Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The best home there is

We sold our beloved Casa yesterday, eleven years after we gave it its name, "home" in Spanish, as we drove away from Abu Dhabi, setting our eyes on Patagonia. And what a home it has been for us. This is my love letter, to Casa, the best home there is.

First of all, when riding through places with Casa, we were travellers, not tourists, almost warriors like. We feel absolutely invincible. It was like having your most experienced and reliable ally with you all the time. Casa was always ready to spring away at your heart´s desire, negotiating difficult roads and crossing tiring borders

Together, we have enjoyed some of the most breathtaking views one can imagine, over and over and over, sampled some of the most delicious food, shocked by some of the cheapest gasoline, and endured harsh conditions - oh Bolivia, Casa (and us) probably still shakes its head at Bolivia. For a home that can travel, Casa has lived to the fullest. 

Of course we could not have gone as far as we did if not for Casa carrying all our stuff for us. All the tools, gadgets, food, tent, we crammed as much as we could into the trusty panniers on Casa. I will forever treasure any day when I have only two sets of clothes within reach. Trust me, you can get very creative with various combinations, but I digress. In short, life was beautifully and unapologetically simple on Casa - as long as the pannier does not fall off

There are definitely times when one of us gets impatient, and that is okay with Casa. We took roadside time-outs, stretching our legs a little, waiting for dusts to roll by before hopping back on it and continuing with cooler heads. 

When Casa breaks down - and this happened again and again and again - we sat down and worked them through together. Not to mention some of the most intolerable environments, Casa was there to witness them all, in Iran and in Argentina. Oh, all the stories we still tease each other fondly after all these years. 

And most of all, we loved meeting people with Casa, many of whom were just curious and adventurous. They always asked us where we come from: UAE, Germany, China, The Netherlands, Canada... "What? But why does Q look so Asian?" Oh yeah, the Philippines is also in the mix. Casa and us, we were an inevitable cultural bomb wherever we rolled. All the while growing together, more capable, more groundedmore connected, more gentle, more heart.

My huge gratitude to Q for God-knows-how-many hours, days and weeks that he has spent tweaking, fixing and improving Casa. They have been best buddies for each other in ways that I probably can never fully comprehend, and I am grateful for the chance to have witnessed this unique friendship so intimately. 

And now, 170,000 km (!) and 40 countries later, we part ways with Casa. Unfortunately it is getting increasingly less reliable for our travel needs - hey, you try carrying two full-sized grown-ups on your back and see how far you get. ;) 

We saw off Casa wishing the next travel companion would also enjoy and treasure it. We will miss it dearly and move on with the many many many life-changing moments we shared together. Casa, thank you, for being the the best home there is. 


Sunday, March 21, 2021

Five winter jackets

I have a total of five winter jackets and I did not wear any of them this winter. It is time to decide what to do with them, and for that, I need help, your help. 

First of all, why I haven't worn any of the winter jackets. It is not just because I am slightly mental (you should know that already), but also because of my practice with Wim Hof Method. That means with the cold exposure practice, I have been walking outside all winter in my regular indoor clothes, so just sweater and jeans. Contrary to my deeply-rooted Chinese cultural belief to always dress warmly, I have not gotten sick from doing so. Those diaphragm hyperventilation and hypoventilation breathing exercises really turn on an internal heater, and I feel very comfortable with keeping a healthy core body temperature without wearing a winter jacket. Yes, my fingers do get cold, and I need to make sure they are protected by gloves, but other than that, I love how refreshing it feels and the fact that I can just leave the house any time without having to stop and getting completely covered. In fact I feel physically stronger coming out of this past winter season than any of the past ones, so that is really nice! 

Okay, enough of cold exposure. Let's talk about the real issue here: the jackets and why I need your help. To say that I am quite sentimental is probably an understatement. I cried when I had to let go a pair of old hiking shoes right there in the middle of a shoe store where I found a new replacement pair. That was 2010 in Abu Dhabi, and now these jackets living in the Netherlands. All of them are all dear to me in various different ways. Below I will give a run-down. In chronological order of their acquisition - of course there is an order. 

Side note 1: please ignore my bare legs. I asked Marjolein, a neighbour, to help take the photos since Q was not home that day. And I was in a bit of rush after a quick run, that's why. :)

Side note 2: Sorry to bring up this "luxury problem", but it is also something that has been on my mind for a while now, so I am sure it carries more significance to just jackets, but maybe also lifestyle?

Jacket A - Zara black

Material: Rayon, polyester

Cost: CAD 100 ? (EUR 70)

Purchase situation: Bought it new when I started my first full-time job in Toronto in 2002, so that is more than 18 years ago. It has endured the harsh Canadian winters.

How does it make me feel? Chic, invincible, efficient, that I can cut a dash. In a way my default feeling with clothes is not one of posh, so this one sorta fills a void of some sort. 

A

Jacket B - Canadian motorcycle 

Material: "Genuine Leather" as the label proudly announced. Also "Made in Canada".

Cost: CAD 40 ? (EUR 25)

Purchase situation: Got it in a vintage shop as my travel souvenir when Q and I visited Quebec City in 2013. This was my phase of visiting second hand clothes shops during travelling. I have reduced that habit to just visiting and rarely buying. I have more than enough. 

How does it make me feel? It is a motorcycle jacket. I feel extremely sturdy and tough wearing it. Also the padded lining makes me feel warm instantly.  

B


Jacket C - Canada Goose heavy 

Cost: SEK 100 (EUR 10)

Purchase situation: Got it in Malmo at a Saturday morning flea market with two of the best shopping companions one can find, Pernilla and Madeleine. None of us could not believe how good a bargain it was and it fit me the best, so I got it. 

How does it make me feel? So warm and ready for any winter storm. It does leak feathery strands along the inside linings, but since my sweaters are grey and would not show, so that is no longer an issue.

C

Jacket D - Austrian green

Material: 80% schurwool, 20% alpaca

Brand: Het Jagerhuis. Himalaya De Luxe. Baur Loden, Tirol. Made in Austria. 

Acquisition situation: It belonged to my mother-in-law. I came across this jacket during the massive clean-up effort post her funeral in end 2019. My husband and I have never ever seen her wearing it - although Wads was quite a fashionista and probably had enough clothes to cover the entire Celebesstraat (her street), so it really shouldn't surprise us that much. :) Anyway, back to the jacket, the original sleeves were too short, so I extended to the best ability I could.     

How does it make me feel? Wads had a very elegant and stern presence, channeling a bit of Jackie Kennedy. I feel very much wrapped by her presence wearing the jacket. Not to mention the cool and high Austrian mountain flare.   

D

Jacket E - Arcteryx water-proof

Material: Down-filled and Gore-tex

Cost: EUR 150? 200? 300? €420 (just found the receipt)

Purchase situation: My Canada Goose was too heavy for the Dutch winter. Since I don't like shopping and Q does, Q volunteered to help me find one. He found this jacket online, ordered it, and it fits - voilà! (N.B. This was in September 2019, so just before Wads passed away, so I got the order of D and E wrong, doh!)

How does it make me feel? Super functional and practical. Also somewhat feminine with the tailored shape.

E


Would you help me? The help I need is your advice on what I should do with the jackets. Which one(s) should I keep? And which ones should I let go? 

On the second note, if you are interested in getting any of them, let me know. I am American size 8-10, Medium. 

Much love and happy spring cleaning! ­čĺô

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Portrait of my mom

 Here's a video with my mom I wanted to share with you.

Or click this link to watch
(English and Dutch subtitles available)

This was part of a TV-show called Van de Kaart (full episode here, no subtitles) she used to watchTV-show herself. It's made by a local station that has a group traverse from A to B in as much a straight line as possible, having to climb walls and go through houses. In this particular episode, shot on October 11, 2017 (one day before her birthday and right in between the passing of my dad (2015) and my mom (2019), they happened to meet my mom. As they pass through the house she tells her about herself and my dad, and she invites them to join her for tea. I think this is a beautiful portrait of her, showing her exactly the way she was.

My mom in January 2019 in Barcelona
My mom in January 2019 in Barcelona

We are organizing a remembrance walk for my mom Sunday, Oct 4, 2020, see the invite below. For those too far away who would like to 'join': do your own walk in remembrance of my mom wherever you are. She would love that ­čśŐ


A Walk in Memory of Wads

It has been almost a year since Wads left us. We would like to remember her by organizing a walk together on Sunday 4 October.  

When11:00. We will start walking at 11:10, so please be on time.  
WhereIn front of Koffietent John & June's at Prinsevinkenpark https://goo.gl/maps/7Xb3BMHkdAbiMDcF6. There is free parking close by. Bus 22 and trams 1 and 9 are close by as well.
WhatAn easy walk under an hour visiting a few places including Scheveningse Bosjes, Celebesstraat, Archipelbuurt, ending at the cemetery. We will keep a friendly 1,5m distance and please feel free to wear face masks as you prefer. 
After the walk, for those who want to join: Dimsum at 13.00 at China Town Dimsum & Grill Wagenstraat 100 (https://goo.gl/maps/PqFMw3KKnPiUB9Kc7). Due to COVID, please make your own reservation directly with the restaurant, but we will try to arrange so we sit in the general area.  
 
Your response
  1. Let us know if you are joining, but No RSVP required
  2. Also, please share this with others who may be interested. 
  3. Again, if you join us for dimsum, please make your own reservation with the restaurant.
A short update. With lots of help from friends we have been successful in clearing out Celebesstraat 42. Many friends also took tokens from the house to remember it and my parents by. As much as we love the house, it was not our wish to live there, so in the end we decided to sell it. This was by no means an easy decision, but it feels right. One good thing came out of it: the new owners are a wonderful family with two young daughters who have plans in rejuvenating and updating the house before living there themselves. Much like my parents in 1976, they are moving from Amsterdam to The Hague . 

We hope to see you on Sunday 4 October.

----

Wandeling ter nagedachtenis aan Wads 

Het is bijna een jaar geleden dat Wads is komen te overlijden. Om dit te herdenken organiseren we een wandeling op zondag 4 oktober.

Wanneer11:00. We beginnen met lopen om 11:10, wees ajb op tijd.
WaarVoor Koffietent John & June's aan het Prinsevinkenpark https://goo.gl/maps/7Xb3BMHkdAbiMDcF6. Er kan gratis geparkeerd worden. Bus 22, tram 1 en tram 9 stoppen ook in de buurt.
Wat: een gemakkelijke wandeling van uiterlijk een uur, denk hierbij aan de Scheveningse Bosjes, Celebesstraat, Archipelbuurt en we eindigen op de Begraafplaats Kerkhoflaan. Tijdens de wandeling houden we natuurlijk de anderhalve meter in acht. Uiteraard mag je een masker dragen als je dit wenst.
Na de wandeling, voor zij die mee willen: dimsum om 13:00 bij China Town Dimsum & Grill Restaurant, Wagenstraat 100 (https://goo.gl/maps/PqFMw3KKnPiUB9Kc7). Vanwege de maatregelen ivm COVID vragen we ieder huishouden om zelf een tafel te reserveren. We zullen proberen bij elkaar in de buurt te zitten.

Wat moet je doen
  1. fijn als je laat weten als je komt en met hoeveel, maar het hoeft niet. 
  2. deel deze uitnodiging met andere mensen die hier graag bij zouden willen zijn. ZEGT HET VOORT
  3. Nogmaals, als je mee wilt dimsummen, maak dan zelf je reservering bij het restaurant.
Een korte update. Met verschrikkelijk veel hulp van vrienden is het ons gelukt Celebesstraat 42 leeg te halen. Velen hebben ook een aandenken aan mijn ouders meegenomen. We houden ontzettend van het huis, maar het was niet onze wens om er te gaan wonen, en hebben we uiteindelijk besloten het huis te verkopen. Dit was geen gemakkelijk besluit, maar toch voelt het goed. De nieuwe familie die er gaat wonen heeft 2 jonge dochters, ze hebben plannen om het huis te verbouwen om het weer een frisse look te geven. Net als wij destijds verhuist deze familie van Amsterdam naar Den Haag.

We hopen jullie op zondag 4 oktober te zien!


Sunday, August 23, 2020

The staircase

It's almost a year since my mother-in-law passed away.  Q and I have been fortunate to go through a rigorous process of grieving and loving during this period with tremendous support from many of you. It's not easy, but I'd like to think that we are doing our best embracing it. 

This afternoon we gathered with a handful close neighbors and friends, said goodbye to the house where Wads and Bart have spent more than 40 years. After everyone else left, I was able to connect with the house, sitting on the worn-out floor, walking through the empty rooms, looking out the tainted windows... The poem below is a reflection of the connection. 

This is for you - those who have loved Wads, and those who have loved. 

---

The Staircase 


I barely fit 

On the midnight blue staircase step 

Where she used to sit

Taking her sigsig break

After our dinner together

While I shuffled around in her kitchen

The evening quietly cleaned up.


The scent of thin cigarette propagated

Down the hallway's shadows

Mesmerizing my senses


What is going through her mind

When she inhales

Exhales

Inhales again.


I used to wonder.

I am still wondering.


Maybe some questions are best 

left unanswered.

They remain the beautifully 

unfinished void

Connecting us

Through time and space

Through life and beyond.


I inhale, 

Exhale, 

Inhale again. 


Following the faint scent of sweet smoke 

I find her again

Sitting on the midnight blue staircase step 

Next to me

Leaving in my hands

A gentle squeeze. 


View into Wads' garden



Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Love Language

The newly-weds
Every couple has their love language. Some are easy to see, to hear, to understand. Some are... not.  Such was the case of my parents-in-law.

If you walked into a typical day at Celebesstraat 42, you would have likely seen my parents-in-law in different rooms, busying about their own things. Their language appeared distanced, separated, cold and maybe even strange.

But underneath it all were two wonderful individuals who could have lived very contentedly by themselves, but chose to spend their lives together. In the end they became a loving couple who ultimately were not able to live without each other.

My mother-in-law loved my father-in-law in ways that break your heart. She respected him enormously. And he her. He in playing music that she would never understand but loved to listen. She in cooking dishes that he could never make, but could not have enough of. He in praising her volunteer work to people that had never met her. She in making fun of him to anyone that would want to listen.

They adored each other.

So was their dynamic. So was the magic of their love. It formed a formidable bond beyond life and death.

Their love was expressed in ways that can be barely detected by senses, but definitely could be felt by hearts. It was so old-fashioned, so classic, so playful, so Wads and Bart.

Till even death cannot do us apart...
Footnote: Special thanks to Kathryn Wellen for helping me bring the piece of writing to light and sharing with you all. We miss you, Wads and Bart.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Get Grounded

“So why do you choose to walk instead of other means?” Sitting opposite of a psychologist, I got a bit curious myself when I heard the question come my way. So why exactly do I choose to walk everywhere whenever possible?

A bit of context would be helpful I suppose. Well, let's go back a few steps on the therapist part since it is rather personal and revealing. Recently I have been shopping for a psychologist here in the Netherlands. I have always found therapy a great coping mechanism, working for me for more than a decade in different countries. I am proud of it as I am of my occasional yoga and jogging. And this time around, to better cope with moving, job, love, loss, you know, all the bitter sweet things having to do with life in a new chapter. By the way, I am happy to discuss mental health any day, just like happy to discuss physical health, and spiritual health while we are on that subject. Health needs to be discussed, otherwise we end up collectively gaining more and more mental dead weight – that is not healthy. Anyway, I digress. 

So I told the therapist that since about a year ago I made a conscious choice of walking everywhere whenever I can. Well, if you want to know the definition of “I can”, it is about 45 min walking distance according to Google Map estimate. Yes, those are the sort of hard lines I draw in life. :) So why do I choose to walk? Primarily it has to do with being active. Your whole body is engaged in a fairly low impact but slow burning gear. There was a study showing the Masai’s from Kenya shares this type of physical exercise pattern with their herding routines, walking with cattle all day long. High-impact sports are good, but it is only one side of coin, isn’t it? And the other side can’t be just sitting in front of computer, on a couch, on a bike or in a train, so walking seems a reasonable choice.

Our Swedish visitors, Pernilla and Maddy were good sports, walked in a straight line following our leader. 
That and I also find walking surprisingly relaxing. There is actually opportunity to stretch neck around and look around at all the interesting buildings, trees and people. Adding a bit of slower and duller moments in busy days is surprisingly soothing. If I know I have to walk for 45 minutes, I will make sure to make time for it and enjoy the walk with listening to podcast or just looking around at random things. Q and I try to take a stroll in our neighborhood in the evening whenever possible (could always do more), discovering the city taking on a different look (you really have to see it for yourself in Haarlem to experience it), listening to the evening church bells beckoning wanderers to go home, enjoying the pace of the city slowing down and thoughts winding down. Walking is as inspiring in the morning as it is rejuvenating in the evening.

Strolling in Lisbon with Sara & Q
So back in the chair across from the therapist. Why do I walk? There is something deeper. Both the therapist and I fell silent. We both chewed on it for a moment because we both sensed its significance, but can't quite put our fingers on it. To the credit of the €150 I paid the therapist, he came up with this answer out of nowhere, “you become more grounded this way”. Yes, that is it! I love connecting to earth. Same reason as doing yoga and jogging and hiking, to connect with the nature and to be grounded.

If we look at this in a broader sense, as we continuously move into cities (urbanization), the cities become denser and higher (densification), our environment is changing, and I am not sure if it is for the better. As we spend more and more time in various boxes that we build for ourselves, buildings, cars, buses and trains, the bigger environment becomes more of a nuance that we want to bypass or speed through as quickly as possible in name of efficiency. A bit like taking water out of natural juice to make it into concentrated version. Well, I am here to argue that water is important – and hopefully we can all agree to that. So why less rushing and add some of the water back to our busy life. Walk more is a great way to be connected to our environment, to breathe easier, and to smile. 

When I left the therapist’s office that evening, I can tell you there was an extra spring to my steps as I walked home. To be grounded is a meaningful way of life. Join me. Join us. 

---

We invite you to make a virtual walk together on Saturday 7 July (+/- days) to join me and Q in celebrating our birthdays together. 

You choose how long – 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 2 hours, whatever you like. You choose where, in your neighborhood, in a park, through a market, wherever you like, okay, maybe shopping malls are not my top choices. You choose how: do it alone and enjoy solidarity, or invite your family and friends and make it an outing. Please remember to take a photo and share it with us. It would be the best birthday gifts we can ask for of our family and friends. Let's get grounded together.  

From last year's annual birthday hike - inspired by Marie and Tadeáš!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What we carry on the bike (or: a note to self) - a video

On our Big Trip we carried everything we needed during the 14 months of our trip on the bike. We carried everything from clothes, small rations, cooking and camping gear to some spare parts and tools to fix the bike along the way. We were self-reliant and that meant that we were free to roam wherever our bike took us.

Fixing a tire in Iran - glad to have the tools and spare tire!
As happens to all overlanders, we brought too much to begin with. It took a bit to trim the amount of stuff we brought, but we have the process pretty streamlined now. Our (little) house is packed with a quite a few items, as those of you who have visited us know. So to reduce the contents of our house to just the space on the motorcycle (our House on the trip, or 'Casa', as we call her) is a liberating experience. Let me explain, we never brought souvenirs, because they take up space. Instead we sought to enjoy every place we visited and, at most, took pictures to remind us of it. This makes that you don't have to think 'should I buy that beautiful touristy trinket', we just don't, we don't have space. It makes life very simple, all your belongings we had with us and we had nothing else to worry about (well, almost, at least).

Ok, I cheated a bit. Instead of souvenirs I shopped for parts for the bike instead. Brake pads in one place, tires in another, exhaust pipe guards from Argentina (a gift, even)! But those were... ahum... functional at least! But back to the point. The only things we really ended up missing which we couldn't bring were the art we have in our house and our bed. And halfway during the trip I treated myself to a small but good kitchen knife.
Casa found a shelter in Lithuania
Last year was the first time since the Big Trip that we traveled with all our kit on the bike again and it took some jogging of our memory to figure out what (not!) to bring. So after the 3-week trip we decided to shoot a few videos outlining what we carry on a trip.

Click here to view the video if it doesn't load

It mainly delves into the overal details, how much capacity we had, which products we chose and what we carried and where. We shot some other videos that go more into detail of the actual contents of the bike, those I might post at another time.

One could see this video mainly for ourselves in preparation for our next trip, but I know others might be interested as well to see how we did it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Moments of Cultural Shock - Today's Edition

I have been in Kenya for TWO MONTHS now - woohoo! The occasion is sure worth a celebration in the form of a blog posting, don't you think? But hmm, I am still finding things quite overwhelming here. Where do I start? It doesn't take a doctor to see that I am still having a major case of cultural shock.

How about I start with today's Daily Nation, which is one of the most popular national newspaper. I am gonna skip the headline news of raging corruptions and political turmoils, and go straight to what I consider as "hidden gems" that I find very educational:

#1: Number of motorcyclists who were killed in accidents this year so far: 349! A whopping 30% increase from last year. Maybe it is the motorcycle connection inside me that really felt the pain, but this was just mentioned briefly in one of the page corners. Really?! 

#2: 21 percent of Kenyan women/girls have "undergone" genital mutilation in the name of "rite of passage" according to this report. Wow.


#3: The "Dear Abby" equivalent column has a letter that starts with "Hi, I'm a 30 years old and married to a strange woman". You know that's a fun read with that start!! Well, funny enough this is the only article I can find available online when I searched through Daily Nation's website.

Okay, now let's get to the random conversations with my colleagues today.
#1: They concluded that I was "very very lucky" not to be mugged when I walked to town (just over an hour) over the weekend. To be fair, I took only major roads and it was 8 or 9 in the morning. The only thing they can deduct from my experience is that I looked like I know kongfu with my shades on, and my look was the only thing that deterred the thugs from messing with me. Ha, take that, Jackie Chan! Before you get worried, my colleagues made me promise that I would avoid doing this in the future.
From my walk to town. To the right is the Nairobi River. To the left you see, hey, other pedestrians, okay, they are not muzungus.
#2: Just to stress the security risk, a colleague mentioned that while she was driving in her car and was moving slowly in traffic, both side mirrors were snatched by street thugs. She couldn't do anything but watch them go off snatching other car's mirrors. Well, she said she could go to one of the well-known roads where they sell parts - with some luck, she might just be able to spot her mirrors there if her car has "car identity", i.e. all the parts have the vehicle license number printed over them

#3: For lunch today, I treated myself to a local fast food place called Big Square, The "muzungu" (foreigner) in me was very happy - nice juicy and tasty burger with fresh avocado, bacon and lettuce. In fact I was so happy that I didn't care to clean my hands from the mess and take a food photo - that is how good it was! Don't worry, Q, it is already on your visit itinerary.

Finally, we came home after work to a response left by our cleaning lady on the kitchen counter. Yes, we have a cleaning lady who comes in once a week to wash our clothes since there is no washing machine in the apartment like many others. A bit background on the note, previously we have had sms and phone call exchanges with the cleaner, but in the recent weeks, we couldn't reach her by phone, so we left her a note this morning before leaving for work. Anywhere, click to read her response:

And yep, all these moments of cultural shock are from today. To my Kenyan friends, I may look very calm on the surface, but deep down I am paddling really hard in my prolonged cultural shock. In reflection, my only saving grace is that I am not really freaked out by the cultural shock, but rather just taking them as they come, and maybe enjoying them to a great degree. I am just a bit surprised that after two months of intense cultural shock, I am still not out of the deep end yet. Not sure if I am making any sense. If I don't, you know that is the effect of cultural shock. That or I need to get sleep for another day of cultural shock. :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Soap Dispenser: My First Report from Kenya

Two weeks. For two weeks every day, I was mocked silently by the soap dispenser in the work bathroom.

It is one of those pumps that dispense soapy foam on your palm when you press on it. Day one. I pressed on the soap dispenser and nothing came out. Okay, odd, but no worries, I am sure it would work the next day. A second day, a second try: I pressed and nothing came out. More days, some more presses and some more disappointment. Soon I became convinced that the soap dispenser was simply empty and left empty.

Or so I thought.

The soap dispenser mocks me every day.
After all, it was not the first time since I arrived in Kenya that I have experienced the uniqueness of Kenyan work protocol - I learnt quickly that you cannot just expect your request would be responded after initial request. You have to follow up. In fact, over and over, and then some more. And if you are lucky you may get the right person after what seems to be never-ending phone calls and office visits over the smallest things.

In the case of the soap dispenser, I made up my mind to have a friendly chat with the cleaning lady. Even if the rest of Kenya has varying degree of clean/untidy public bathrooms, c'mon people, this is an UN office, and we've gotta uphold some standards, y'all! You can probably imagine my sense of righteousness when I ran into the cleaning lady in the bathroom, Finally. "Uhm, excuse me. The soap dispenser is empty."

Upon my gesture, the cleaning lady reached over the dispenser and opened it up - it was half full. "There is", she said. I looked at the dispenser and then at her as if I just saw a Las Vegas magic show, "But look, I press on it and nothing comes out." I showed her my empty palm.

"Ah," the lady reached over to demonstrate for me, "You have to use a lot of energy." A few hearty power-presses later, a small pile of soapy foam appeared on her palm.

As the cleaning lady casually rinsed off the soap and carried on her way, I was left dumbfounded in the bathroom and then I burst out laughing. "You have to use a lot of energy." The sentence encapsulated the essence of my experience in Kenya so far. From negotiating prices for a mango or pineapple with fruit vendors, to practically staging a protest in the IT office before getting a work login ID, to trying to track down a handyman to schedule a visit, to waiting for the taxi rides that are always late, to trying to open a bank account and not getting any responses, to subsequently cancelling the account opening process after weeks of not getting anywhere. Just about everything in Kenya demands so much more energy. "You have to use a lot of energy", as the cleaning lady taught me. I guess this is the culture shock that I had expected.
Lining up for a matatu (mini-bus) ride.
Don't worry though - I am actually doing really well under the circumstances and in a way, loving the challenges. But as you can imagine, it is all quite exhausting, and it is no wonder I get so tired at the end of the day. After all, I will need all the sleep I can get to wake up with "a lot of energy" - to keep pressing those soap dispensers here in Kenya. :)

The walking path is between an electrical fence and bushes and fenced walls. It is beautiful if I let myself relax enough.
p.s. To all our friends and family for your lovely and encouraging emails from my last post, sorry that I haven't been able to response to them, but I promise I will do so soon. Your support means the world to me. Really. Thank you! :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Next Six Months

By the time you read this, Q and I will probably have been long gone from this beautiful country Lithuania - two weeks go by very quickly when there are so many trees to admire, storks to count and mosquitoes to feed. Upon returning to Sweden, we will be in the heat of packing up our apartment, and away for at least the next six months. I know, after only living two years in Sweden, this sounds either completely out-of-the-blue or like a lot of bull. Trust me, the idea hasn't quite completely sunk in with me yet, and I hope it will a little more by the time I finish typing and sharing this with you. So here it goes.
In Aukštaitijos National Park, Lithuania

Kenya, here I come!

To continue my master's study I have decided to take on an internship as a credited course, working with the World Food Programme Kenya country office to increase disaster preparedness capacity of some selected counties (more on this in future blog postings). So why Kenya?

Okay, let's get these out of the way first. The following are NOT the reasons why I am going to Kenya:
  • To change the world. Or to save the world. Or whatever glory and pride one may associate with jobs of this nature. (For that matter, or to convince any non-believers that climate change is happening and our energy habits have either directly caused it or indirectly contributed to it. But more on that later.) 
  • To run away from Q. As some of you may know, Q has been working in Ireland pretty much since my study began last fall, and I can assure you it is not fun, so living apart for the next few months will be difficult. Yikes.
  • Driving on the left (read: wrong) side of the roads. Who knew?!
  • I am clueless with my life,
Okay, that helps me come to some of the reasons why I am going to Kenya:
  • Respect. Respect for myself, respect for others/ourselves, respect for the planet we live on. This is the key reason and I will discuss more below.
  • Because working with the United Nations sounds cool, okay? Yes, even if that means as an intern - I am that shallow. 
  • I want to know how it is to work and live in Kenya. After China, Canada, UAE and Sweden, Africa would be a new continent for me to live in. As Q pointed out in dismay, "That is one more than me!" That really is the extent of my ambition and competitiveness, everyone. :) 
  • I am clueless with my life. Okay, maybe not completely, but just enough to keep my curiosity going.
In Auk┼ítaitijos National Park, Lithuania  

On Respect

So this is the part that will sound like a lot of bull to some of you, but heck, I have been sitting on it for so long it is time that I come clean about it. Feel free to skip if you think Q is more interesting to read about. :)

Respect for myself. Life is too short for boredom. I guess I am a bit of experience junkie in some ways and working in Kenya sounds very exciting, don't you think?! On the other hand, international development projects can be quite daunting to someone who has mostly worked in private sectors. I am not naive: Kenya is very different and the public sector is a different beast. But I know if anyone can do this, it is me. :) It will be a very worthwhile way of spending part of my life. 

Respect for others/ourselves. Many of you have inspired me in the past. Looking back, what I appreciate most about those experiences are the differences in opinions and perspectives. The past year's study at Lund University highlights this even more to me. For example, you may know that I am not the world's most patient person (the world's most understated comment BTW), and I noticed having more respect was a key for having more patience and enjoying life better. I see Kenya as a good opportunity for this as I expect to be exposed to a wide array of differences, and I will try my best to remember to always bear respect and patience for others and ourselves. (Hmm, not sure if my logic makes complete sense, but I hope you get my drift.)

Respect for the planet Earth. Here is the key connection between disaster risk reduction work and the planet earth I hope to achieve: less disaster risk -> less disaster destruction -> less loss/consumption to respond and recover to disasters > more sustainable planet. If this doesn't make sense, don't worry, I promise to add my voice to this in future postings.

What about Q?

I swear I feel like I am Q's personal assistant in the past year answering questions like "Where is Q?"or "How is Q?" or "What about Q?". Okay, fine, I guess if that is what marriage means, oh well. Right, where am I? Hey, I didn't say that I am an effective PA. 

So as for Q, he is heading in the same direction - by that, I mean in a literal sense - due south, but a lot not far from Sweden. Q will live in Amsterdam and reconnect with his roots. Having returned to Toronto once before, I feel slightly qualified to assess the situation, and call it no less challenging than my journey. But something tells me that Q will enjoy every bit of it.

In Dz┼źkija National Park, Lithuania

Can we look further beyond the six months?

Maybe, but I would rather not - the possibilities are too many and my head is not big enough for it. Beyond the six months, your guess of our whereabouts is as good as mine. So let's not go there yet and just sit back and enjoy the packing, yeah?

Oh, did I mention we leave for Kenya/Holland in a week?! Do wish us good luck! :)

(Video link if the above video does not load properly)