14 May 2012

There's GOLD In Them Thar Hills!

Up in Northern Haiti, around the mountains where gold was found!
So, in order to remain the informed resident of Haiti that I am (:P), I subscribe to the Miami Herald news, getting email updates about Haiti and the Caribbean in my inbox each day. Sometimes the articles are just informational; sometimes they are interesting; sometimes they are sad.

Today, however, I was presented with some quotes that just... well...

This is Haiti. 

On the discovery of gold in the country! No, not pirate gold (like I hoped!) but an estimate of $20 billion worth in the Northeast:
"If the mining companies are honest and if Haiti has a good government, then here is a way for this country to move forward," said Bureau of Mines Director Dieuseul Anglade.
So. Let's look at the likelihood of this. 

IF the mining companies are honest...in one of the most corrupt nations in the world... 
* Haiti is considered to be the 9th most corrupt nation on the planet, according to Transparency International


AND! IF Haiti has a good government...well, considering it's current government has been functional only 4 out of the last 12 months... 

Yeah. I don't have high hopes for this. Bring on the "environmental contamination, displaced communities and mountaintops torn asunder"!!! Sigh. Ok, really I hope it turns out better than that. Really really hope so. This could actually be a great opportunity for the country. 

Next up - it's been 1 year since President Martelly was sworn in. And here is what Martelly has to say about the last year: 
Still known to many by his stage name "Sweet Micky," Martelly said governing was easier than he had thought and he has no regrets from the first year.
So...Martelly thinks governing is easy!?! And no regrets? His first year was perfect? Well, I guess it was pretty perfect (if you completely ignore the fact that he didn't have a Prime Minister for the first 5 months, the first one quit on him, 10 senators' mandates have just expired and there is no election set, and an armed militia is now wandering the streets...)

“This is the first time we have a government that cares about the people,” Pierre said. “Martelly is moving with the people, helping them find housing. A lot of children who were not in school are there today because of the free education. I would be happy if he were re-elected for another five years and then he can become president for life.’’
This man, who has no electricity, running water and who's 6 children are not in school, sure still loves him. He even wants Martelly to be President for Life!!!!

Well, we all know how well that goes (I'm talking to you, Papa Doc and Baby Doc.)

Sigh. Oh Haiti. 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/12/v-fullstory/2796979/haiti-marks-one-year-with-michel.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/11/v-fullstory/2795142/prospectors-ready-to-tap-haitis.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/12/v-fullstory/2796344/modest-gains-mark-haitian-leaders.html#storylink=cpy

04 May 2012

The Evolution of an R&R

One of the perks about being an expat aid worker (aka one of the ways our employers attempt to keep us from going even more crazy than we already are) is the fact that every so often - 6 weeks, 2 months, 3 months, 4 months depending on the organisation - requires you to leave for R&R. Rest & Recuperation. 

For those of us who are single, without families and want to evade paying taxes back home by not being in the country, often this time is combined with annual leave and used to visit any myriad of the interesting random countries that surround us. And sometimes even the ones that really just are not convenient to get to at all. Because the world is our playground. 

By the way, it has been my experience that those who have families often use this time to engage in a little 'R&R&R,' as coined by my old colleagues. Rest, Recuperation, and Reproduction. Literally. 

And of course, one always wants the next country on the list, the next stamp in the passport and all that stuff that makes us feel somewhat well travelled or feeds our adventure appetite. 

Well, today I booked my next R&R. As in, the flights are purchased, I am researching accommodations and activities, but mostly I am flying by the seat of my pants (British or American - doesn't matter). 

But instead of just announcing where I am headed - which is pretty crazy, let me tell you - I need to tell you the process of how I got here. Because its a good, long story. 

It was agreed upon many many months ago that my next R&R would be scheduled for the first 2 weeks of June. I scheduled it far in advance to give myself plenty of time to decide where I wanted to go, to find a travel partner, and to organise. And so I set out to do so. 

The initial plan was Cuba (I mean what American does not want to try to sneak into Cuba through the back door!) and either Puerto Rico or Costa Rica. I hadn't decided. But I researched Cuba and found out all the ins and outs of how to travel to this country, while breaking US policies. And its actually quite simple (ask me by email if you want to know). 

However, I was still looking for a travel partner. After talking to people who had been, also after looking at the laws around being an American in Cuba, I decided that I need to go with someone who likes to go out and have a good time and is non-American. You know. Just in case. And I did also decide on Puerto Rico, because it was closer and offered some good options for scuba diving. 

Problem. Could not find someone to go with at that time. With my housemate planning to go in September, when I am next due for an R&R, and me not particularly feeling comfortable in a place I cannot speak the language or use the ATMs by myself, I decided to change to another couple of islands where I could understand the people. 

Guadeloupe. Found here.
Enter Guadeloupe. A country with a volcano, Jacques Cousteau's underground playground, beaches and apparently amazing French food. That speaks French. Done. Decided. Hmmm. What other country can I add to that? I know! Sint Maarten / Saint Martin! A French side that is filled with relaxing beaches and sophistication and a Dutch side filled with places to go out and city living. Deal. Sorted. 

But you know the Caribbean? Yeah, its not cheap. Not at all. There are not really a lot of cheap places to stay - well there are, but they are difficult to find - and there is little to no public transport especially on the smaller islands. 

So when I was looking at what the options were, it was looking quite expensive - car rentals, hotels, food, and still countries where there was the potential that I would do less relaxing of the mind and soul than more. 

I was still convinced. I talked with people who had been to both, started getting an idea of what to do, and how to do it. Then finally, I began the process to book tickets. 

Now this was where I got stuck. After much waffling about, and a few credit card mishaps, I ended up booking a return flight from Sint Maarten to PaP. And that was it.  Haha. Well, its a start!

A start to rethinking the whole process. And talk with some friends. And think. And review. And revise. And I did. So what did I end up booking today? 
Sint Maarten. Found here


In non-airport code language, that is Port-au-Prince to Curacao. Curacao to Amsterdam. Amsterdam to Sint Maarten. Sint Maarten to Port-au-Prince. 

Oh. Well that makes complete sense, right? 

Yeah, not really. Well, in anyway, I am thrilled about all of it. Getting some Caribbean beaches, some European flavor, some easy living, some relaxation, some relatively safe walking and some culture. All in 2 weeks. 

And hey, they have hostels in Holland. And I have friends to visit. Oh, it's gonna be a great time!

Don't worry though, Guadeloupe, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica! I'll get to you! Eventually!

01 May 2012

Dear Mr. Cameron, I must regretfully inform you

Found here.
And let me tell you he makes some awesome faces.
Dear Mr. David Cameron,

I normally do not do things like this. I normally have my opinions about another country's politics, but I usually keep them to myself, or for a good debate at the pub. I mean, America has got enough to worry about that I might actually be able to influence, right? (I am sure you would agree). 

But I felt this passionately and regretful about this, that I must write you this letter. 

You see, Mr. Cameron, sir - your government's policies on migration suck.

Now, one might think that I am writing you to complain about your treatment of refugees, or even worse, your treatment of asylum-seekers; how you detain individuals who are claiming asylum treating them just as bad, if not worse than a criminal, guilty as charged. You might think I am writing to request the Home Office to reinstate its funding to essential refugee and asylum-seeker organisations, like the excellent Refugee Council, who are having to stop essential programming because you are cutting the budget. 

While I feel passionate about this topic (and trust me, I do), this is not the subject of my letter today. 

I will first start with a story. A story of regret. You see, in 2009, I moved from the US, a country that if I have anything to do with it, will never be my home again, to the UK to study. I came to complete a Master's degree at one of your well-known universities, and boy was I excited about it! And getting a UK visa to study there - easy as pie! All I had to do was prove I was accepted at the university and that I could pay for it. Yep! Easy. 

While I was there, I got to experience the weird and wonderful world of UK politics, watching you get elected and form a crazy coalition government with your liberal-democrat colleague, Mr. Clegg. 

Upon graduation, I had spent all the money I had arrived with (as one does), and was headed off to Haiti to live and work and try and put my education into practice. At the time, I considered applying for the visa that I was eligible for - the Post-Study Work Visa, but unfortunately, you had recently put stronger restrictions on it, and I could not afford it at the time. "No worries!" I thought! I will apply at a later date, when I could prove I had the funds in the bank for it. I mean it would have been nice to have that option of moving back to a place that became my home, right?

Well, life happened. I was in Haiti for 6 months, and then was unemployed for 5 months. And I mean, when you are unemployed, you kinda need all the money you have. Its not like the US government wanted to support me anymore, after I had been living out of the country for so many years. 

I could not afford the visa, and the timeframe for my eligibility relapsed and all of a sudden I was stuck. 

I am stuck. 

Mr. Cameron, since you have come into government, you have put all these restrictions on immigration, and now it is virtually impossible for me to ever move back to the UK. 

Let's look at the different options the UK has for visas:

We will start at the bottom:  - UK ancestry
Yes, Mr. Cameron, I have UK ancestry. My last name is Huddleston, for crying out loud. How more English can you get!?! The problem - my ancestors emigrated over 400 years ago, not 2 generations ago. Oh, and the US is not a part of the commonwealth. 

- Tier 4: A student visa
Well, I could actually try to get this again. Obviously, it would require me to go back to school in the UK. But, wait! You have restricted the number of visas that you will allow, so one doesn't even need to just be accepted and able to pay anymore! 

And even so, what's the point? I would not be able to stay after - you are no longer accepting applications for the Post-Study Work Visa(ok, that one is Tier 1)! What, you don't want to keep the people your country educated there anymore?

 - Tier 3: Temporary visa
Ok, I could possibly apply for a temporary visa as a charity worker. But that would mean I would not be able to be paid. Ummm. How would I live? Plus, I have student loans from this amazing education your country gave me that need to be paid!

And with the others - yet again - not a part of the Commonwealth, a diplomat, an athlete, or creative enough to get paid for it. 

 - Tier 2: Sponsored visa (aka Skilled workers)
Hey, here is another opportunity, right? I mean, all I have to do is get a company to hire me, right? WRONG! Sponsored visas are expensive for both the employer and employee and plus, the organisation must prove that the non-EU citizen has some sort of skillset or experience that is necessary to that particular role that cannot be found anywhere else in the entire European Union! Uh. Thanks. 

Ok ok, there is still a small chance here - but come on. It's difficult and slim. 

 And lastly - 
 - Tier 1: Highly Skilled (also called High-Value)
So, I was educated by the UK (with a Masters degree no less), the work I do usually requires someone with a certain level of education, experience, skillsets, and technical knowledge. One would likely describe me as someone who is highly-skilled. Except the UK government. Because according to the UK government, in order to be considered highly-skilled, one must: - earn over £150,000 and want to invest it in the UK, - be an entrepreneur and have enough money to open and manage a business, or - be a leader in sciences or arts. Pretty much, you have to have a lot of money. Which I don't have (charity worker with student loans here). 

Now, Mr. Cameron, I understand that you want to keep British jobs for the British. But I hope you see my problem here. I have invested time and money in your country, have been educated by it, and consider it more my home than where I was raised. But you won't let me come and live there! 

So, Mr. Cameron, I must regretfully inform you: Your immigration policies SUCK!

I only hope that the next government (Mr. Milliband?) will have an opinion different to yours, because I am assuming that the next 3 years will only have more restrictions. 

Yours respectfully,