Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When you can't find your sword

Let me say from the outset, that suicide is no laughing matter. But this story of attempted suicide had me in stitches.

Cucumber in rear was 'failed suicide bid'

A HONG Kong man, taken to the hospital to have a cucumber removed from his bottom, told doctors he inserted it in a suicide attempt.

The Sun reported Chin Wei, 62, said the method was a variation of the Japanese ritual suicide hara-kiri - usually carried out with a sword plunged into one's own stomach.

He was found in a pool of blood by his daughter before being rushed to receive medical health.

Medics said a severe tear to the man's anus was not life-threatening.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) or visit

Birthday Shout-out!

A very happy birthday shout-out goes out to my dear friend Julz, who very kindly came to visit me last year!

Happy Birthday Julz!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What's in a name?

"Chahin" - I think this is a new, never before seen spelling of my surname (then again, I can't be 100% sure, it's starting to get hard to keep track of them all). And of course, my first name was spelled "Carli".

Monday, March 29, 2010

If you build it, they will come

Ingebjorg stumbled on a fantastic local jewellery designer in Beirut some time ago, who unfortunately no longer has a space to display and sell her wares, but if you're interested, you can check out her facebook page. Over drinks one night, we came up with the fabulous idea of inviting Zinab up to Tripoli so we could all buy some goodies. Thankfully, she agreed and this afternoon we spent a few very fun hours at Ingebjorg's pouring over the selection of necklaces, bracelets and earrings, with some wine and delicious baked goods.

Zinab's jewellery incorporates pictures of old film posters, of old Lebanon, or lots of different pendants that one can mix and match. It was a wonderful way to pick ready made pieces, or make adjustments, replacing one picture with another, to create truly individual designs that will give us lasting memories of Lebanon and the Middle East.

I'm not going to post any pictures of what I bought (which was a lot) because I haven't yet decided what I'm going to keep and what I'll give away. Even though my wallet is a lot lighter tonight, I'm very happy with what I've got...each piece is definitely a conversation starter! :-)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

The church bells woke me up as usual at 8am this morning, but there was a lot more activity on the street for Palm Sunday. We watched a big parade of people march down the street, with the little boys in front holding large palm fronds above their heads.

It was a little while later that I happened to notice a collection of palm leaves lying on the road, and then noticed the sound coming from above.

Sure enough, there are two men up palm trees cutting down more fronds.

It's convenient that our street is lined with palm trees!

And it's nice to see some level of occupational health and safety at work here!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The sad state of domestic workers

There's an ad on tv I've been seeing lately that I have to rant about. It's shown on MBC4, which I assume is one of the Saudi channels since they cut out all sex scenes and kissing from movies and tv shows (meanwhile they're going to start playing The Tudors soon, from what I understand that's solely and graphically about randy royals, so what's the bloody point?)

Anyway, there's this ad for a home shopping show, which sees a mother sitting on the couch. Her two teenage daughters come in, accompanied by their Filippina maid, and they're all looking a bit drab and depressed.

Mum gets a brainwave and points the tv remote at the first daughter. Magic fairy dust! She's got a nice new outfit on, her hair is all done and she's got fabulous earrings!! She turns to the second daughter. Kapow! New dress, hair, the works! Finally, she points the remote at the maid. Wowza! A brand new vaccuum cleaner!!!

This ad represents everything that is wrong with the attitude people have towards their domestic workers. I'm not saying it's a Saudi thing, or an Arab thing, we've all seen the western films with similar attitudes, I'm saying it's a disgusting thing full stop. A friend was doing some research with Filippina domestic workers here, and the stories they had to tell weren't pretty. Their passports are kept with the employment agency, and they can't leave until they've paid back the cost of their airfare, no matter if they're being abused at the hands of their employers. Someone else told us a story of a maid their family hired, who had previously worked for another family. This woman had been given one sandwich a day to eat. That's it. And her female employer would count the number of slices of bread left in the bag so she'd know if the maid had stolen any food.

I had a conversation with the new Filippino masseuse who has started working at the beauty parlour next door. Not a maid, but she is living with the parlour owner. I told her about how on Sundays, a group of Filippinas meet at an internet cafe, how some of them bring food to share, so they can socialise with each other. She looked really excited by the prospect. I then mentioned it to the beauty parlour owner on my way out. "No," she said. "The agency told me that I'm not to let her socialise with other Filippino women." "What do you mean?" I asked, "surely it will be good for her to have a social network with women from similar backgrounds." "No, the agency explicitly told me that it's forbidden. But of course I'll take her anywhere else she needs to go to get what she needs." I couldn't believe it. I can understand how this woman wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardise the investment she's made in getting this masseuse, but for this 'agency' to deny her the opportunity to spend time with women she can share her experiences seems a bit nefarious to me.

It's not just Filippinas here in Lebanon, there are women from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Sudan. Walk past many travel agencies and they advertise cheap flights to and from these countries. There are suicides every week by domestic workers who feel they have no other means of escape. It's a sad reality.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My wonderwall

Today is gonna be the day that they're gonna throw it back to you
by now you should've somehow realised what you gotta do
I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do
About you now...

And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding

One of my favourite songs of all time started on my ipod as I was walking home this afternoon. The sun was beginning to set, and shining on my face as the familiar guitar chords started in my ears. I turned down the street that runs parallel to the main road, and called out a mahabar to the vegie guy on the corner, who smiled and waved back. I smiled at the sight of an older man being led on a walk by his large mastiff, who smiled back at my amusement. Further up the street, I said another mahabar to another old man pushing his not-quite-toddling grandchild in a stroller, who I used to see every morning when I lived at the monastery. The child seemed to recognise me too and gave me a little wave with her pudgy little hand.

I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do
About you now...

I do love Tripoli sometimes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Well, at least he's not trying to mate with his sister...

The cats sat on the mat...

...and then they had sex with each other. Oh dear, little Twitchy (on the right) has turned into a hornbag teenager. We'd always thought that Atrice (on the left) was a boy, because it's so much bigger, but now we're led to believe that it's a girl, since Twitchy keeps "harassing" it. Or maybe we have gay kitties...not that there's anything wrong with that!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jab jab

I thought to myself a while ago that I should get the vaccination for yellow fever before my planned holiday to somewhere in Africa in July. I figured I'd get the jab when I go home in May for the Vardy/Cox wedding, but luckily, two of my friends are heading to Kenya for Easter and needed to get the jab. After witnessing the difficulties that went into tracking down where you could actually get the vaccination in Lebanon, I was very glad to tag along this morning having had to do none of the hard work myself.

The "Devaccination" office is designed for people going on the Hajj to Mecca and as such, the medication is free. And who could be bothered trying to figure out a system of not charging Hajjis and charging other people? Not these guys, it's free for everyone!! FREE!!!! So after a fair bit of waiting, and looking nervously at the amount of people already waiting in front of us, we were very happy when one young guy came out, fanning his arm, and a good eight of those people left with him. Because every young man of 20+ needs his mum, and dad, and brothers to come with him for the big scary needle! :-)

It was a very quick jab, and signing of the certificate in a brand spanking new little yellow book (which I didn't want or need because I already have a perfectly good one, but the dudes didn't seem to understand that it was exactly the same as the one they had, just that it was written in English and French instead of Arabic in French), but not to worry, I'll just staple it to the old one.

Now I'm just missing Cholera for vaccination bingo!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Let them eat cake

Turns out you can have your Oreo cheescake,

and your orange cheesecake

AND eat them too!! (or at the very least, share them!)

After being ill for the past 4 days I was finally well enough to get out of the house for coffee and cake with Ingebjorg. It's a gorgeous sunny day, and I enjoyed my stroll in the shade to get a cab home, which took much longer than usual. Soon after I jumped in, another woman laden with bags of food hopped in and we took a drive to a part of Tripoli I'd never been in before. It was basically an urban slum that I'd been on the outskirts of, but never inside. It's not a crowded slum by any stretch of the imagination, but it's definitely and obviously a much poorer area. Even the cab driver seemed surprised at the conditions of the 'houses' in there.

After stopping to let her out, and then again for some kids to retrieve the shuttlecock they'd fired onto the hood of the car, we were on our merry way along the corniche. "Russia?" he asked me. "Australiyye" I replied. "aaaaah. Madame?" "Eh, madame," I agreed confidently, while discreetly covering my left hand with my shopping bag.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Now it's funny again

This made me giggle about every 10 seconds...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Continuing trouble for Mindanao

Twitter notified me of this article about Mindanao, which is sadly unsurprising.

..."We are still here because we're worried about safety," said one man in his 40s in a blue T-shirt, who like his neighbours fled the fighting between Muslim insurgents and government forces in 2008. "The government wants us to go home but MILF (the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) has not said it is safe to go back."

The story is the same in other roadside evacuation centres - the official term for camps for internally displaced people (IDP) - in Maguindanao, one of the provinces worst affected by the fighting in the southern region of Mindanao, which uprooted around 600,000 people, according to a report last May from the Norwegian Refugee Council. Globally, this displacement was the biggest in 2008, exceeding Sudan and Congo. ...

The average person on the street has heard about Sudan and Congo, but not many have heard about what's been happening in Mindanao for decades. I've been in the evacuation centres discussed in the article and they were terrible places: cramped, stinky, and no privacy for anyone. It's awful that so many people have had to live in such horrid conditions for so long, with few other options made available to them.

As the article says, there really isn't much hope for return anytime soon, as so many houses were destroyed during the fighting. I also spoke to people who'd tried to return to find soldiers camped out in their homes. And the related destruction of farming land is what will take the longest to recover. In an area where farming is a way of life, many families I spoke to were at a loss as to how they could possibly regain their lives without access to farm land.

Insha'allah the approaching elections are peaceful and don't further deteriorate the conditions for the people of ARMM.

Twitchy came to visit

And he found my camera very interesting

especially the strap that was dangling in front of him

Cute huh!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Birthday boy

I didn't forget forget it was my Dad's birthday yesterday, I just forgot to give him an uber special birthday shout-out.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We apologise for these images

but they speak more eloquently than any politician of the plight of Zimbabwe's starving people.

This is the headline of an article that you should go and read.
It's graphic. It's heartbreaking. It's important.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Behold, the cuteness!

From Cute Overload

This looks hilarious

Will definitely have to go and see this:


I am a firm believer that any good adventure begins with car trouble (See exhibit A) and our group of seven experienced this first hand yesterday. The destination was Qammouaa (where some of the group wanted to hike, and others wanted to picnic) which was probably an hour and a half north east of Tripoli. It took us a bit longer than that to get there, as the van we were travelling in had some serious radiator problems and after two stops, the driver found us another van to swap to.

But the breaks were nice, and allowed us to meet some special people, like Alaa at the first stop, who was initially very shy, but soon warmed up to us:

And adorable sisters Jana and Judy, who we met while we were changing vans.

Their mother very kindly made us coffee while we were waiting and eventually we were on our way again. There were so many characters sitting along the side of the road - outside butcheries, in backyards, coming out of mosques, leading donkeys - it would have been nice to walk through the little villages we passed, but I think the three foreigners attracted enough attention just driving through.

By the time we made it to Qammouaa we'd missed the start of the walking track, but decided to just scamper up onto the ridge line and check out the view. Not too shabby from half way up,

And quite nice at the top. The best part was, barring the occasional car, or shots being fired over a distant ridge (hunters, we presumed) it was so lovely and quiet. Just the birds. And Ingebjorg singing the "pants on the ground" song from American Idol. But other than that, I couldn't help but rhetorically ask, "how's the serenity?".

Ahmed found a nice little nook in the shade, and it was hard to believe that only a couple of weeks ago I'd been in the snow, and now, t-shirt weather!!

I grew up near two pine forests (indeed, the shopping centre in the street next to my house is called The Pines), so I enjoyed sitting under the pine cones and playing with the macro function on my camera.

Spring is definitely here, and the flowers we found were absolutely beautiful

It was lovely to get out of Tripoli and breathe in the mountain air, and after hiking our way down the rocky hill, we were thankful that the guy with the van actually showed up again when he was supposed to and we weren't stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

There was a bit of hiking, and a bit of picnicing, and I think everybody got what they wanted out of the day. We'll definitely have to try this hiknicing again on one of the 13 weekends I have left in Lebanon (!!!!).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunny side up

Is there anything better than going to a great party, spending the night, and then having the hostess cook you bacon and eggs for breakfast??

In the opinion of our friend Hicham and myself, nope, there's nothing better than breakfast at Ingebjorg's house! :-)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A bad boss is worse than war

I came across an article from January on Alertnet today, with the catchy headline "A bad boss is more stressful than war, aid workers say." The article is about a book, titled "Workplace Violence" that must have been recently released. The person quoted in the article, Barb Wigley, (she's a fantastic Australian who I used to do some work with a few years ago) discusses the research she did on aid workers, and how her research found that "there was a tendency in aid agencies to think that because their goals were worthy, they didn't need to pay attention to fostering good staff relations, but that this impaired efficiency."

The headline particularly grabbed my attention today because of a certain colleague, NOT my boss, who is causing me some anxiety, and perhaps if this person were to learn a bit more about fostering good staff relations, life would be more efficient. I won't go into any further detail, and I wouldn't go as far as saying this person is worse than war, but they are pretty damn close!

Hello Djibouti!!!

Wow. Someone in Djibouti has clicked on here. Special shout-out to Djibouti! Here's a fun fact about Djibouti: it lies within a geological feature known as the Afar Triangle, one of the hottest and most desolate places on Earth, much of it located beneath sea level.

This is a very juvenile confession, but I just have to make it. I've always wanted to go to Djibouti, so I can sing the (adapted) lyrics of KC and the Sunshine Band...

Shake shake shake
Shake shake shake
Shake Djibouti

I crack myself up sometimes...

Who needs a man?!

Certainly not Carly and Yassmin!! We have one of those water cooler thingies that holds 20L of the good stuff...and it's been empty for a while, because we hadn't had Ahmed around to go and pick up a new bottle, and we'd also been a bit lazy in going to the store to organise to have someone deliver it for us. So we went to the store and the delivery guy wasn't there, so Yassmin just picked up the bottle and carried it all the way to our front gate (I then took over and carried it up to our apartment...thank goodness we live on the first floor!)

We cleaned out the dispenser and turned the bottle upside down, and water proceeded to spill out all over the floor. Not at all flustered, Yassmin yanked it out again, grabbed a screwdriver and prised off the back of the dispenser. We reconnected the tubes and voila, refreshing H20 on tap.

It was then my turn to be handy, and I got stuck into the drains. We have drains in the floor of the kitchen and bathroom, and they were both getting smelly and gross. I'd attempted to clean the kitchen one on the weekend, using two packets of drain cleaner, but it was still rancid. On went the rubber gloves and out came the goop. I then hit the bathroom...choking back the stench, I cleaned it out as best I could and poured another sachet of drain cleaner into the shower. 15 minutes later, I flushed it out with the bum gun and for once in our lives, we could actually see the bottom of the drain! Success!!

The challenges of doing this kind of work, and therefore living in developing countries - even one as 'developed' as Lebanon - always seem to be most evident when it comes to matters of water and sanitation!!

We both agreed, that we're very handy. Who needs a man? Not us! (Except I kinda need Ahmed to come back and turn the washing machine upside down to get the articles of clothing that are stuck underneath the spinner...see you Friday Ahmed??)

Flower Power

I realise there haven't been too many photographs here of late, purely because I haven't done or seen anything worthy lately!

Yesterday, as I'm sure you know, was International Women's Day. And because of this, Ingebjorg very sweetly brought me some flowers.

There are more, but since neither Yassmin or I receive flowers very often, we haven't gotten around to buying a vase. So two wine bottles have done the job!

Yellow and orange - is there any other combination that signifies happiness as well as this?!

Thanks Ingebjorg!! :-)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A change in the day

Today my work day had a nice change. Instead of sitting in front of my laptop all day, I ran a training session for our social workers to help them improve the quality and quantity of their reporting. It was a very simple session, basically summed up by the message Who, What, Where, When, Why, How. We did a couple of group exercises and they all incorporated the message into their examples, so I'm confident that they'll try to expand their reports in future. I don't remember the last time I delivered a training session, so it was nice to get back into the swing of things.

Unfortunately, the timing of the training clashed with another important event...the "live teeth brushing by pupils." I love that the kids in the camp are being taught proper dental care, and are being given "teethbrushes" (explain why it's a toothbrush when you brush all of your teeth with it?) and tooth paste (then again, why not teeth paste?), but don't think I could've sat through a demonstration!

Handsome Men

This has made my morning!

Monday, March 8, 2010


This morning some Chinese spambot called "Alex" managed in 4 minutes to leave 16 comments on random posts saying "this is cool" or "this is actually really cool" and then a lot of Chinese script. Google translator told me that most of this script was 'porn' or 'movies'. So instead of changing my settings to only allowing those with other sign-ins to comment (which would exclude most of the people who actually comment on this blog!) I've enabled comment moderation.

I thought it was in particular bad taste that "Alex" chose the post about finding out that the kitten Anise was dead to leave the comment "this is actually really cool!" Poor form indeed spambot, poor form.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chasing a deal

Those of you who've been reading from the beginning will recall that this blog started with a round the world adventure in the aid of an epic proposal of marriage, which of course, led to an engagement. And as these things go, it's now time for a wedding, a wedding in which I'm the best man. So, understandably, it's important for me to get home to Australia in May to take up this important role. The airlines seem to be conspiring against me, with absolutely ridiculous air fare prices. I don't know how many times I've been into the travel agent here, or how many hours I've spent on the internet looking up different connection combinations, but it's a lot, and I still haven't managed to find a good deal.

Australia is a land of wonder, a sunburnt country that I love, but it really is at the wrong end of the world. Not only does it cost a lot to fly home, it also takes a long time. And if you want a fare that's a bit cheaper, then it will take an even longer time. It's time for a tectonic shift to move Australia up in the world!

Follow Friday

So there's this thing on Twitter where people recommend other people to 'follow' on Fridays. A couple of people have been nice enough to include me once or twice in their lists, but I use my twitter for very mundane updates, to provide links or just comment on other things, so I really don't know why anyone would want to follow me! Anyway, most of my followers are already following the same people, so I don't bother with the whole "follow Friday" thing.

Instead, today I'll provide you with a list of fantastic blogs by aid/development workers (in case you've not noticed the links I've got over there on the left).

Wanderlust - Tristan is on maternity leave at the moment (*snort*) but he's posting fantastic photos and older memories

Tales from the Hood - J's back off to Haiti

The Road to the Horizon
- Peter's also in Haiti

Blood and Milk - Alanna's insights on public health and the aid game generally are always interesting

Good Intentions are not Enough - Saundra has great stuff on improving practice

Rachel's Goma Web Log
- Rachel's updates on living and working in DRC are wonderfully written

Roving Bandit - "Probably the best economics blog in South Sudan" (tehehe)

Pyjama Samsara - Vasco's posts are a rare treat

A Humourless Lot - Michael's the man for anything logistics

The Modern Young Lady's Guide to Coups, Contagions & Calamity - Kristen always has entertaining tales to tell from her extensive work travels.

Chris Blattman - Chris is an Assistant Professor at Yale who regularly posts interesting articles and links

Down There - Nate has a great archive of stories and photographs

Though I only know one of these bloggers in "real life" I hope to one day run into a few more of them around the traps.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I had a look at the map down the bottom there for the first time in a little while...there's been a bit of a South American explosion. Hola!! And, a special shout-out to the person who has apparently visited from the Northern Mariana Islands (I had to look up where they were), hello to you out there in the middle of the sea!

I'm not sure what has so dramatically increased the traffic to this blog (which used to be about 3 visit a day, and is now averaging 20 - not big numbers, but I'm amazed that 20 people would check this site on a daily basis besides Mum and Dad. Hi guys!) But I hope you find something that entertains and/or informs occasionally...

Snow jump

The far more entertaining cousin of the star jump:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Novel ideas

You may recall me being excited about getting started on a fictional novel a couple of months ago. And I really was, I wrote 3,000 words and everything! But then I never seemed to get around to starting chapter 2. I stumbled across two linked articles on the Guardian today, "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction" in which lots of authors gave their tips for aspiring novelists.

My personal favourite was from Anne Enright, who I've never heard of but will look up in future, particularly #6:

1 The first 12 years are the worst.

2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

4 Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

5 Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity.

6 Try to be accurate about stuff.

7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

8 You can also do all that with whiskey.

9 Have fun.

10 Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.

Perhaps one of these days I'll take a stab at chapter two...