31 December 2010

Ringing in a New Year...

London Snow Day!!!
 Well, this is it. 2010 is over, 2011 is next up. First off, I would like to just add to everyone else who is saying right now "Dang, where did the year go!?" Buuuut at the same time, I did accomplish a lot this year. Quick overview:
 - Finished my MA
 - Graduated
 - Volunteered at the Refugee Council
 - While working at WV for most of it
 - Travelled to quite a few different countries. (counting the US and UK, its probably somewhere around 8ish...)
 - Developed a family away from home, adding yet even more people to the list of people I will forever miss, yet rarely see. (Weddings anyone? They always bring people together. K. Who's first?)
 - Realised that the guy that was kinda interesting at the beginning of the year is actually very amazing and am proud to be ending the year with him by my side (metaphorically, not physically unfortunately)
 - and the most recent...moved to Haiti. 

The Whole London Family. What a Large, Dysfunctional, Loving Group!

Yep, that's quite a lot to have gotten done. And I have many plans for 2011 shaping up as well. 
 - Coming home to LA for a visit in March
 - Hopefully bringing a nice Australian visitor with me ;)
 - Travelling to Oz for what is sure to be the first of  many times
 - Travelling around the Caribbean, hopefully eradicating this pale London skin I have developed
 - Working in Haiti attacking Cholera 
 - Figuring what is next on the cards. 10 bucks says I will ring in 2012 living in yet another country...

Australian Boyfriend :)
But to all of you who are kind enough to be interested in what is going on in my life, I just want to say, I love you and I am blessed that you are in my life. I wish you all the happiness and blessings this world can afford to give. xx

27 December 2010

Joyeux Noel et Bonne Année

Well, Christmas has come and went. And having no Christmas decorations or Christmas tree or presents, ore really much of any tradition, it did not really feel like Christmas around here. I spent 1 night last week making Christmas trees out of green construction paper, and that was the best I could do - especially since I am now in this apartment - staying in someone else's room - by myself. So far it has not been too lonely, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that it was Christmas and there were lots of events going on.

But let me start off with what happened this week for me. It was a short work week - the office was 'closed' starting from Thursday - I still went in though. Better than working from home by myself. At least there is some sort of human interaction.

However, I realised shortly into it that it is going to be very difficult for me to do my job this week. We are 'closed' through the 2nd now, and much of the work I need to do, I need other people around for. Well, at least now I am able to throw out my arm and say "Hey! I am available! Give me something to do!"

And in the meantime, socializing and celebrating Christmas has been the task at hand. We had a Christmas party on the rooftop on Christmas eve for all the expats still in town - about 30 of us. And it was a success. I somehow ended up on the planning committee, organising decorations and food set up. Also went grocery shopping with others as well. It was a lot of fun, but a lot of work. All the leftover food is now left at my apartment - I don't know what to do with it all! It's going to go bad!

But anyway, we celebrated Christmas in typical expat style - lots of dancing and beer. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but had moments of loneliness and missing my CA family and my London family. Had to come downstairs to make some Skype calls to the bf - nothing says Merry Christmas like having someone wake you up in the middle of the night to tell you to get on Skype! haha. :P

But the night ended late, and I had all these grandiose plans to make pancakes for a small group of friends here on Christmas am, but that didn't happen. Oh well. Think it had a lot to do with skyping the fam, doing some of our traditions through Skype - like reading the Christmas story - and also skyping the London fam. They were having a massive meal at my old house for 17 of them! I got passed around and told everyone I missed them. :(

I went with a few friends here to a local pool on Christmas day - it didn't work out very well though because it was late afternoon by the time we got there and it was actually quite cool. Still no tan on my arms. Darn. But afterwards was Christmas dinner at another NGOs house. And let me tell you - this felt like Christmas. They had all the traditional - turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, and the best cranberry sauce I have ever had! And again, in true expat style, we ended the night at a nightclub dancing away. Well, we didn't stay too late this time.

Christmas here didn't really feel like it though, as I said at the beginning. It almost feels like you go through the motions because its what you are told to do. Honestly, if we hadn't had the parties, I would have probably completely forgotten about it. Loneliness does set in, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I am not staying at a house of my own and I am here by myself.

All I can say is that I am excited for this work week. Being productive is the best way to make the time go by.

I hope your Christmases were excellent and filled with lots of close family and friends. That truly is the way to spend the day. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. xx

19 December 2010

Bienvenue à Haïti

View from my balcony - it's raining...
So, My first week in Haiti has come and gone quickly. And an interesting one it was. I will admit that I mostly saw the office and home - but such is life when you are brought into a job just as everyone is leaving for Christmas break, and when every day is a question mark because you never know what the security situation is...

Here are a few observations / stories:

 - I am one of two staff here now dedicated to the Cholera response. This means my job will not just be "Knowledge Management" but will also include whatever needs to get done regarding the response. But hey, I am looking forward to it. I like being a catch-all.
 - Everyone here says the staff are awesome. I am finding out that this is VERY true! At work, I sit in the programming section, which is very women-heavy (actually the whole response is), and there are times when we are just sitting around laughing, or complaining about work, or freaking out together about different things. Its good. I know I am going to enjoy my co-workers
 - I have gotten to get out a bit this week - Wednesday night went out for pizza and drinks, Friday night went out dancing, Saturday went to an impromptu Christmas / dance party. Everyone here loves dancing. I love dancing. Its a great fit. :)
 - Depending on the security situation, I am thinking about trying to go to the beach for Christmas. Or sometime during the Christmas break. What I didn't know until I arrived here was that the office will be closed from 23 Dec - 2 Jan. I know I will still work during that time, but hey, that leaves extra time to spend doing something else. Plus I know I need to get out more.
 - I got my first mosquito bite. It itches. And No, I am not worried I have malaria.
 - Its actually quite cooler here than you would expect. Maybe mid-70sF/high 20sC. Cool enough for a light sweater. And for snuggling up at night under the covers. I like covers. 
 - I miss cooking. We have a housekeeper and she cooks us breakfast and dinner. Its nice to have something available when I get home, but at the same time, I miss cooking. She doesn't come on Sundays, so today I get to make myself dinner. I am soooo looking forward to that. Don't know what I will cook yet. 
 - When we went out dancing on Friday night, I learned something new about 'street politics' in Haiti. We had to park on the street, and as we approached the club, I noticed many Haitian men out and about. They were directing us to where to park. Then, as we got out, the one who was directing us told us his name. You see, he will watch our car for us while we were inside to make sure nothing happened to it. And at the end of the night, as we left, we found him and gave him some cash for his work. You see, I have noticed in my limited interaction with the Haitian population, that they don't just want a hand-out. They want to do something for that money. Like watching our cars, or carrying our bags at the airport. I have to say, I appreciate that. I think people in the West get this view of people living in poverty that all they want is some money, but that they are not willing to work hard for it. This is very untrue, at least with the limited interactions that I have had in different countries. Yes, there are still beggars and street children, but overall, they do something to make money, not just sit and wait for someone to give it to them. Entreprenuership spirit? Maybe. But good on them.

After next week, I will hopefully have seen a bit more than just my house and the office. But I am still so glad to be here. 

12 December 2010

First Impressions

Well, I have been in Haiti for just over 24 hours now. And I have seen the inside of my flat, and the inside of some cars. Which also means I have seen Haiti, but only through windows. But from what I have seen so far, I think I am going to love living here. So here are my first impressions:
*All Photos Taken From My Rooftop Balcony

 - Haiti has horrible roads and sidewalks. Driving is not always on a paved street, and if it is paved, it has terrible potholes. Typical of a developing nation...
 - Haiti is very green and jungle-y. There are gorgeous rainforest covered mountains with views out to the bright blue sea. And the temp is actually not that bad! Right now, at 5pm it is 29*C / 85*F, humid, overcast and with a nice breeze. My skin is mildly damp, but not sweaty. I think I can handle this. However, the weather should only stay like this through Feb, when the rainy season starts. Oh, joy...
 - Haitian people seem to be very friendly and kind. This of course is based off my interactions with them at the airport and at the store. As expected in a developing country, the airport was swarming with people trying to 'help you' in order to make some money. The airport was a bit confusing, so I ended up being helped by a guy who took me straight to the WV driver. Cost me $5, but the guy was either a deaf/mute or couldn't talk. I figured that this must be his only income so either way, I didn't feel too bad that I was swindled into having someone help me.
 - Haiti is surprisingly very expensive. I have been to the grocery store twice and have realised that one can easily spend $100 on a weeks worth of groceries. It is a wonder and a pain to me to think about how Haitians live. 
 - I was taken straight to one of the WV teamhouses, which is just in an apartment complex. I am staying in a woman's room while she is on R&R leave. So I will be here for 3 weeks, and have lucked out by getting a room that is huge with a double bed, balcony with views to the mountains, and an ensuite toilet/shower! Score! Let's see where I end up next. PS. the building also has a rooftop patio and lots of other WV staff staying here as well. Am getting to meet everyone, which is really nice.
 - The political situation in Haiti is still quite tumultuous. There is supposedly going to be a recount of all the votes, which the top 2 candidates are rejecting. There is also supposed to be a re-election in January. But whatever is happening, Haitian people are not happy. The WV office has been closed this last week and all staff have been on lockdown, meaning they could not leave their houses. At all. And it looks like this is only going to continue. I have heard stories about burning tires being rolled around, barricades on the streets and cars set on fire. But all our staff have been safe, and I am staying in a relatively safe part of town. However, we need to be prepared just in case we are evacuated. Some other NGOs have evacuated their staff in preparation for this week.

That being said, I need to be prepared as well. Just think, I may have struggled to arrive here only to be evacuated. I am not sure if the office is open tomorrow, so I am not even sure if I will be starting work tomorrow. Its all up in the air, but whats new for my life. But its been an adventure so far, and I am interested to see what happens. 

Well, I am off to pack my Quick Run Bag. :)

10 December 2010

Leaving things behind

In 2009, I made a commitment to myself and my career. I want to move at least every 2 years - whether that means moving jobs or locations or something, I decided that that was best for me and my career. First in that step was moving from my house in Pasadena back to my parents for a few months, then onto London. Now getting rid of a full apartments worth of stuff was hard work. And kinda sucked. But I decided that I need to make my life as mobile as possible. Right now, I pretty much have some bedroom furniture and just my books stored at my parents house.

I moved to London with 3 suitcases, and brought some more stuff over at Christmas. And of course I accumulated lots as I was living over there. 

As I was cleaning out my room for the move over here, I realised that I am going to have to become a master at just getting rid of things. And of not having emotional attachments to things. Its actually quite difficult.

I came over to the UK with a lot of stuff that meant a lot to me. Only to realise as I was packing things up that I need to only keep things with me that do NOT mean a lot to me. It makes things a lot easier to get rid of. And also I need to buy things cheaply. 

Even packing up all my stuff in London, I had to make major decisions that its easier to throw/give away and buy new things than to cart everything around. Not the cheapest option, but the easiest. Shoes, clothes, coats, jewellery - all items that were left in London and will need to be rebought as I need them...

So as I said yesterday, I am completely unprepared for staying in NYC for a week (what it is going to be now...I leave no earlier than Tuesday). Good thing as I was walking around, that I decided to buy a cheap coat (thanks H&M sale!) and cheap boots (thanks Payless!). Since it is decidedly NOT cold in Haiti, I may have to leave them behind. Or bin them in Haiti. 

This is now a part of my life now. For the next few years, as I fulfil my commitment to myself, I will be leaving things behind. Just gotta make it work.

09 December 2010

The times, they are a changin'

I am writing this sitting in a hotel room in New York City. An airport hotel room. Classy. I was only supposed to be in said hotel room for about 8 hours. But instead, this is where I will call 'home' for the next 3 nights. At least. 

You see, I am moving to Haiti as an aid worker with World Vision. Which negated me flying through NYC from London to get there. But half an hour before I left my lovely London house for the last time, my old boss contacts me to tell me that the Haiti airport is closed. So I may not be able to fly there. Turns out there is election violence in Port-au-Prince, so no flights are going in or out. And I am stuck here in NYC. 

This is good for a few things - get to search out all the American foods I missed, I know people here so I can catch up with old friends. But - its cold here. I am moving to a tropical locality. I already mailed all my cold weather clothes home - so now I am stuck here having to just pile on the clothes. Thank God for leggings and knee high socks. And scarves. And I kinda feel like I am homeless now. In transit is probably a better description, but its still an odd sensation. To have someone ask, so where are you from, and for me to say, well, I am originally from LA, lived for the last year in London and am in process to move to Haiti. But right now, my address is an airport hotel right by JFK. 

Its weird being back in the US. It doesn't feel like home. Will it ever again? I don't know. 

These next few months are going to be difficult. They are going to be challenging. Heck, I am moving to a place where they riot over elections, where I had to get a cholera vaccine before I moved there (btw, the US doesn't have the vaccine yet. But the UK does. Thanks UK!). I will be away from lots of people I love and I have no idea what is happening after. But working as the Knowledge Management Officer for the Cholera Response will give me work experience previously unprecedented in my life. And hopefully will allow me to finally become conversational / workable in French. 

Let's see what happens. My times, they are a changin. But I will charge forward. And I will hopefully keep my experiences documented for all you :)

24 November 2010

Thanksgiving Feast

Photos from a recent walk at Wimbledon Common
 Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving. A fact I keep having to remind myself of. I am in full realisation now of how necessary marketing is to holiday-making. Haha. But the US' marketing ploys and/or swindles are not the point of this post. 

No, this post is about food. As in food comparisons between the US and the UK. 

You see right now, I am in the process of making my Thanksgiving "feast" for myself, my flatmates, coworkers, friends, etc. Which consists of me baking my mother's amazing pumpkin chipper bread - except in the form of teeny muffins. Yum! What a classic. It's a pumpkin bread with chocolate chips and all the spices that scream AUTUMN!!!! (like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc). 

Regardless of the fact that I do not eat turkey and therefore do not cook turkey and regardless of the fact that this is the only real celebration I get because I am working tomorrow, these are going to be good. (I just had a 'sample' *wink)

But they are not amazing. They are not exactly like back home. I think this has to do with a few factors.

1. Ovens: Over here, ovens are in degrees Celsius. Well, most are. But they are in 5 degree increments, which if you have ever converted Celsius to Fahrenheit, you know that my oven temp will never be the exact same here as it will back home. But then there's the fact that I have a gas fan oven. Which comes in numbers. Right now, I am using gas number 4, which according to this chart, is equivalent to 350F. But there's still something off about my muffins.

2. It could have to do with measurements. One of the best thing about the UK, at least by the average American standard, is that they use a lot of similar measurements...miles, feet, pounds (even though they through the odd 'stone' in there), and more. But with cooking, they use grams. And let me tell you, it is difficult to get 1 cup of butter (what the recipe calls for) out of 250g (what I have. FYI the conversion is 229.something grams). So, there's always something a little off. 

3. Or it could have to do with the fact that its missing key ingredients. (not any of the normal ones. I really think it would be difficult to change flour, eggs and even baking soda aka bicarbonate of soda between countries. I could be surprised though. If so, I will let you know) In this case, its the walnuts. You see, the store I went to to get the ingredients (good ol' Sainsburys) did not have walnuts. Granted it was a small shop, but this is quite common here in the UK. Which is the actual point of this post... (and actually walnuts don't make a lot of difference in the recipe).

In the US, we become accustomed to always having items and always having options. Lots of options. We can choose between 4 different brands of chocolate chips, 6 brands of flour, and who knows how many different nuts. Well, at Sainsburys, they had slivered almonds or ground almonds. Thats it. And that is quite normal. It is normal to walk into a supermarket and find that they have run out of most of the fruits and veggies, or pasta sauce, or vegetarian soup, or loaves of bread. Stores here have limited stock. 

But here's the real kicker. While it can be slightly frustrating to have to change your dinner plans based on lack of ingredients available, it really is not that annoying. Do we need 20 different brands of toothpaste? Really, how many types of butter do you need? I am not here to argue that the US is too capitalist to the point where it just gets insane (standing in the condiment aisle trying to decide between heinz ketchup and whoknowswhatotherbrand for 5 minutes is just a waste of time), although I do think that. I am here to say that walking into a grocery store to find that there are no bell peppers makes you appreciate just that much more when they do. 

My pumpkin chipper muffins are not ruined because Sainsburys did not have any walnuts. No, they are the food version of the fact that I am thankful that I live here in the UK for the time being, getting to experience new things, seeing how a 'Western' nation can be quite different - and appreciating that difference! -, and making great new friends I get to share my almost amazing muffins with. 

23 November 2010

I really need to be more diligent about writing.

I have lived in the UK now for over a year. And its been almost a year since my last post. And a lot has changed...and a lot hasn't. 

 - I moved from my house in Clapham to another house in Acton. This house is with friends and we have an amazing garden, and my room has a window. All things you appreciate when you lived in a box that would kill you very quickly if there ever was a fire, since you would not be able to get out. I still live with a bunch of Aussies and Kiwis. And yes, they are awesome. Most of the time :P. 

 - I finished uni. All done. And according to the all-powerful external examiners, I passed with merit. I am quite proud of that. Wish I could have passed with distinction, but who am I to complain about a great grade. So, you can now refer to me as: Angela Huddleston, MA. thankyouverymuch. :)

 - While things are getting figured out, I work at a local pub. Its ok. It's nice to have something to do, but I work evenings and weekends, which means I do not get to see much of the aforementioned awesome friends/flatmates. 

 - At said pub, the customers all reckon that I am an aussie or a kiwi. I wonder if my accent has changed. But then I hear a North American accent and hope that my accent has changed! even a little. Its very grating. I am going to have massive culture shock upon my (who-knows-when-it-will-be) trip back home.

 - In the meantime, I am trying to learn French through this awesome website: www.livemocha.com. Its online and completely addictive. At the very least, my French vocab is increasing ever so slowly. Still waiting for being forced to move to a French speaking country so I can force myself to become good. Sigh. Sooner or later.

 - I still miss: mexican food, bagels, and lots of other junk foods. 

 - Best London things: lemsip (a lemony cold medicine that you drink hot. it feels oh so good and gets rid of the cold right quick!), autumn (definitely my favourite season), and being able to eat soup whenever I want because it is cold enough for soup.

 - My parents are coming next week for my graduation. I am hoping for snow then. Because that would be awesome. 

And here are a few pic of London in the snow from last year, just to show you how gorgeous it is.


"skating" down the sidewalk to the tube. Somehow I made it through with no major falls!

 Because there should be a cow in the snow... ?

Jumping for joy on my first ever (and probably last ever) Snow Day!

18 January 2010

Maybe the Earthquake was a good thing…

The recent earthquake in Haiti may have been the best thing that could have happened to the country.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that Haiti deserved it. The massive level of destruction and loss of human lives (tens of thousands feared dead, millions more affected, says the Haitian Red Cross[1]) is horrendous and never desired.

What I am saying is that Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation, may finally be getting the attention it needs to bring it to a higher level of development.

Haiti, a Caribbean nation with beautiful beaches, lush mountains, valuable natural resources and a rich French-Creole history, is a country that should attract many tourists. But for the last almost 170 years, Haiti has been plagued by political instability, dictatorships, coups, violence, and an ever increasing poverty level. A bloody rebellion in 2004 left the country in shambles; 2008 brought a series of hurricanes that overwhelmed the nation and destroyed much of its already limited infrastructure.

Under current President Rene Preval, the country seems to be slowly stabilising. But President Preval has a long way to go. In 2009, Haiti was number 149 out of 182 countries on the UN Human Development Index[2], in company with countries such as Sudan, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea. Human rights abuses abound in Haiti. The right to life, arguably the most essential human right, is still continuously violated. Rampant instances of crime and corruption, violence against women and girls, and cruel and degrading treatment in Haitian prisons were still exposed as recent as March 2009[3]. Even more staggering are the breaches of economic, social and cultural rights: only 1 in 5 Haitian secondary-school age children actually attend a secondary school. Only 25% of the population has access to clean water, 80% of the rural population lives in poverty, including particularly vulnerable women and children.[4]

The World Bank called Haiti “a Poverty Trap”[5] – where underinvestment in human capital, lack of economic opportunities, and poor governance keep it locked in a state of hopelessness.

So what needs to be done to bring Haiti onto the development train? Of course, for a problem this large, there is no quick fix. Haiti needs a secure and stable environment and economy; its government needs to be strengthened; its people’s inherent human rights need to be fulfilled. Most of all, Haiti needs the support of governments and donors.

Haiti has ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, all which bind the government to respect, protect and fulfil specific human rights, as defined by those treaties. In 2004, the United Nations established the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)[6] to secure and stabilise Haitian social structures, assist the political process and to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the nation.

Monumentally, in 2009, Haiti received full debt relief from the International Monetary Fund under the Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, which is designed to allow a country with an un-manageable debt burden to achieve poverty reduction through re-investing that money in governmental structures and social services.  
But with every step forward, Haiti –the ‘Poverty Trap’ – seems to take two steps back. The earthquake has affected the most vulnerable and has damaged crucial infrastructure. It is going to take a lot of investment to get Haiti back on track.

But here we are today: Haiti is the number one story in the media. Donations to humanitarian relief and development organisations are flowing in. Former US President and current Special Envoy for Haiti, Bill Clinton agrees that what Haiti needs most now is “money for water, food, shelter and basic medical supplies to bring immediate relief[7].  From these contributions, development agencies can assist in the process of not only just getting Haiti back to where they were at 4:30pm local time on January 13, 2010 just before the earthquake struck, but also to where they can be – secure, stable and full of hope.

So, as devastating as the earthquake was, maybe it was just what Haiti needed.