard to continue with the interview, to give the young boy the attention he deserved. I lost it. I lost the desire to give dignity. I just wanted to get out of there, to run. This young boy telling me his story did not deserve that.

But how can you show dignity when a drugged up teenager is causing a ruckus, and forcing everyone to pay attention to him? To both him and to the others around him?

I tried, to be sure. I can only put myself in his shoes and imagine what he has gone through. No home, no money, hungry all the time, no education. Limited options (such as trolling through the dump site to find scrap metal to sell). The feeling of having no future. 

His boldness only egged on the others and I left the football pitch after finishing the interview, having to be squeezed into the car for my own protection, with street boys surrounding me asking for money, shouting they were hungry, asking for help. 

Sometimes, life throws a person into our lives to make us think. About how we show dignity to others. It's easy to do when the person is calm, kind, and interested. But when they are difficult, drugged up, threatening you or asking for money... what do you do? What is the best?

I only hope I responded in a good way. But let's just say I will ponder this boy for a while and how I approach others like him.

12 May 2013

Slainte Ireland

So, in the last few months, I have spent an unexpected amount of time in Ireland. As in, I now feel like I know Dublin as home, have a pub where the bar staff know my name, can make recommendations as a local not a tourist, have the places that have a story behind it that we can keep revisiting, and even attended an Irish Catholic mass (oh Lordy, that Rosary!)... Well, I work for an Irish NGO even. 

Oh and then there's the time that I sang in a pub. In front of people. 

My choice of song? Well, between all the pressure of choosing, not being able to remember anything and what just pops out of my head, I ended up with...

The American National Anthem. 

Seriously. I even stood with my hand on my heart.

And then the families, cousins, aunts and uncles...well, they laughed. And joined in. Some even stood up with me.

And the best part?

They knew all the words too :)

Well, anyway, since I have spent so much time there, and since I have come to love it like a home and since I think it will be a while before we get another visit in, I am sharing some photos that I took over my time there. 

It really is a gorgeous country. 

Go visit if you can. 

Glendalough, Wicklow
Glendalough, Wicklow
Glendalough, Wicklow

I like to call it the land of Rainbows
Eastern Coast, just one hour south of Dublin
It was spring when I was last there.
Well, we would call it Spring...Irish call it Summer. And then we got kicked off the grass. 

Just your average Saturday afternoon
Hiking Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo (West of Ireland)

All I see here are TAN LEGS!!! (which don't exist anymore)

Westport, Co. Mayo

Westport, Co. Mayo

Westport House, Co. Mayo (British, not Irish though... reminds some (i.e. me) of Mr. Darcy
Howth, Co. Dublin (North end of the DART)

When in...Dublin...at an Ireland Six Nations rugby game...at a pub
Slainte, Ireland. And thanks for all the memories.

06 April 2013

Comfort (not the ship)

I have to admit something. Something that I have tried to hide and suppress for quite some time now. But it is time to get it out in the open. To admit. To take action against it. 

I have been lonely here in Kenya. Quite a bit actually. And that is because making friends here is tough. Tougher than anticipated; tougher than I was prepared for. 

I have heard it said multiple times here - Nairobi is a place for families, for couples, for people wanting to settle down and have a normal life. And with a normal life comes routine. And with routine comes habits. And with each of those, the people who appear in your life become consistent. And with consistency, one gets comfort. 

And it's hard to get out of one's comfort zone. And it's hard to get into others. 

Hence, that is where I am. Not yet settled, not yet in a routine, not yet in a comfort zone. 
(although, I ask myself, do I really want all that, but that is a thought for another time and day)

And so, I get lonely. I have acquaintances, yes. I have a pretty cool (but very hardworking, i.e. never here) housemate, yes. And I even have people from past experiences who I consider myself close to here. 

But the loneliness reappears. Often. 

I realised just now though. In all the times I have moved abroad, it has always been extremely easy. 

In the UK - I met my boyfriend-at-the-time 2 weeks after I arrived. With him, came an entire group of awesome friends. That I hung out with regularly while we were all still living in London.

In Haiti (round 1) - I was with a large NGO that had many expats, all who were up for going out. All one really had to do was find out where the party or event was and show up. 

In Haiti (round 2) - I lived the entire year with the best housemate, friend, socialiser one could ask for. With that built in, who could ask for more? Even though there was more - Haiti is one of the most inclusive places I have ever experienced - perhaps because it is so small. Everyone was always welcome. 
I have a friend in Nakuru. With whom I can only speak Kiswahili.

Nairobi is giving me new challenges though. I have to make an effort this time. I have to be patient this time. And I have to allow myself to be ok with the loneliness that will come. Because it will not last. 

Thank God for that. 

I may not yet be yearning for the 'settling down' that many come to Nairobi for. But I take comfort in knowing that I am finally getting the true experience to moving to the unknown. Both the positives and the negatives. 

It is all a part of life. 

01 April 2013

2 months on

It has been almost 2 months since my arrival here in Nairobi. 

I think I am almost at the stage where I am stopping to compare everything with Haiti. 

At first, of course, it was an easy thing to do - both developing countries, both have struggles and challenges, both have a large expat community. 

Gorgeous Kenya - the Great Rift Valley
But culturally, the similarities stop. Kenyans are not Haitians. Yes, both are politically informed and politically motivated. But they are each their own.

Heck, every individual is each their own. 

I left Haiti in early December 2012. It was time to go. I was sad of course; I knew I would miss it (I still miss aspects of it), but I also knew that it was time for something new - a new experience, a new scene. 

So, Kenya it turned out to be. 

And every day, I know this is the right place for me at this moment. It's kinda awesome to have that feeling. 

Now, 2 months in - the majority of which we have been restricted to Nairobi due to the ongoing elections, and I am starting to feel more comfortable in my role, more comfortable in my house, more comfortable with friends. 

It is still a work in progress - what I like to call growing pains - but Nairobi is becoming home. And its not a bad home, to be sure. 

08 March 2013

Mornings in Hibernation

We have been in 'hibernation' ...

** Side note - 

Someone asked me this week what is the difference between hibernation and lockdown. 
My best response was that when we are in lockdown serious s*** is going on outside - we have to stay inside to be safe. Hibernation is more to do with monitoring the situation from a known location to see what happens. 
Anyway, I think that's the difference. 

Now. Back to today's main programming.

We have been in 'hibernation' now pretty much all week. Yesterday we went into the office. Wednesday, we were allowed to leave the premises. Which I did just because I could. 

But since it has now been almost 7 days straight of being home (counting the weekend), I have gotten myself into a pretty nice habit. 


my 'office' 
In the mornings, I stay in my pjs for as long as I can. I wake up early while it is still cool, get myself a yummy Kenyan coffee, open my computer and read the news. And start working. Emails and writing and such. 

And eventually, say around 11am, I will get myself together, get dressed, get some food and move to my desk. And continue working. 

This is going to be a difficult habit to give up when we head back into the office. 

06 March 2013

Degrees of Separation

They say that there are an average of 6 degrees of separation between any individual on the planet. 

In fact, in looking for a photo, I discovered that social scientist Stanley Milgram (of the infamous Obedience to Authority experiment) tested this theory as well, in what he called the small world theory. He found that between any individual and some other random individual, there is an average of 5 people in between. Hence, the 6 degrees of separation. 

In the NGO world though, even though it is a world that spans the globe, it is much smaller. 

Some might argue it is too small. 
A few weeks ago a logistician friend of mine in Ireland had to conduct a logs induction for 2 people he had never met before - never even heard of. A man and a woman who were being deployed to 2 separate countries shortly after that. Indeed, the man and the woman being inducted had not met, nor heard of each other either. 

So the scene is set - 3 complete strangers sitting in a room together talking about logistics.

Now, this friend of mine is very chatty, so of course he started talking with these 2 about their past experience, where they had been, where they are going, what they will do there... 

And it is in this process that he discovers that they all have one thing in common. 


(ok, and my old housemate in Haiti too - so 2 things in common)

Yes, sitting in that room were 3 people who had never met nor had any knowledge of the other peoples' existence, yet all 3 of them were acquainted (professionally or otherwise) to me. 

6 degrees of separation? 

Try 2...

(oh, and apparently they all had a great laugh about it then, and then my loggie friend and I had a great laugh about it afterwards)

And that's not the first time that has happened...nor will it be the last...