Monday, May 31, 2010

UN responds to Flotilla Attacks

Joint Statement of

Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and
Filippo Grandi, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency

31 May 2010


We are shocked by reports of killings and injuries of people on board boats carrying supplies for Gaza, apparently in international waters. We condemn the violence and call for it to stop. The situation is still ongoing and we are awaiting confirmation of what has happened. However, we are in contact with the Israeli authorities to express our deep concern and to seek a full explanation. We are also urging them in the strongest terms to ensure that no further steps are taken that could endanger civilian lives. We wish to make clear that such tragedies are entirely avoidable if Israel heeds the repeated calls of the international community to end its counterproductive and unacceptable blockade of Gaza.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Days like these

We had an international staff gathering last night at a colleague's (stunning) house in Beirut last night and it was nice to catch up with a few people I hadn't seen in a while. It was a relatively early night, followed by breakfast and a spot of shopping this morning.

Around midday Kristen and I met up with Adi and Loai and we headed for the beach in Byblos. Normally the drive from Beirut would take 45 minutes max...it took close to 2 hours! Stupid traffic jams. As we were inching forward the clouds were gathering and the haze had descended again, but once we got to the beach it was a beautiful afternoon. We swam and lazed on the beach, and it was a bit disappointing to realise that having a little nap on a rocky beach was more comfortable than my bed!!

We farewelled Kristin and wandered around Byblos, which is something I hadn't really had the chance to do before now. It's a quaint little town that became more and more alive.


We stopped for an early dinner which was absolutely delicious and washed down with a refreshing Almaza beer and enjoyed the view of the ruins.

After a bit more wandering we stopped again for a coffee and decided that an evening in Byblos in the near future is definitely in order. The sun was setting as we hit the road, thankfully without any further traffic jams.

The elections are on tomorrow, but after a wonderful day out I'll have no problem with staying inside!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Straight to the pool room

I'm shaking with laughter (and for some strange reason youtube videos are now super huge and covering up half my blog...)

Cuteness for Friday

I need to get a job at this place (fav moments: 00:15, 00:44, 01:06, 01:32):

Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.

Spies

There are municipal elections on Sunday; there are cars crusing around blaring campaign songs and the whole city is plastered with candidate posters. They're everywhere. Including our balcony. I got home at 5am on Tuesday and as I went to shut my curtains I was startled by a large poster looking in my window from across the street. I promptly passed out from travel exhaustion and when I woke a few hours later, I made some coffee and went out to the balcony. It took me a few minutes to realise that my view of the Sea was blocked. Yep, there are two huge election posters on our balcony.

I mentioned my surprise at this to Yassmin later that night, and she complained how she'd received no notice that they were going up, and that they'd been erected while she was sleeping. (A bit of a safety concern for a woman alone in the house.) So at around 10:45pm she decided to take matters into her own hands, and pushed and pushed and made some strategic cuts and bent the signs over. View restored!!

5 minutes later, her phone rang. It was our landlord telling her that he'd recieved a call from some people in the neighbourhood and that she shouldn't remove the posters and that someone would be around at 11 to fix them. She asked me if this time suited me, since I had the following day off, and of course I agreed. About 15 minutes later the doorbell rung, and a young man had come to nail the posters back up. At 11pm. Spies everywhere!!

We had a bit of a flash storm today, though 20 minutes later the ground was dry and the only sign that there'd been a storm was the smothering humidity. Well, not the only sign. When I got home this afternoon I noticed the bigger poster had fallen over.

Yassmin had just left the house when the doorbell rung, so assuming it was her I opened it. There were two men, one holding a hammer. "Shu?" I asked. The man waved the hammer at me. The look on my face must have been pretty confused because he immediately started saying "sorry sorry" and making the shape of a square and pointing to the outside. It clicked that he was there to fix the poster. Again. I suppose the last 2 days of campaigning are still just as important...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wedding Porn

The reason I went home for 2 weeks was to attend the wedding of my dear friends Vardy and Adam (who were the reason behind me starting this blog!). It was a wonderful day and a highly entertaining evening, and here are some pics of the big day. (You can find more pics here)

When you're the first one to have your hair and make-up done, there's a lot of time left over for reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The beautiful bride takes a few deep breaths before we commenced the lacing of the dress

The pretty beautiful bridesmaids

Mwah!

Married!!

Girly friends

And after a typically oddball ceremony (including melody pops instead of confetti) the bride and groom surprised us all with their choice for their first dance song (which I can't remember for the life of me, but it's a lovely song from the 1950s that's not oddball at all).

And of course, we busted out the Nutbush.


A wonderful couple, a wonderful wedding, with all indicators pointing towards a wonderful marriage.

I'm back

I opened the door to my container this morning and discovered a message from Oli:

Awesome

Thursday, May 13, 2010

War With Me

Remember when I told you that I'd won something from the best band in the universe Ash? Well when I got home today there it was waiting beside my bed.


Love it!!

And there was also the package of Ash merchandise that was a bit delayed by the other ash cloud in Europe.

Just finished watching the A-Z documentary which has totally hyped me up for the concert in August I just bought a ticket for this morning!!

Ashy goodness :-)

Bogan ville

My flight landed in Brisbane right on time. Having got a new passport last year outside of Australia, I'd never tried the e-passport immigration contraption. It. Is. So. Awesome. No more standing in massive queues. No more making small talk with overtired, rude immigration officials. Yea! And then since I declared wooden goods (a little pink flute I got in Istanbul) I was swept through to the inspection line at customs where there was no-one waiting. I love it when things just work my way!

My ride home pulled up seconds later and due to a number of extenuating factors he's had to ditch me at the Springwood Maccas while he attends a quick meeting. What an interesting place. Thank goodness there's wifi, otherwise I would've gone mad reading the Courier Mail and listening to the conversations going on around me. Bogan central.

If you ever want to experience culture shock, go and sit in a McDonald's beside a highway at 10am on a Thursday morning!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Excitement abounds

Just another 15 minutes to kill before I jump in the UNRWA bus and head down to Beirut. My flight home to Australia leaves at 4:40am tomorrow, which is not very exciting. Actually the 20+ hour trip is not going to be very exciting at all. But getting home and seeing those I love, and eating freshly baked apricot loaf, and sleeping in a comfortable bed are very exciting promises indeed!!

The kindness of strangers

I was heading up to my hotel room in Bangkok the other night and a man very kindly held the elevator for me. His kindness didn't stop there though. As we travelled up to the 5th floor making small talk it was apparent that we were both Aussies. We both headed in the same direction down the hall and when he reached his door he stopped and reached into his bag.

"I'm not going to need this, why don't you take it for a nightcap?" he said, handing me one of those tiny vodka bottles. "oh, and you'll need a mixer," and pulled out a juice box. Pausing for half a second to remember how I'd thought that this one night would be an alcohol free evening and then taking another millisecond to dismiss it, I happily accepted his gift and enjoyed my little nightcap, glad that random acts of kindness are alive and well!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Donezo

I've never attended such a mentally exhausting training course as this PROCAP one was. I am absolutely stuffed. In a nutshell,: I swung between total confidence that I was getting the tools, and then total freak-out that I had absolutely no idea about protection full stop; the other people on the course were a fantastic bunch; the hotel was super duper awesome (but really, who shuts the pool bar at 5:30pm?); and I'm now feeling pretty confident about deploying as a protection officer in the future (but only with OCHA, I don't feel like I need any true expertise to go to OCHA!)

I had some positive individual feedback from the lead trainer, which was really encouraging. I had to laugh though - in our full day simulation yesterday I'd met with him twice, with him playing the role of the Chief of Police. After both meetings I felt like I'd totally failed, that I hadn't achieved much and that I had no idea what I was doing. However, he praised my diplomacy and strategy of subtle negotiation, and that I had really pushed along the progress of my agency's agenda. I had to admit that there was no such strategy!! I figure if I'm such a natural diplomat then if I actually do some further reading on negotiation/advocacy techniques, I'll be unstoppable! :-)

I'm looking forward to reading back through the materials we were given more deeply a few days from now. I need a bit of time to process everything we learned (and all the alcohol consumed) before I can look at it again!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

4 Star Cabin Fever


I'm not really complaining about staying in a very fancy resort for the duration of this training

it's just that there is very little time to go out and explore.

That being said, from my limited wandering, Pattaya doesn't really seem like a town that I want to explore. All the stories of dodgyness I was told before coming seem less far fetched now.

We have to go back into the training room at 7:00 tonight to get the final, important details for our full day simulation tomorrow. Of course, once that briefing is done, we'll have to get together in our agency groups (that's OHCHR for me) and do a bit of planning. I'm hoping this can be an efficient process and I can still go out by 9pm to get some shopping done!

Yes, life is that difficult for me!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Engaging in aid

The past week or so saw a massive explosion on twitter surrounding the idea of collecting and sending 1 million t-shirts to Africa. I'm not going to go into the details of the idea, you can read many great blog posts on the discussion by following any of the links below till your heart is content. I've spent more than a couple of hours reading through all the tweets and blog posts, and it's been absolutely invigorating. I think I've mentioned before that I've felt removed from the aid world in my current job, and it's the bloggers out there writing about the issues surrounding emergency response that have been my link. The controversy regarding the 1 million t-shirts has exploded in an up-to-the-second debate which has been fascinating to read.

The dedication of the aid workers out there, who write about the issues affecting not only their work but the delivery of aid in general, continues to inspire me. The critical thinking they apply, in their spare time no less, is something to be applauded.

So please join me in a round of applause for the aid worker bloggers out there! Here's just a small list to get you started, and if you have a shorter attention span, you can follow them all on twitter.

Tales from the Hood @TalesFromthHood
Wanderlust @morealtitude
Alanna Shaikh @alanna_shaikh
Wait...what? @meowtree
Good Intentions are not Enough @Good_Intents
Texas in Africa @texisinafrica
Transitionland @transitionland
The Road to the Horizon @TheRoadto
A Humourless Lot @Michael_Keizer

How to be a good seat neighbour

Being Australian, I'm used to very long flights. To get to Europe, it's a good 8 hours to Singapore and then another 12 or so hours to London. Call me a weirdo, but I actually find long haul flights more easy to manage than say, a six hour flight. You know what you're getting in for, you can watch a couple of movies, read a couple of books and get some decent sleep (with the help of very mild over the counter sleeping pills, ear plugs and an eye mask!)

There are many frustrating things about air travel. The most obvious being why are we still hurtling ourselves through the sky - where is the teleporting technology already?? My frustration started early in my travels yesterday, at Beirut airport. I was there early, and had already wasted some serious time in a cafe, (if you're ever in the neighbourhood, try to muesli at "Salt" on the first floor, it's delightful!) and had made my way to the gate. We were supposed to board at 1:10pm. 1:10pm came and went, and it must have been about 1:30pm that the airline dude actually rocked up. Anyone who can do simple maths could figure out that the flight would be delayed. The actual departure time came and went. The dude had made a couple of annoucements telling people to go to gate 12. My frustration: at no point did he ever say "we apologise for the delay, we expect to board in xx minutes." Communication is key, people!!

So anyway, it was a very non-descript flight to Bahrain, and this is what greeted me in the entry to the transit lounge:

Durka durkistan, lakalaka jihad anyone??

My flight from Bharain to Bangkok was about 6 hours. I was in a window seat with just one person next to me. He was a big man, but no taller than myself. I would be cool with a seat neighbour making incursions into my sacred space if they were super tall, but this guy wasn't. Rule #1 - the space on my side of the armrest, and the seat in front of me, is MINE!!! The space on your side of the armrest and the seat in front of you, is yours. Simple? Apparently not. I'd relinquished the armrest, I'm magnamimous like that, but you can't take the armrest AND jab me in the side with your elbows...not cool. Rule #2 - control your elbows!

Here's another thing...I'm 99.99% sure of this, but I guess this guy had some doubts. Just because you're at high altitude does not mean that your nether regions are going to disappear. You really don't have to keep touching yourself to make sure everything is still there. Correct me if I'm wrong on that. Rule #3 - just leave it alone!

Also, I'm mighty impressed that you have a bladder made of steel, and veins that are deep thrombosis proof, but that doesn't mean you have to give me a dirty look when I ask to get past you to go to the bathroom or stretch out my legs. Rule #4 - a little bit of give and take (I give you an armrest, you let me get up once or twice without death staring me) is required.

Rule #5 - do as you're told. When the plane's nose is pointing in a downwards direction, and the Captain has said we're starting our descent and the seatbelt sign is on, and you don't have your seatbelt on, and the hostess tells you to put your seatbelt on (breathe) you should put your seatbelt on. When she comes back and asks you again, you should really clickety clack. This is not the time for you to finally decide to use the bathroom. Because then the air hostess comes along and gives me a dirty look implying that I should control you better!!

The rules of good seat neighbours extend to those sitting behind as well. I know I've talked about this before - but using the head rest on the seat in front of you (i.e. mine) to help pull yourself out of your seat is really annoying. Particularly when my hair is out, and has gone all crazy from thrashing around on a miniature pillow, and thereby sticking up making it a prime target to be pulled when the head rest is grabbed. Rule #6 - unless you are really old or have a disability, just stand up! And the kicking on the seat. If it's a child, it's annoying but can be solved with a simple request to the parent...if it's an adult who's kicking the back of the chair????

Anyway, as the sun rose while we were flying over Burma,

I waved hello to Emma out the window and was thankful that Bangkok was just a little bit further.

Rant over.