Tag Archives: travel

The things you miss

It was one of those conversations where you are not even sure if the person is talking to you or themselves.  There were moments when he looked straight into my eyes but for the most part he looked at his hands, the wall behind me or the table.  In those moments I watched his face closely and felt my heart start to break for him.  His was not a unique story.  Sure the details were all his but the emotions all too human.  This was a story that I have heard in different lengths and styles from my colleagues as they struggle to balance their family lives and the demands of our work.  More and more these conversations end with the person looking at me and smiling before they say “you are lucky you are single, you don’t have to worry about this.”

They’re right of course.  I am single and I don’t have to worry about a husband or kids but I do still have a family and a life that is not work related.  And despite my absolute love for my job and the work I get to do I am  acutely aware of what I am missing.

I hate talking about this stuff because I don’t want anyone to ever think that I am complaining and certainly don’t want to start feeling sorry for myself because I genuinely believe my life is blessed.  This is one of those times though when I am alone in a hotel room, the distraction of work Skype chats and emails is fading, I’ve done the standard equipment check and recharging of all the necessary technologies and all I have left now is thoughts of the little things I miss.

I’m not sure if it is my age but when I used to live overseas (several years ago) I missed Tim Tams (the world’s best chocolate biscuit/cookie) and Vegemite.  Now I miss celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, encouraging friends as they start their own businesses and supporting them as they go through chemotherapy.  I miss laughing at inane things until we cry.  I miss the days of lengthy phone conversations and not having to celebrate the birth of my sister’s first child over text.  Or commiserate the death of my uncle in the same way.

But I am lucky.  I have friends all over the world.    On this trip I was able to stay at my friend’s for a few nights. This for me is the greatest luxury as I hate hotels and being alone.  Sure, sleeping on a couch isn’t as much fun as it was in my 20’s but when news of my uncle came through she was there with a hug and a cup of tea.  And when news of the birth of my gorgeous (no I am not biased he really is gorgeous) nephew came we could celebrate with a wine.  When I was sick with a cold, cos UK summer is colder than Australian winter , she turned on the heating and made me eat vegetables.  And best of all, she has introduced me to the amazing cooking skills of her flat mate, or as I like to call him my UK house husband.   I might have moments of feeling lonely and disconnected when I am travelling for work, tired from my incurable state of over commitment, but they are fleeting and I do know that I am never really ever that far away from a friendly hug.

Leave a comment

Filed under Emergency Communications

It’s not ok.

My flatmate is a high school teacher and one of my favourite things is to listen to her recount her days.  She often ends her rather hilarious stories by looking at me, her head tilted to the side and saying “It’s not ok.”  The first time she did this I laughed.  Her delivery is usually a combination of humour, bewilderment and annoyance at some of her student’s behaviours.  As is often the case when you live with someone you start to pick up their habits.  More and more I find myself listening to stories from my colleagues in the field, reading industry reports or seeing things with my own eyes and just shaking my head and saying, “It’s not ok!”

And right now, there are a lot of things that I feel are not ok.

 

 

I’ve been stewing on this blog post for a while now and was really unsure of how and what to write down.  Now having written it I am not sure I really want to post it.  This is not a happy blog.  There are no jokes and I haven’t even been able to spin a hopeful ending which is something I always try to do.  It is not that there isn’t hope because there always is but I guess for me the hope in this blog is that when you read it you too will shake your head and say “this is not ok!”

 

 

In my last trip, I took a few days off and visited with a friend that I had not seen for a very long time.  Her and her husband are living through a rather intricate and volatile social movement in perhaps one of the most fascinating and beautiful cities in the world. I was only in Turkey for a few days and I was overjoyed to be spending time with such wonderful friends but at the same time scared.  Not scared for physical safety but scared of what this unrest could lead to and equally as scared of what would happen if there were not people in that society rising up in protest.  I wasn’t witness to events but talking with friend living through this made it incredibly personal and intimate.  And I felt useless, paralyzed and powerless to do anything but listen.  I keep trying to talk myself out of how I was feeling, just pour myself another drink, shake my head and tell myself I am just being a drama queen.  Clearly my study into fragile and post conflicts states coupled with working for a humanitarian agency is making me a tad bonkers.   Clearly I need to up my chocolate intake and watch more mindless kid’s cartoons.

 

But this was not to be.  After three days with my friends I flew to Hong Kong for a simulation exercise.  Sim ex are a lot of fun and I have done quite a few over the years.  But they are a lot of work, especially if you are a facilitator or observer.  We arrived at the sim ex site early in the morning and left late at night, some of us would then return to our motel rooms and work a few more hours till exhaustion forced us to bed.  On the very last day we went for dinner and as always the conversations were a mix of war stories, inappropriate jokes and a lot of laughter.  One story told at that dinner kept me awake all night.  It was a simple story of children going to school with an armed escort.  The story ended with a quote from the principle who stood at the gate and counted the children entering the school grounds.  “Sometimes not all the children make it.” 

 

 

I just kept thinking this is not ok.  I felt my head move from side to side in disbelief and heard my flatmates voice in ears.  “It’s not ok.” It is not ok for children to need an armed escort to go to school.  It is not ok for a group of people, no matter how wronged they have been in the past to dehumanise another group. It is not ok to use religion as a justification to hit women (or men).  It is not ok for police to spray protesters with acid.  It is not ok for journalists to be arrested because they report on what is happening in their society.  It is not ok that so many people in the world don’t even know or care that this is happening.   It is not ok.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Emergency Communications, In the field

“I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers”*

I didn’t like the play but I loved the line.  There is something incredibly telling in this line and the more imbedded I am in the humanitarian response world the more acutely aware of this I become.  Humanitarian response wouldn’t exist without the kindness of strangers.  Money, goods, petitions, volunteering, even working as a humanitarian all involve an array of strangers committing acts of kindness to help someone they don’t and probably never will know.

If I could be so bold as to add to Mr Williams’ words, yes I rely on the kindness of strangers but I have never been so dependent on my growing global family.

I’ve been in my new role for three months.  Anyone who follows on me Twitter or Instagram will know I have taken to tagging everything with #Ilovemyjob.  Honestly I do.  It is without doubt one of the most rewarding and challenging roles I’ve been honoured to hold.  More than that though the people I get to meet and work with are remarkable.  And I mean that as literally as it can be meant.  These people are worth taking the time to remark on.  In previous blogs post I have talked about different people I’ve met since starting this humanitarian journey; women, children, colleagues, even school principals.  Some of these people you meet for an hour and will never see again.  Some are forever imprinted in your mind and their faces haunt you at 3am.  Those special few become like family.

I am travelling a lot at the moment.  I’ve just started the first week of a three week trip across three countries.  My suitcase, which seems to be getting larger and heavier every time I use it, is filled with files, reports, equipment and cords.   I have meetings, in offices, over meals and via Skype booked solid and when I am not in a meeting I have emails to respond to, stories to write, strategies to prepare and reports to digest.  Yeah, I do love my job but this is not glamorous as some might think. And as much as you are always around people, the demands of work, if not managed carefully, can make you feel lonely very quickly.

Something rather special happened for this trip though.   I was invited to stay at people’s houses.  In the whole three weeks I am away I will not see in the inside of a hotel room.  I get that this might sound horrible to some people but I was giddy with excitement and so honoured by the invites I may have gotten a tad teary as I clapped my hands with glee and rushed to buy company appropriate PJs.

Now I am nothing special.  I am not being invited to people’s house, invited to join in family dinners or parties because I am amazingly hilarious and entertaining. Though for a single woman I do know some great Dad jokes!   It is simply because these people are really, truly, genuinely kind.  And they get it.   When you travel a lot, when you work odd hours in order to be globally connected, when the things you see, do, read about and work on get serious, when you miss birthdays and farewells and brunches with your friends and family back home, they get that having that human connection, that kindness, that sense of support is important.

So thank you.

Thanks for your kindness for it is noticed, valued and relied upon more than you will ever know.

*Blanche DuBois, A Street Car Named Desire, Tennessee Williams

Leave a comment

Filed under Emergency Communications

What’s in a story?

I am wearing a Panama Hat.  Yes, I do look ridiculous, especially as I am also wearing an old tracksuit with UGG boots, wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket and sitting inside on my couch.  But I felt inspired to write about my recent trip to Panama and thought it only fitting to don my Genuine Panama Hat, made in Ecuador.

Panama is hot.  Sweaty, red face hot.  Especially if, like me, you do stupid things like go for a walk along the Canal mid-morning in black exercise gear, without a hat and no water bottle.  Just as well that I wasn’t surrounded by a bunch of experienced humanitarians who have that whole practical preparedness thing going on.  Oh right, I was.

I was in Panama for a Global Relief Forum.  A week with some great humanitarian minds challenging, debating, and at times arguing how to improve our responsiveness to the changing humanitarian needs.   And boy can these guys debate.  This combination of passionate, intelligent, experienced and principled people is awe inspiring and a tad humbling.  The more I heard the more my inner communicator jumped for joy.  It is my job to tell their stories and engage others in their work and after just five days of listening to them I thought wow, there are so many stories here it will take me years to collect and share them all.

Armed with what has been described as my ‘annoying and misplaced’ enthusiasm for storytelling I oooh’ed and ahhh’ed and asked two reasonably innocent questions, ‘Have you told this story to anyone?  Can we do a piece on this?’

I expect people to get embarrassed, nervous, even excited when I ask to share their story but I was unprepared to have a high number of people turn to me and say “I was told this isn’t a story.”

I couldn’t believe it. I had thought I might encounter some resistance, I mean these are busy people and stopping to tell a story could be a tad annoying.  But no, instead I found a bunch of people keen, almost desperate to share their experiences, challenges, and successes but disillusioned by ‘this isn’t a story’.

Imagine that.  Imagine being told that your work, in some cases your life, which is spent travelling to some of the worst disaster affected communities isn’t worth talking about.  Imagine having been someone who was on the ground in responding to the Cyclone Nargis, Asian Tsunami, the Haiti earthquake, imagine working in protracted conflict zones like Sudan, Pakistan, DRC, Somalia, imagine pouring your heart and soul into new projects to expedite the delivering of lifesaving aid, of working tirelessly with other agencies and governments to protect human rights. Imagine all of that and then being told, ‘this isn’t a story’.

Everyone has a story and every story is worth telling.  How you tell it, where you tell it and to who you tell it to, sure that is important.  But never let someone tell you your story is not worth telling.

Stories lead to friendships.  Stories lead to identifying things we have in common and understanding things that are different.  Stories lead to education, knowledge, and wisdom.

Ok, so rant over back to Panama hats and sweaty walks along the Canal.

The water goes up then down, the ships come in and then go out.  All in all a fine canal.

The water goes up then down, the ships come in and then go out. All in all a fine canal.

Friends, boats and humidity.  A great day out.

Friends, boats and humidity. A great day out.

My morning walks along the Panama Canal.

My morning walks along the Panama Canal.

For a non hat person, I having way too much fun with my Panama Hat

For a non hat person, I having way too much fun with my Panama Hat

1 Comment

Filed under Emergency Communications, In the field, Preparation

“Is there anywhere you wouldn’t go?”

There are a few standard questions you get asked in the humanitarian world.  One of them is “Is there anywhere you wouldn’t go?”  I’ve never known how to answer this question.  I’d like to answer that I am fine to go anywhere.  But as a woman there are some rather unpleasant realities you have to face around personal safety that sadly places some destinations and some situations on the no-go list.  This week I met with two different friends who have both just returned from the field; one a seasoned humanitarian, the other just starting out.  One in their mid thirties and the other not even 25.  Aside from both being annoyingly intelligent, funny and lovely, they have two things in common that I know of, one is me and the other is Sudan.

I’ve never been to Sudan and in truth I’m not sure I want to go. I studied it and the Dafur genocide as part of a research assignment about the world’s obligations to prevent atrocities.  In 2011 we reported on South Sudan’s declaration of independence and subsequent signing of the Geneva Convention.  Last week I listened on two different nights to two very different but equally frightful accounts of life in Sudan.  Both nights my mind wandered as I listened to my friends talk about their experiences.

In 2008, after three years living, working and travelling overseas I returned to Australia with very little idea of what I was going to do with my life.  Since I had been teaching English as a second language I thought I might as well continue, at least until I worked some things out.  I started teaching at a local TAFE college.  All of my students were refugees.  I’d gone from teaching adorable cheeky South Korean kindergarten students to sing, dance, read, write and speak English to teaching grown women, mothers and daughters basic life skills in Australia.  My new students were a mix of Afghani, Iraqi and Sudanese.

In addition to the classroom teaching I also took on some extra volunteer work with one particular Sudanese family.  The mother had never held a pen before and was illiterate in her native language.  She didn’t understand money, time, or doctors.  The father had a scar that ran down the right hand side of his face, a damaged eye and a pronounced limp.  The eldest daughter kept running away from school, frighten every time she was asked to stand in a line.  The youngest children were shy and it took weeks before they would come out of their room when I was visiting.

Of all the academic research I have done and all the accounts I have heard from colleagues the story I remember most about Sudan is the one the father told me while standing in a supermarket car park. I was leaving the supermarket with my weekly shopping and he had a job collecting the trolleys.  We smiled at each other and I stopped to say hello.  He was always smiling and laughing.  As we were chatting in an awkward imperfect English he asked me why Australian’s don’t smile all the time.  He said, ‘Look at me.  I am smiling all the time.’  I laughed and asked him why he smiles all the time.   He pointed at the supermarket.  He said, ‘I smile all the time because everyone here gets to eat.’

I didn’t have strong opinions on refugees before that moment.  I didn’t know about humanitarian law, responsibility to protect ideologies, or Australia’s stance on foreign aid.  But his constant smile made me curious to learn more.  I am asked a lot by friends and family why I do what I do.  Why earn a third of what I could?  Why am I prepared to put my self and colleagues in potentially threatening situations all for what seems an overwhelming problem?

If you are or have ever wondered the same please watch this Ted Talks video.  I’ll let Bono answer for me.

Leave a comment

Filed under In the field

A first to remember

Everyone has a first time.  No not that first time, I mean the first time you know why you exist.  The first time you realised that what you think, feel and do matters.  Oh yeah, sorry I meant to start with a warning that this blog post may verge a little on the deep and reflective.

It all started with a relapse into my teenage years following my 36th 30th 26th birthday when I thought I’d check out the Dolly Magazine website.  I read a blog by Tiffany Dunk, editor of Dolly, about her recent to trip to India.  And I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I got teary as I read it.  Didn’t help that I was reading it when I should have been paying attention in a meeting but I just couldn’t stop.  You see India was my first time.

It wasn’t my first time traveling and it certainly wasn’t the first time I had witnessed a less than savoury side of life.  But it was the start of knowing for absolute sure what I was going to be when I grew up.  Yep it was when I knew that I was going to be a humanitarian communicator.

Reading Tiffany’s blog was almost like a “This is Your Life” moment.  The chaos and colour, the heat and the food of India filled my mind.  And the memory of that horrible heart-wrenching pause I felt in a father’s response to the hopeful bright eyes of his daughter.  That moment where reality was cruelly allowed to suppress hope.

I don’t much like reality.  I like sci-fi, fantasy and the odd cartoon.  I like happy endings and yes I like rom-coms.  And here I was, one of seven people crammed into a tiny concrete box of a home, sweat running down my face, transfixed by a little girl looking at her HIV infected father in much the same way I use to, and probably still do, look at mine.   Seeing his hesitation and unease at his daughter’s gaze as she dreamed of a future affected me more than the filth of the city slums and the exhaustive poverty.

I would never again be able to say I’m not sure what to do with my life.  In the two and half years since I was in India I’ve worked toward this, and just for you guys, I’ve started documenting my journey to becoming a humanitarian communicator.  In four weeks time I will move into a new role as a communicator within our humanitarian team.  It is going to be a massive learning curve working with some incredible people.  I am excited, scared and sad to leave my current team of amazing communicators.  But it is time to grow up and stop changing the channel when a bit of reality comes through my TV.

3 Comments

Filed under Emergency Communications, Preparation

Home, sweet soju, home.

I’m a chapter in a book.  No idea what it is about cos it is all in Korean but who cares?  I’m a chapter in a book.

Image

I recognise my name in Korean but that’s about it

I love Korea.

Image

Korea has the best snacks, stationary and shameless love of posing for photos.

There is really no other way to say it. I love this quirky, adorable, brutally honest, sometimes smelly, awesome stationary providing country. The food is delicious and sinfully cheap, Soju is my soul mate and whether it is stiflingly hot in summer or freezing cold in winter I love the place.  And no other country has put me in a book.

It has been four years since my last visit and longer still since I lived here. But it is just like returning home.  And boy do I love being at home, even if it is only for a week.

This is my first actual full time holiday in three years.  Don’t get me wrong I’ve taken time off from work in the past years but it has been to attend uni classes or to do major research essay.  This time, this week it is all about having fun and relaxation…and a little about drinking.

It was minus 12 when I arrive.  Minus, people MINUS.  So of course when it is ridiculously cold I embrace the ridiculous, dress like the Michelin Man, grab a bottle of Soju and sign up for a Hapkido lesson.

I’ve been wanting to do has a refresher Hapkido class for a while, specifically I wanted to relearn form.  Form is a kind of a rhythmic sequence of Hapkido kicking, punching and defense moves.  Most all form is great exercise and really relaxing.  When I can’t sleep and am wound up by things I have seen and heard in the field, doing a short form pattern has a surprising way of calming me down.

Despite my black belt, I didn’t want to do kicking or punching or falling or wrist-locks cos, lets face it I’m a tad older than I was seven years ago when I earned it.  Walking to the dojung with my friend we discussed how we are adults, and that we just had to be firm with our Sabunim (Hapkido Master) and that we just wanted to do form, nothing else.

Image

Oh no, however will I get out of this?

Sabunim is a force of nature.  He is a master in several martial arts, studied his Masters in Australia, speaks fluent English, is learning Mandarin, and he wrote a book (of which I am a chapter).  He is not someone that you easily say no to.  And we didn’t.  Within seconds we were donning our uniforms and obeying his every instruction.  It was fantastic.

I was hopeless of course, my kicks were wonky, my self-defense more like self-destruction but it was hilarious.  I haven’t giggled so much in ages.  As usual Sabunim was right.

I will be sure to tell him so when I can walk again.

Image

Now that’s more like it.

1 Comment

Filed under On holidays