Friday, December 31, 2010

Carly's 2010

It's hard to believe that it's the last day of 2010. I started the year off with a pretty woeful new year's eve in Beirut (a mistake not to be repeated tonight...not only because I'm not in Beirut!!) I left Lebanon in July with a heavy heart - the wonderful friends I'd made, the food and the culture certainly made up for a relatively unsatisfying job experience, and it was difficult to say goodbye to such a wonderful group of people.

2010 took me to 5.5 new countries (the half is Ethiopia - I only count countries I've left the airport, and I did leave the airport in Addis, but couldn't leave the hotel the airline put me up in, so it doesn't quite count!!) and a couple I'd been to before, with some Bill & Ted-esque excellent adventures and bogus journeys. Finally going on a safari was a dream come true and the experience wildly exceeded my expectations. My week in Norway left me with a burning desire to see more of northern Europe - Iceland is at the top of my list, having made two Icelandic friends in Pakistan, I'd love to visit them and I also really want to see some puffins!!

Career wise, Pakistan was a great experience for developing new skills and meeting a fantastic range of colleagues. I knew early on that it wasn't the path I wanted to head down professionally, but it was nice to have the luxury of trying some new (and doing a pretty good job of it!) to determine whether or not it was right for me.

And so here we are at the end of the year. I'm heading into 2011 with the comfort of a full-time permanent contract (not something I've had for quite a few years!) but also the uncertainty of where I'll be deployed to first. A number of countries have been tossed up as possibilities, but as yet, I don't know which one will win out first. I'm so looking forward to a new challenge (and this job is going to be a big one!), meeting new people and going to new places. And of course there's always the chance that I'll run into some old friends around the traps which is something to look forward to as well.

So tonight, I will reflect back on the year a bit further over a couple of G&Ts, some excellent snacks, and some scrabble with my friend Julie. We'll take a break from all that excitement and take a walk to our regular viewing point to watch the 8:30pm fireworks! Scoff if you will, but my experience has proven that the best new year's eves are the ones spent quietly with friends, rather than crashing lame parties in Beirut!

Happy new year everyone!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Secret Kitten

I figured from the title that there was going to be an extra kitty in this video - I just didn't expect it to be so adorable!

102

Grandma is now 102. I've told you about Grandma before, but that was way back when she was a spring chicken of just 100.

Grandma and co. came down for an afternoon tea catch up today, and while she's not so spry on her feet, her sense of humour is still sharp, as is her memory.

102. It blows my mind how cool she is!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays!!

It was a happy Christmas morning in our house today, even though the rain was pouring down. One of my favourite presents:

Sure to keep me warm all year round!!

Mum outdid herself with lunch this year - those who know me will immediately recognise lashings of apple sauce all over my roast pork (lonnnnnnnnnng overdue) and the chicken was delectable too. *Homer drool*

I've just woken up from the traditional Christmas post-lunch nap and am absolutely ready to get back to the feasting. Prawns and ham await, as does pudding with custard.

Merry Christmas to those celebrating today, and a happy festivus for the rest of us!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Quiet times at Racho Relaxo

I'm home. Being home is great because I don't really HAVE to do anything. Sure, I COULD go through all the clothes that are piled up and figure out what to donate and what to keep. Sure, I COULD go through all the bank statements from the past months, and perhaps take one of them over to the driver's license place to finally change my license back from the ACT one I've had for years.

Instead, I've been doing fun stuff like hanging out with my friend Julz in Brisbane, watching all of the Harry Potter movies before going to see the new one. (It's alright, a bit slow in places, but at least they can act now.) And just puttering around home, marvelling at the temperate weather which is lovely, but not quite warm enough to be in the pool. Mainly just enjoying the little things that I've discussed before, that make being home such a wonderful place to be!

My brother gets home from Japan for a visit tomorrow so it'll be a full house for a while. There probably won't be anything exciting to write about, but maybe I'll find some cuteness to post!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Beautiful Bali

I was one of the few Australians who had never been to Bali, and true be told, after four days there I really haven't seen much of it. Emma had decided to take her R&R there and I was happy to pick up a cheap Air Asia flight and meet her there for a few days. She'd booked a nice place in Ubud, a world away from Kuta Beach, also known as Australian Bogan central. When I landed at the airport and joined the queue for immigration I stood behind a couple of said bogans, one of whom had "Such is Life" (the famous last words of bushranger Ned Kelly before he was hanged) tattooed on the back of his neck. I assume they were headed to Kuta and was extremely glad I wouldn't be joining them there.

Ubud is extremely beautiful. If any of you have seen the movie "Eat Pray Love" then you'll recognise Ubud from the last third of the film. It's green, it's lush, it's a perfect little hideaway for a couple of girls needing an escape from Islamabad! Our first night was spent indulging in beautiful seafood and a bottle of wine at Casa Luna restaurant, and then a couple of G&Ts on our little balcony at the Honeymoon Guesthouse (which, as the name suggests, was full of smug married couples). The next morning, instead of waking up with a bit of a hangover, I woke up with a full blown flu and fever and spent the next two days in bed. Not fun.

By the afternoon of the second day, I'd had enough of the herbal remedies the staff had been suggesting, I could drink no more ginger tea and summoned the energy to walk into town (via the long scenic route) to get some real drugs. We spotted a pharmacy sign in a little alley and headed for it. We were greeted at the door by a tiny little girl, probably 3 years old. Her brother, who must have been about 7 was standing behind the counter. "Medicine?" he asked. "Yes, medicine," I replied. He pulled out a mobile phone and called (we presumed) his father, and handed me the phone. I explained my symptoms and then handed back the phone. The little boy then pulled out some drugs, which were thankfully labelled in English and I handed over a small sum. I don't know where the pharmacist actually was, but his little helpers were extremely cute!

After two nights in the Honeymoon Guesthouse we checked out, as the room we'd been given was right on the road and the noise was a bit much. We'd wandered around and discovered Nick's Hidden Cottages.

Not entirely hidden, but far enough down the road that you would only go that far if you were staying there. It was another little slice of paradise.

A big hindu festival was approaching, so all of the statues were dressed up in preparation for the celebrations. Ganesh also looked over us.

And so we spent two more lazy days, enjoying the pool and doing a bit of wandering.

I'd planned to knock quite a few Christmas presents off my list, and thought I'd get it all done on my last day. Unfortunately, this was the day of the celebration and most of the shops were shut. It was hot and steamy as we wandered the length of Monkey Forrest road (I didn't have time to go into the actual Monkey Forrest) trying to find the things I'd spotted earlier but hadn't bought. Of course, as we were finishing up the shops started to re-open, but it was too late to worry about the compromises I'd had to make on some gifts. There was enough time for another quick swim and to repack my stuff, and then head back to the airport (only an hour away).

It wasn't quite the mini-break I'd had in mind (nor Emma I imagine!) but it was a nice little introduction to Bali and I'm sure I'll be back there one day to take better advantage of all the island has to offer.

And now I'm in Melbourne, where unsurprisingly, the weather has been oscillating between sunshine and winter, and now a downpour has started. It's been great to catch up with my oldest friend Katie and enjoy the wonderful coffee in this city. Tomorrow I head up to Sydney, or to Wollongong more specifically, to spend a few days with my new niece Audrey. I'm looking forward to some quality time with the Martin family and then finally home to the Gold Coast on Wednesday.

It's so nice to be back in Australia, and know that I don't have to leave for about six weeks!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A brief travel update

The few days I had in Kuala Lumpur were not entirely action packed, but I did manage to do some important things, like shopping in Chinatown!! I was glad I made the (short) trek out to the Batu Caves, it's a seriously cool place with this fantastic statue - which can see through the binoculars on the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers - and a measly 272 steps to get up to the top!

The cave itself is beautiful, very atmospheric, with lots of mini temples inside and offerings all of the place.

But what makes this place most interesting is the sheer number of monkeys. Monkeys above, monkeys below, monkeys monkeys everywhere.


I wasn't stupid enough to get anywhere near them, but that wasn't the same for everyone.

The other touristy thing I managed to squeeze in was a trip up the Petronas Towers. There are a limited number of tickets for sale each day, and I think I got there just before 8am and there were already a couple of hundred people in front of me. The earliest ticket I could have gotten, when I finally got to the front of the queue some two hours later, was at 4pm but I chose to go at 6ish to catch the sunset.

A smart choice, even if I do say so myself.

The towers are quite the engineering feat, and look beautiful lit up at night.

From KL I headed to Bali to meet up with Em, but that's a story for another day (when my internet time isn't about to run out!).

I'm heading home to Australia this afternoon and am not looking forward to getting into Melbourne at the ungodly hour of 2am! But it will be wonderful to be back in the land that's girt by sea.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Goodbye everybody, I've got to go

Three months, done and dusted. I can not believe how quickly my time in Pakistan has passed. It seems like a lifetime ago that I first arrived, somewhat freaked out about doing a job I'd never done before, in a country that the media had done a fairly good job of scaring me about. And yet, 3 months later, the amount of money UNICEF has for the flood response has doubled. I can claim direct involvement in raising half of what's been received in the past 3 months, about $45 million. So I leave here, professionally satisfied and proud of what's been accomplished.

As for the scare-mongering, there is no doubt that Pakistan is a dangerous place. You might have seen an article on the front page of the BBC a few days ago about the police stopping two suicide bombers in Islamabad, and that certainly reminded us all here that there are real dangers bubbling below the sleepy surface of this beautiful city.

I'm extremely glad that I got to get out of the Islamabubble and see some of the Pakistan that I had imagined; the trucks, the dusty roads, the sheer numbers of people and animals. I've seen real poverty before, and I saw it again in Sindh province, but witnessing the tiny malnourished children was something altogether different. I don't well up in tears when I think about them now, but I certainly did for the immediate days afterwards. There is still so much to be done in this country.

But on a happier note, I leave with a whole new bunch of fantastic friends (and some old ones as well). One of the best parts of this work is meeting new friends from all around the world, and from Pakistan as well. I had to say a few goodbyes yesterday at the office, and last night as well, but tonight will be the hardest. I've been lucky to be thrown into the mix with wonderful people, who I would work again with an instant, and luckier still that they are all ridiculously entertaining people (who happily belted out Bohemian Rhapsody at 2am the other night - hence the title of this post - complete with headbanging) that I will no doubt stay in touch with for a long time to come.

And so I leave Pakistan with a heavy heart for the friends I will miss. But the happiest of hearts for my future employment. I was offered what is perhaps my dream job last night with an INGO, as a roving information manager. I'll be based at home and deploy out to emergencies when they happen for 3-6 months, depending on the circumstances. I'm absolutely thrilled, and excited about not knowing what will be next.

Well, I know what's next, a short little jaunt in Asia for the next week and a half, then a couple of stops in Australia before I get home in mid-December. I guess all that's left to say now is...

Catch me if you can....

Monday, November 29, 2010

When cute goes bad

Sorry I haven' tposted much of late. Today is my last day at work in Pakistan - I have tomorrow off to try and squeeze everything into my backpack...it will probably take at least half the day, when you count all of the inevitable procrastination that will occur!

I'll put some final thoughts on Pakistan in writing tomorrow, but for now I must bring you some terrible news. There is a rabid otter on the loose in Florida - check out the newsclip below.

Still cute though!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

WooHoo

Just saw this teaser trailer for "Hop". Russel Brand is the voice of the easter bunny. Russel Brand and a trailer featuring Blur (sadly, no Russel), is enough to make me want to see this film!


Just thought an Easter Bunny movie was appropriate for those celebrating Thanksgiving today...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Malnutrition in Pakistan

The story I wrote on malnutrition is on the home page of the global UNICEF site today. You should go and read the story "UNICEF supports efforts to fight malnutrition in Pakistan's flood-affected Sindh Province." I'm a bit chuffed that one of the photos I took was included as well.

This video also appears.

Monday, November 22, 2010

LOL

Stupid air travel. I've been trying to book an Air Asia flight all day. And damn this internet banking security business that forces me to put in an SMS code that can only be sent to my Australian phone which doesn't work in Pakistan (breath) has not helped. The bank lady I spoke to assured me she'd changed it to secret questions, which is true, in netbank. But this isn't reflected on the Air Asia website. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

As I was sitting here grrrrrrr-ing at my computer, I knew what I needed to improve my mood. I'd already checked Cute Overload today, so I went to Daily Squee...

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
LOL
:-)

Slakistan

I need to find a copy of this before I leave. The trailer makes it look like an extended episode of a reality show, but I've heard it's actually pretty good.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hello Swaziland

I just noticed on the map at the bottom of the screen that someone from Mbabane in Swaziland has paid a visit to my blog. Hi there!!

When I was in grade 6 I did a project on Swaziland. I remember it involved colouring an intricate border around an A4 sheet of paper. I can't say I remember anything else about the project, but I do hope to visit one day!

A proud new owner

Ever since I left Lebanon I've been regretting that I didn't buy a carpet in the Middle East. When a couple of colleagues mentioned they were going carpet shopping today I jumped on the bandwagon and met them at Naqash Carpets. They'd already been there for about an hour, and had whittled their shortlist down to about 6. As Mr Khan laid out carpet after carpet, I started to make a shortlist of my own.

In the end, I fell in love with two. And since I've never bought a carpet before I couldn't just choose one, so I bought them both.

This one is from Mishwani in Afghanistan, and it's a carpet kilim mix. I think it will go perfectly under my beautiful big square wooden table.

This one is a very special carpet from Kalaino (also in Afghanistan - Mr Khan is from Khandahar), and it's about 30 years old. When you look at it from one end it's dark, and light from the other.

Thankfully, Mr Khan (who is a lovely man) was able to roll them into a small little package which will be shipped home to Australia within a month. I mention this so Mum and Dad won't have to worry about these carpets taking up a lot of room in the shed!! Perhaps my next purchase should be a house to put these in!!

Mr Khan was pretty sprightly for his age, and must have some serious muscles from heaving carpets around all day.

And frankly, anyone who has a cat sitting on a carpet outside advertising his wares is my kind of carpet man!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More photos from Sindh

You may have noticed that I've changed templates and headers again. This is the one I started this particular blog with, it nice to come back to it occassionally (though it does stuff up the youtube videos).

Anyway, here are some more shots taken in Sindh by Shuja Syed. At the bangle market:





This was taken at the stabilisation centre. I was watching one of the mothers spoon feeding her baby

Stylin in my RedR hat and UNICEF uber-pocket vest, which looked particularly fetching over my sackish traditional "frock". Also note the cyan blue doppata.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Clever pup!

Want want want!!
I particularly like 1:26

Eid Mubarak

Eid starts tomorrow and to celebrate, the powers that be at the office decided to reward us all with a lovely lunch. The carpark was transformed (well, the cars were moved out) and it was lovely to sit under the trees and enjoy the sunshine
It was also fun to admire the fantastic waiters, all of whom sported polka dot shirts and ties and fetching mustaches. But this guy had the best hair.
My lovely friends Loa and Naima posed while we waited for the food - which was wonderfully delicious.
And Louise and Martin joined in the fun too.

The national staff were given half the day off, so there was quite the party atmosphere. The rest of us churned out the last minute things that had to be done in preparation for a few days off - not that we'll necessarily be able to take all that time off, but there won't be many people around to provide information. It was a huge relief to send off two proposals today, and there have been a few announcements of new pledges which is very encouraging in my last two weeks!!

Eid Mubarak to everyone celebrating; I hope the next few days are joyous and peaceful.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Other adventures in Sindh

Thankfully, it wasn't all overbearing emotional work in Hyderabad and Thatta. On my first night in Hyderabad, my friend Frog who's based there took me to her local eatery...

I was able to have a very brief visit to Makli Hill in Thatta, while a colleague finished up a meeting. I wasn't entirely sure what it was, as the man who (inevitably) came up to tell me what I was looking at could only say things like "stone from Saudi" or "Turkish wife," but I came to the understanding that I was in a huge cemetary.
I believe "Turkish wife" was the small one on the right....
It seemed like an impressive place (though, like Taxila, a shame that UNESCO isn't doing more to preserve it)

And it was a shame I only had about 20 minutes and couldn't get around to see more of the tombs. I did spot this though...
Pakistan - where the dinosaurs are!

I also visited the Churi Bazar, or Glass Bangle Bazar in Hyderabad, which is apparently the birth place of glass bangles. You really can't imagine how much bling there was. I went with the film crew and we had a great hour or so wandering around. Unfortunately I didn't take my camera with me, but fortunately I was with a professional photographer, so when he sends me through a couple of pics I'll put them up.

The other standout from my visit was this little guy:

We were waiting for our car outside the district health office and he was sitting in the driveway. There were some painters working nearby and for some reason, one of the painters kicked him. The poor little guy was in shock and not moving. I went over and patted him for a while and he still didn't move. So I picked him up and moved him out of the driveway to a nice shady spot. I didn't want to leave him there, but I had to. :-(

A layperson's view

I spent Wednesday and Thursday working with a producer, videographer and a photographer on a story about malnutrition. Let me clarify from the outset that I am not a nutritionist and as such, the below is my lay person's explanation.

On Wednesday, I accompanied some nutrition colleagues to one of UNICEF's 214 Outpatient Therapeutic Feeding Centres, where there were probably 100 kids and their carers waiting to have their height, weight and MUAC (mid-upper arm circumference) measured. The MUAC is measured with a simple tape measure

If the child's arm measures in the green section then all is well, in the orange or red then there is cause for further treatment. Perhaps it's a good thing that as soon as a child's sleeve was rolled up they started screaming, because it shows that they've had experience with vaccinations. I didn't see a single child who didn't burst into tears when the tape was put around them (this little girl isn't smiling, she's just in between sobs)

If a child is determined to be malnourished they are referred to one of UNICEF's 31 in-patient Stabilisation Centres (Of course there are many other organisations running OTPs and SCs across the country) - these centres are to treat cases of malnutrition where there are also other complications. These complications may have caused the malnutrition, they may be a result of malnutrition, or they may have exacerbated existing malnutrition. Whatever the case, these are very sick children. I visited a stabilisation centre on Wednesday with the film crew and it was by far the hardest thing I've ever had to witness. There were six children in the hospital room, four of whom looked like they were recovering well, and two who were so tiny. One was five months old and weighed just under six pounds (apparently what I weighed as a newborn). The other was almost a year old and didn't weigh much more. We'd arrived at the scheduled feeding time, and the nurse mixed up a jug of high energy/nutrient milk. There are two different strengths; one litre of the first will contain 984 kCal; the second 757 kCal. How much, and how often each child will receive the supplement is calculated depending on a number of factors by a pediatrician. This boy had come in five days earlier with a protruding belly, and was recovering quite well.

I didn't take any photos of the severely malnourished babies as (a) I didn't want to and (b) when my story is published on the website you'll be able to watch a video that explains all this further. But the smallest child had a MUAC of 7cm. That is slightly bigger than my thumb. Just take a second to look at your own thumb and consider what that means.

Once the child's condition has improved to an acceptable level, they are sent home with a week's supply of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food, such as plumpy nut - a sachet of which contains 500 kCal. The child is then taken to an OTP on a weekly basis for a check up and to receive further RUTF.

A vital part of nutrition is exclusive breastfeeding, and we went to a village 'health house' where one of the government's Lady Health Workers was conducting a session on the topic. Again, you'll probably see footage of this in the video that will accompany my story, but there were lots of women and children packed into a small room to hear about the importance of breastfeeding. On their way out of the session they were given some BP5 nutritional biscuits, which can also be boiled in water to make a porridge for babies.
You'll notice the rubbish behind this little girl, and the view in the other direction was much worse:
Health, nutrition, water and sanitation are so interconnected that in a situation where all of those sectors (plus of course, poor quality education etc) are in a shambles, the cycle of disease and malnutrition will continue. The flooding has actually given rise to an opportunity to improve the low standards of these sectors that existed before the floods. There is now the chance to use the funding coming in, to not only provide the immediate relief that people need, but also the capacity building and awareness/education of good hygiene practices, of breastfeeding, of hand washing. Simple practices that we take for granted and probably don't realise how effective they are in preventing all sorts of illnesses.
There is still a lot of work to be done in Pakistan, and I have so much admiration for my colleagues who are tackling these issues everyday, in conditions that aren't pleasant, or comfortable, and away from their families. There are many crises in Pakistan, and the need for further funding should not be swayed by corruption in the government, or by terrorism. The simple fact of the matter is that there are millions of people, millions of children, who have done nothing more than survive the biggest natural disaster in modern history. They should not suffer further.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kids are kids

I've had a couple of interesting and challenging days in Sindh this week. I'll write more tomorrow, but in the meantime, how adorable are these little tackers!

No matter where I go in the world, kids always start off suspicious, but once they see a photo of themselves you can't keep them away!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Exploring Taxila

Taxila is about 45 minutes from Islamabad and a group of us headed out there yesterday morning. It was great to finally feel like I was actually in Pakistan, and not the sanitised bubble that is Islamabad. I particularly enjoyed watching all the pimped out trucks on the roads; they truly are works of art.

It was a lovely day out in the fresh air, with a cool breeze blowing and wonderful views of hills and country side. The archaelogical sites we visited were UNESCO World Heritage Sites but they haven't been maintained or preserved very well. It was interesting to learn a bit more about the history of the region, and about all of the conquering forces to have come through.

The photos are up here

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The wrangler

I can't recall if I've posted this video before, but even if I have it's definitely worth another viewing. When I worked for ACFID, I used to deliver presentations to the military about NGOs and humanitarian principles. I discovered this video and found it to be an excellent ice-breaker to help explain the challenges of civil-military cooperation/coordination (CIMIC).

The term "herding cats" is often thrown around in the NGO sector, and while it doesn't really flatter the leaps and bounds that organisations have made in working together, it does provide a humourous insight into the absurdity that coordination can entail. I've experienced first hand the challenge of trying to bring different organisations together around a single policy point and being hampered by different mandates or motivations. But this isn't just restricted to NGOs - the coordination any humanitarian agencies (hello cluster approach) is extremely challenging for those involved.

Anyway, this isn't meant to be a long and well thought out post about challenges in coordination (perhaps one day I'll write on the subject), I just wanted to share the video!

Happy Birthday Mum!!

It's my dearest darlingest Mum's birthday tomorrow (well it's actually today for her since they live five hours in the future). Birthday shout-out time!!

I took this photo when Mum and Dad came to visit me in Bangladesh (they're cool like that) and they'd braved the bus ride down to Cox's Bazar, expressed concern that my incessant haggling with rickshaw wallas was going to get me in trouble, and marveled at the sheer craziness of animals on the street.

Happy birthday Mum!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hot Spots

We've had a few new people come in, and my social life has increased exponentially. A group of us went out to the super secret Chinese restaurant, where you can buy beer from the only brewery in Pakistan (Murree, not bad!) and then we headed to Hot Spot for dessert.

The place appears to be an old train carriage that is totally plastered in movie posters.

And there's interesting graffiti on the walls outside

On Friday night, after a very embarrassing moment on a teleconference where the fact that I wasn't extending my contract was made very publicly, before I'd had a chance to tell people myself, a few of us headed to the underground bar at the Marriott.

One of the guys came rushing back from the bathroom to ask if anyone had a camera

I wonder if foot washing is common place in expensive hotel lobby bathrooms?

Saturday night was poker night at one of the guesthouses, but before the cards started we were serenaded by one colleague (who's actually a professional musician), and another who had us rolling on the floor with his version of Titanic.

I only won one hand in the poker tournament, my Bangladesh shark abilities left me high and dry. But it was a super fun night, with super fun new friends!