Thursday, September 30, 2010

Birthday Shout-out Time!!

It's Yassmin's birthday today. She may or may not be celebrating a special milestone.

Big birthday wishes to one of the greatest flatmates of all time, a wonderful travel buddy, and a woman who as you all would know, is a fabulous actress! Hope you have a good one Yazza! ;-)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I has a bucket

I thought this morning would be like every other morning when I got to the office. Go to my desk, open up my laptop, check the emails etc. And yes, there has been all of that, but there was an extra step between getting to my desk and opening my laptop. There was a bucket sitting on top of my laptop this morning. A bright red bucket. The assistants to the Rep and Deputy Rep looked at me in confusion. "Why is there a bucket on your laptop?" Because I have a bud who I asked to buy me a bucket and he did! Regular readers would know of my history with buckets, and it would appear that they are becoming the new towels - never leave home without one! :-)


Not long after this the man who I share an office with turned to me and told me he was very jealous of my typing speed. "I'm getting old now, my fingers don't keep up with my brain." I told him that he wasn't old, and he pointed out his grey hair. I told him that I have some grey hairs too, and he said, "ah, but you are still very young, you must be only 35." "35?! I'm only 28!" "But you are very tall, it makes you look more distinguished, this is why I thought you were 35." Nice save...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A room with a view

I don't like sharing an office with my boss. That's no reflection on my boss, I like her and think I'll be able to learn a lot from her. But she's a very busy woman, and people come in and out of her office all day. Added to this, I have a teeny tiny desk that has enough room for an in tray, my laptop, and a phone - my notebook has been my mousepad to save room. I've been waiting for a sensible amount of time to broach the subject of moving somewhere else, but the time just hasn't been right.

With the large number of surge staff that have come in from other offices, and through stand-by partners like RedR Australia, the offices of staff on leave have been taken over. One of these staff is coming back on Monday and an eviction notice was placed on his computer telling the people in there that they'd have to find somewhere else. One of these people is a senior manager, and my boss came in today and said, "You're going to be displaced. D needs to sit here." "No problem!" I said with a smile as she rushed back out the door and happily started packing up my meagre belongings.

So now I have a nice big (well, normal sized) desk that I can spread out all my papers on. I also have a view:

The building next door has four of these birds as pets/lawn dressing. I'm not entirely sure what they are yet; cranes and storks have been thrown out as possible options. I heard a story of the head honcho of one of the companies next door. In true Miranda Priestly style, when his driver picks him up in the morning, the driver sends a text to the guard to make sure the gate will be opened at the right moment. The guard then informs the staff that he's on the way, so they can close down facebook and look like they're busy. Apparently someone once parked in this guy's parking spot...he didn't come back to work again. Ever.

But the man has given me something to gaze out the window at!

Numa Numa Nothing going on

Really, it's just work work work. I've been doing fun stuff like briefing notes for donors and updating proposals and trying to figure out some money stuff. So there's not much to write home about.

This morning I saw this video - the song brings back two separate memories, both which make me crack up. The first of those memories involves my friend Julie (hi Julz!) coming back from Europe years ago raving on about a particular song that had been big on the charts. She couldn't remember the name, all she knew was the "Maiahah heeeeeeeeee, maiahah hooooooooo, maiahah haaaaaaaaaaa, maiahah ha ha" bit and proceeded to sing that repeatedly for the next few hours. This was followed up a good year later by the purchase of a mix cd in Spain to accompany a road trip. When the ole "maiahahs" starting blasting out of the stereo I cracked up, and couldn't believe I'd finally found the song Julie had been talking about. So, the song brings back memories of good friends and the beautiful east coast of Spain.

Right, so the video...

First of all, that is one massive marching band!! I would've loved to have been in a marching band at school, but unfortunately ours were of the sit down variety. Secondly, if you have absolutely no idea what this is all about, you might want to watch this:

Happy Saturday! :-)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Clever dogs, clever band

OK Go makes seriously great video clips. Their latest "White Knuckles" is no exception and has brought a big smile to my face.
Enjoy!

A powerful reminder

"This is our job. We can save the lives of thousands of children."

I often play down what my job is when I'm asked by people outside of the humanitarian sector, mostly because I'm not out there on the front line physically saving lives, partly because it's the Australian way. But every so often, I realise how important each person in this line of work is to saving lives. I don't ever want to over-estimate my own significance, but in this position I'm responsible for bringing in more funding. The funding that will allow the engineers to provide water, the doctors to vaccinate children, the teachers to help children continue their education. It's not the sexiest of jobs; I sit at a desk all day, but I can't deny that I'm doing something important.

I was just in a briefing for a very senior manager who has come from HQ. Around the table were people from Pakistan, Romania, Japan, Australia, Spain, Guinea, the US, Kenya and a host of other nationalities. These staff represented all of the sections in the office, from child protection to finance, from health to HR, and everything in between. And every person who works in those departments is working to save the lives of children. In whatever small or large way, we all contribute. This senior manager ended the meeting by reinforcing that this is our job. Together we can save the lives of thousands of children.

And that's a powerful thing to be reminded of.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Opossum madness

I saw this article about how opossums were introduced in Brooklyn a couple of years ago to curb the rat population. This ingenious plan has failed and now the same area is over run with opossums. According to the article, "the critters have a mouth full of 50 sharp teeth, tend to exude a foul odor, and can occasionally contract rabies." Yes, exactly what you want running loose around the neighbourhood!! And I do think that captioning the photo as a "marsupial marauder" makes it sound much too likeable.

This whole story reminds me of an episode of the Simpsons, where Bart adopts what he thinks are bird eggs and they turn out to be lizards, which are apparently a threat to the local bird life and should be killed. Bart, in desperation, throws them off a building to set them free, and in a lucky coincidence, they happen to have little wings and safely float down to the ground. The lizards proceed to wipe out the pesky pidgeon problem and Bart is lauded a hero. Lisa brings up the point that Springfield will be infested with lizards rather than pigeons, but is reassured that if that becomes a problem, they'll send in Chinese needle snakes, and if they become a problem, snake-eating gorillas. And then "when wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death."

Sounds familiar...what seemed like an utterly insane idea in the Simpsons has been played out in real life - which begs the question, what should be sent in to stop the opossums?

Friday, September 17, 2010

One stop shop for Pakistan

If you're curious about the flood response in Pakistan, the "One Response Pakistan" portal is an excellent resource. You can find sitreps and assessment reports from many different agencies, funding data and maps.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Suffering and hope

I haven't been to "the field" yet. I don't know if or when I'll get out to see our response, so my interactions with what has actually happened in Pakistan are from television reports and the pictures I've seen. I've just been going through a folder of photos taken by a professional photographer and there are truly some heartbreaking images. There is a tiny baby, so small that the oxygen mask he needs covers his entire head; a young girl covering her ears as her baby sibling cries next to her; a mother who looks to have fallen asleep from exhaustion next to her baby, a fan still clasped in her hand. But there are images of hope; children with big smiles attending temporary schools or participating in recreational activities, young kids receiving vaccinations (and looking very unhappy about it), pregnant women being examined by lady health workers, and people of all ages retreiving clean water from hand pumps.

While my heart is a bit more broken from seeing pictures of such suffering, it starts to repair when I see the good that is being done. I'm not in the field delivering the hygiene messages that can reduce infant mortality by 20%, I'm not reuniting missing children with their families. But I am here to hopefully raise more funding for this important work to continue

Birthday Shout-out time

It's Emma's birthday today. Emma's going to have a baby soon!! (Interesting fact, you can't hear a baby through a hand cupped on the tummy...)

Em and I have been friends since year 10, and I have so many wonderful memories of dancing to daggy music at the daggy "Avenue" nightclub in Surfers Paradise which is where she ended up meeting her lovely husband (who is also a bit daggy like the rest of us!) Unfortunately I'm missing the baby shower this weekend, but I hope Em and the girls (and Ean) have a wonderful time. And a very happy birthday today!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Idiosyncrasies

I've tried telling the staff at my guesthouse that I don't need my room cleaned every day, but that hasn't seemed to work. I tried taking my key with me to the office, and came home to find the room cleaned. I shouldn't complain about having someone clean my room everyday, but I'm really not *that* grubby!!

Until yesterday, every evening when I went to get into bed I would find that it had been made in a peculiar way - the blanket would be underneath the sheet. Granted, it's not a scratchy blanket, it's one of those faux velvet jobs, but it's still a strange practice in my opinion (particularly when you think that sheets get washed a lot more often than blankets). So every night, I would rip off the ugly bedspread, and flip the sheet and the blanket over, so that the sheet was on the bottom. I figured if the guy coming into to make the bed saw that I had changed the entire construction of sheet and blanket, he would realise that I was perhaps a bit particular about that kind of thing. But no, that wasn't the case.

But last night, as I went to crawl into bed, I was delighted to find something new. The blanket was sandwiched between two sheets!! I really can't understand the logic behind that, but it sure beats having to unmake and re-make the bed every night. I can't wait to see what I'll come home to today!!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

If you're thinking about donating

I've always found the lists of "what your money can buy" in relation to charitable giving to be an extremely useful tool for public awareness. Our (very efficient) logistics unit just sent this through:
  • $1 – the price of 14 sachets of oral rehydration salts, which mixed with safe water, help children combat dehydration and diarrhoea.
  • $3 buys 50 5ml auto-disable syringes, so that 50 children can be immunized with safe equipment.
  • $5 provides one long-lasting insecticidal mosquito net, protecting a family from malaria.
  • $20 can provide 20 packets of high-energy biscuits, specially developed for malnourished children.
  • $110 can provide 10 families with one basic family water kit each, including water containers, buckets, soap and water purification tablets.
  • $120 can provide 600 doses of measles vaccine, protecting children from this deadly disease.
  • $200 can buy one School-in-a-Box kit, a ready-made educational solution, packed in a lockable metal box, containing everything a teacher will need for 40 children.

Of course that's not to say that if you give $200 that your donation WILL be used to buy a school-in-a-box kit, but it definitely helps put into perspective what a small amount of money can do. If you haven't already dug into your pockets to help assist the people affected by the floods in Pakistan, re-read through the list above and see what you can afford. As long as you give to a reputable organisation, every dollar counts.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The future of transportation??

I'm reading through sitreps and the situation is still so grim here; while some people were affected by the floods 5-6 weeks ago, others have just had flood waters rush through their homes in the last week. This disaster just keeps coming.

So this brought a smile to my otherwise grim morning...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New digs

I have now moved into what will be my room for the next 3 months. It's got two fans AND an air conditioner that doesn't grunt and groan. It's got rugs on the floor. It's got a big bed and a little bed in another corner. I have a little dining table for four, and a couch and an arm chair.

There's a desk and a big cupboard which perfectly fits my backpack on the top shelf. The bathroom is perfect for stringing washing over the bathtub. And then there's the tv with lots of Indian channels and a good size bar fridge underneath, which is helpfully cooling my camembert cheese and dark orange chocolate.

There's a lovely big window that lets in nice light that I can actually open because it has a screen. I think I'll be happy here.

And from my happy little home, may I wish everyone out there Eid Mubarak!! All of the staff here are looking much less hungry and lethargic now that Ramadan is over for another year.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Smile

There's a friend of mine out there who's not feeling so chirpy. And not being in the same country (continent) as this person, I can't just give them a big hug. So I'll give them something that I know will bring a smile to their face, so they know that I'm thinking of them and sending good vibes. Even if I've put this up before, the rest of you will smile at it again too!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's ongoing

The work that is. Got my nice handover package today with spreadsheets and logframes and as a result I'm feeling much more up to speed with what's been going on and what needs going on with.

So while I'm writing a proposal for the WASH (that's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) folks, you can enjoy this adorable picture of a tree kangaroo thanks to Cute Overload.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The work begins

I'm lucky that there has been someone doing my job for the past four weeks, and that this person has put some systems in place. I'm also lucky that this person is still here and I get an in person handover (which is a pretty rare thing in any industry I'm sure).

The difficult thing is managing an in person handover, particularly when the other person still has a number of days left here (then away, then back again, then gone). It's hard for that person to know what can be handed over immediately, hard to know whether they should just get on and finish what they're working on and then tell me about it later, hard to know where to start. But it's wonderful to have someone who is a full-time UNICEF staff member to explain the internal workings to me. Without that, any hitting of the ground running would be so much harder.

My revised job description has lost half the original title I was given, which is a relief not just for the workload, but now I won't sound like such a dork trying to recollect all those words at once. Four words is much more manageable than seven.

So we've made a start. I have a proposal to work on and my colleague has a list of things to prepare for me. We'll get there...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Happy Father's Day

To my Dad!

This is why I love otters

Out and About in Islamabad

I continue to be surprised at how great Islamabad is. First I was pleasantly impressed by my guest house, and the surprises kept rolling.

Last night a secret source delivered wine to us and a bunch of us sat around drinking Californian chardonnay and eating the McDonalds that had been delivered. You wouldn't think it was a good match, but it went down suprisingly well.

Today uur security officer took three of us on a tour of the city, and I was uber impressed with the Supreme Court building.
I didn't take this picture, I found on image search here.

I hadn't really thought about what Islamabad would look like, but I suppose I thought it would remind me of Dhaka, but it's so nice. The streets are wide (4 lanes in areas) and the roads are smooth, the grass is thick and green, the trees tall, and there is public park after playground after park. Our first stop was the Serena Hotel, which was a suitably fancy 4 star job that I won't spend much time at, what with the targeting of foreigners and all. But it was lovely to sit outside (this was before the saturating heat fell on the day) and have a cappucino and pan au chocolat.

We hit up a little supermarket packed to the rafters with imported goods, and the others had to laugh at the delighted expression on my face when I spotted the cheese fridge and the Lindt chocolate! Luxury!! We stopped off at a little shopping area and picked up a bit of traditional garb. I asked the salesman what it was called and he said, "frock." Very helpful.

By this stage it was time for lunch, so we headed to a nice little place that also has a spa upstairs (pedicures yea!!) and the food was absolutely deserving of a photo.

While our little outing only lasted a couple of hours, it was enough encouragement to know that life here won't be too hard, security permitting.

Friday, September 3, 2010

First Impressions of Islamabad

Our flight landed after 2am and I thought the whole visa on arrival process was going to be pretty easy, what with the Pakistani government putting it in place for aid workers and all. Elaine made mention of it being theatre at one point, and it was an apt description. I felt sorry for the two immigration staff who were responsible for processing us all. There was an informal queue, and the mustachioed staff member seemed to keep track of that pretty well in between handing out additional forms and gluing visas. A couple of big smiles from us helped us secure our place, and so we waited. And waited. And then went and got our luggage and came back to wait some more. But eventually we got our (single entry doh!) visas glued into our passports and we headed out to find our driver.

Steve's driver was there, holding up a sign with his name on it. I was scanning the crowd of hundreds of men, trying to see a similar sign with mine and Elaine's names on it, but no such luck. There was one driver frantically waving a piece of paper around, so I went to investigate. He was working for WFP, but he'd been told by our driver to make contact with us. Turns out our driver had been waiting for quite some time, and had gone home to eat before the sunrise started and his fasting began. The WFP driver was very sweet and told us he'd take us to our guesthouse, once he'd retrieved all of his charges. After waiting for I don't know how long, it turned out that our driver came back and so off we went.

At 4:30ish in the morning the roads were clear and we sped along the very well-maintained highway, slowing down for about four police checkpoints. We arrived at our guesthouse, where they had no idea who we were, and luckily they had two rooms to accommodate us. I fell into bed at about 5am and thought I could sleep for a year. Just as I was drifting off there was a knock at my door. Then another insistent knock. I crawled out of bed and opened the door to find a tiny man holding up what appeared to be some freshly ironed men's clothes. We both shook our heads at each other, and I crawled back to bed. Unfortunately, the elusive sleep I'd been longing for evaded me, and I only grabbed an hour or two before I was up and pottering around my new home.

We were picked up from our guesthouse after lunch and the drive to office didn't take too long. The roads are good, they have the fancy traffic lights that countdown how long the light will take to change, and the medium strips are manicured. The grass is green, there's a view to a beautiful hilly area (where, our driver hastily added, there was a plane crash a few months ago) and the quick glimpse I had of the Faisal mosque was very impressive.

It's now day 2, and I'm a bit more aware of what my job might entail, I've met some wonderful people and I'm looking forward to getting stuck into things. My security briefing today was pretty intense, and had moments reminiscent of that scene in The Life of Brian with the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's Front...there seems to be a lot of that here. It was made very clear that while the city looks calm and safe, it is a thin veneer. The veneer isn't so thin in other parts of the country that my colleagues are working in.

And now it's time to get stuck into some heavy reading!

Insane development in Dubai

I'd never been to Dubai before, so I was excited to get out of the airport hotel on a four hour tour. While I was waiting in the lobby with my brand new RedR hat in hand, I was spotted by Steve, another RedR deployee so it was nice to have a new friend on the bus.

The first stop was the Dubai museum, which wasn't very interesting.
Throughout the tour we passed the greatest number of mosques I'd ever seen. This one was particularly beautiful. I think the oldest mosque we saw was 70 years old, and it looked as fresh and new as any of the others we saw under construction.
We stopped in at the gold souk which was extremely boring and probably just a commission stop for the tour guide, and then headed for the famous 7 star hotel...if you don't have US$2000 for a night you can pay the low low price of $100 for a cup of coffee!
The bus took us out to the palm shaped island, which was so over the top. Most of the buildings along the 'trunk' of the Jumeirah palm island all look exactly the same. At least the villas on the 'fronds' allow a bit more room for architectural creativity.

And speaking of architectural creativity, if you're an architect and sick of designing boring buildings (or refugee camps) then head to Dubai. I saw some of the craziest high rises. And just the sheer amount of development is mind blowing. There's so much money in Dubai that if you had an outlandish idea for a tower, I'm sure there would be someone with enough money to actually build the design.

I think this is the definition of outlandish:

I couldn't capture the whole building in the frame, but this is the Atlantis hotel, right at the top of Jumeirah. Who in their right mind paints an enormous hotel bright pink???

After sweltering in the 40+ degree heat Steve and I were relieved to get back to the airport hotel. We met up with Elaine, the other RedR deployee and headed for the airport. There was time for one last glass of wine before we boarded the plane for Islamabad...I wish I'd savoured that more!!