Saturday, December 31, 2011

What a year!!

It seems that the years are flying past more quickly these days, and that I'm packing more and more into 365 days. 2011 has been no exception.

This time last year I knew I'd be starting a new job and there was a lot to look forward to. Eleven months into the job and I've been to England (3 times), Mexico, Guatemala, Liberia, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya and Ethiopia for work (and a nowhere near enough break in Zanzibar!). It's been a year full of learning and initiation (and initiating) and stress and pressure. 12 hour days cramped up in a little meeting room in Liberia, trying to navigate a certain government (who may or may not somewhat rhyme with myopia) screening and controlling our communications, and also determining my own role and how it best fits in a sea of international internal politics.

But within that (by no means exhaustive) list of challenges have also been far too many rewarding moments to list; colleagues, both local and internationals, who made all the long hours and politics enjoyable through either their friendship or their competence (levels of which can differ greatly) hands down top the list. I have made so many new friends this year from all corners of the world, a wonderful, inspiring bunch, and even more luckily, great housemates too!!

So I move into 2012 with just as much excitement as I did 12 months ago, as I now know what I want to achieve in my role and how to improve certain things to do that. While I'm starting the new year in a not-so-exotic deployment of 2 months in Oxford, I'm keen to try my hand at something a little different and do some work from a HQ perspective. And after that, well nobody knows where I'll be sent...and that's exactly what excites me the most.

I wish you all a safe, healthy and prosperous 2012,


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A home remedy

Are your hands feeling tired and in need of refreshment after a tough year of touch typing? Follow these simple steps and your hands will end up feeling deliciously soft.

1. Wash your hands with soap and water

2. Sprinkle a fair bit of dessicated coconut onto a plate

3. Combine the following in a large bowl:
- 250grams of crushed Milk Arrowroot biscuits
- 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup of dessicated coconut
- 2/3 cup of sultanas
- tin of condensed milk (395 grams)
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of rum

4. Once everything is combined well, roll the mixture into balls as small or large as you choose and then roll in the coconut on the plate to coat completely

5. Continue rolling and rolling until all the mixture has been used

6. Now wash off the mixture that's all over your hands and between your fingers and they'll be lovely and soft!

(And of course, the bonus is you're also left with a plate of rum balls!! Put the plate in the fridge for a few hours and enjoy the deliciousness. Also - you can leave out the rum if you don't drink alcohol.)

Happy Festivus!!

Whether you're celebrating Christmas, or a Festivus for the rest of us, this little video will make your holidays!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cleaning out

I'm going through piles and piles of old papers that definitely don't need to be kept (like training manuals from courses 3 years ago) but pausing on a few bits and pieces here and there that bring back memories.

One such piece of paper was folded up and at the very bottom of a drawer. It's the post description of my job in Lebanon, but that's not why I kept it or why it brought back memories. On the back are scribbled the phone numbers of my friends in Lebanon, which I hurriedly jotted down when I had to hand back my work phone, just in case. And it was a very lucky thing that I'd done that, because on my last day in Lebanon I managed to get locked in the apartment. Locked IN.

So there was some climbing over the balcony onto an air-conditioner and down onto the lower balcony, then in through a window in the stairwell and finally outside (good thing we were on the 1st floor), to find a friend to borrow a phone to call my housemate to see if she could come back with the key (she couldn't). There was a lot of rigmarole involved, including sign language with the guys across the street at the vegetable stall to borrow their phone, talking to strangers who fortuitously knew my landlord (he was a well known man about town obviously) but the landlord never answered his phone in the mornings and was therefore no help, racing up 9 flights of stairs to my friend Oli's house as the power was out only to discover that they weren't home, to finally remembering the folded up piece of paper and calling my friend Chadi to come and rescue me.

And that's the short version of that story, but suffice to say, without Chadi I have no idea how I would've gotten my luggage out of the apartment had he not broken the lock, gone to the hardware store and installed a new one!

Ah, memories!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Work's a beach

This working from 'home' gig is tough. Here's the view from today's office:

and the cappuccinos weren't bad either.

Planning your next holiday?

A Lebanese friend of mine has been involved in the Lebanese Mountain Trail for some years now. Watching this video brought back some lovely memories of some beautiful hikes (ok, strolls) in the countryside in northern Lebanon. If you're looking for a holiday destination and you like rambling around, a month walking from the north of Lebanon to the south should be at the top of your list!

Check out the video to cement your decision!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"The Help" and SWEDOW

I finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett the other night. Having come highly recommended from more than a few friends, I finally got it on my kindle and really enjoyed it a lot. And because it's a kindle edition, I can't tell you which page the paragraphs below come from, so if you have a chuckle now, you'll just have to go and read the book for yourself.

If you're not familiar with the (fiction) book (or the recent film adaptation), it tells the story of a white woman who convinces a number of the maids in Jackson Missippi in the early 60s (where segregation was still in full swing) to tell their stories anonymously in a book that scandalises the town. Most of the stories the maids tell are sad and awful (though beautifully written), and reading through I couldn't believe that, while fictionalised, such things were still happening only 50 years ago; how the attitudes back then were so ill-informed and how far we've come since then. Until I got to this part...

And Hilly's behind a podium telling sixty-five women that three cans apiece isn't enough to feed all those PSCAs. The Poor Starving Children of Africa, that is. Mary Joline Walker, however, thinks three is plenty. "And isn't it kind of expensive, carting all this tin across the world to Ethiopia?" Mary Joline asks. "Doesn't it make more sense to send them a check?"

Hilly rolls her eyes. "You cannot give these tribal people money, Mary Joline. There is no Jitney 14 Grocery in the Ogaden Desert. And how would we know if they're even feeding their kids with it? They're likely to go to the local voodoo tent and get a satanic tattoo with our money."
When it comes to SWEDOW, we definitely haven't come that far...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Two Carlys

My Dad thinks I may have two personalities, and I'm starting to think he's right. The first is the exciting Chasing Carly you're probably really missing right now - the one who finds crazy statues to photograph and drinks gin and is adventurous and has lots to write home about. The second is the less exciting Chasing Carly you're stuck with for another 6 weeks at least - the one who hasn't picked up her camera in weeks, only eats ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch and doesn't necessarily leave the house during the day and has nothing to write home about because she is at home and it wouldn't make sense to write home about being home.

But I'm going to start trying to bring more of the first Chasing Carly into second Chasing Carly's current lifestyle. I left the house not once but twice today. I took my Mum to a Zumba class, which was actually good as it was just as daggy as jazzercise (which I miss immensely) and a fun way to start the day. Unprecedentedly I left the house again to meet up with one of those 'small world' friends for an exotic dinner (tofu! weird little seed things!) at a vegetarian restaurant staffed by a "hunky Hare Krishna waiter" (not my words).

I can feel Carly #1 making a comeback already...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Working from home - video fun edition

My first batch of leave is now over, and so I find myself turning on my work computer, clearing out my inbox, and deciding how to best tackle the sticky information management issues I want to write simplified guidance for over the next month.

And the best way of doing that is putting it aside and concentrating on my new video editing software!! How could this possibly be considered working from home? Well, I'm trying to be a bit more creative with the information products I create, and video is one aspect of that, which I need to improve my skills on. Hence the work time and the new software!

To see what it (Adobe Premier Elements 10) can do, I decided to use the "instant movie" function with the clips I filmed in Zanzibar. It took a very long time (and the software decided to include a clip of complete darkness that I'd forgotten to delete, so its recognition of good clips isn't the best...) but eventually it finished processing and, as I expected, it's pretty terrible.

So I present to you "Zanzibar - Obnoxiously auto-created."

I'll attempt to make a better version on my own (minus the horrific graphics) and will post at a later date, but am going to tackle a tougher subject first with my next hard hitting video report; my dad's veggie garden...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sam's 180

I house and cat sat for Rowan in Canberra last week. I made sure to find out where the cat brush was, because once upon a time Sam the cat wouldn't come near me unless I had the brush.

Times have changed...

Sam wouldn't leave me alone...ever!

A complete personality change - I guess he's matured in the past 4 years!!

Here and there

It's been a busy couple of weeks for me. I was home for less than 24 hours before I jumped on a plane to Sydney to get down to Woollongong for little Audrey's 1st birthday party (along with cupcakes there was fairy bread!!)

and a couple of days later, a Melbourne Cup day function with some pretty gorgeous girls!

The following weekend it was off to Canberra to see Rowan (who looked absolutely beautiful) marry Sergio (who looked dashingly handsome) in some lovely surrounds on the edge of the ACT (might have even been in NSW).

The rest of the week was spent hanging out with Jez and Em, who came up from Melbourne especially!

So we did arty farty things like go to galleries and stuff

and also caught up with some other friends from Bangers, Pierre brought his lovely new wife and Lindy brought her lovely new bub (as well as her lovely husband that we know from the 'desh) so it was fantastic to catch up with them and find out how differently life has been for them the past few years!!

I rounded the two weeks off with a debrief on my year in Bangladesh - most of the other people there had returned home in the last six months, so everything was still really fresh for them. It was nice to reminisce with old friends and new, but now I'm looking forward to not being on a plane until after Christmas!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ashtastic - A gig review of sorts

Yesterday was a mad mad day in London. After being a bit overwhelmed in the new Westfield mall in Stratford (it's the biggest shopping centre I've ever seen) I was off on my way to Kentish Town to check out the soundcheck for my favourite band of all time, Ash. Since I don't get to see them live very often, I forked out for a VIP ticket which included the soundcheck, meet & greet, the concert and an after party. (and a t-shirt and a couple of old singles with some cool B-sides and a pin and a fancy laminate that was cool to flash around)

The soundcheck was cool, they played my second favourite song!

After that was the awkward time where you stand around waiting for an opportunity to get something signed and have a quick chat with the band...and they were all lovely. It must be so odd having to make random conversation with complete strangers who know all about you. Rick (the drummer) was chatting about his newborn baby

Mark (bass) was trying to extricate himself from an intense discussion with another fan

Charlotte (guitar, keyboard, vocals) who left the band a few years ago, but reunited with them for this tour, was simply one cool chick

and Tim (lead guitar, vocals), my rock idol was overrun with other people so I didn't really get to talk to him at all!

Between the soundcheck a little group wandered down to get some dinner and it was lovely chatting to people who'd come from Reading and Newcastle, but also Sweden and Finland!! And then back to the venue where we got to flash our VIP laminates to jump the queue (unfortunately the queue wasn't very long) and the first support band were The VIRGINMARYS.

They were a lot rockier than I usually listen to, but geez they were good. The lead singer has some serious pipes and the drummer was quite the may notice the gong in the middle of the stage, it got quite a beating in one song. I couldn't understand a word the singer was saying, but I've been humming a certain riff all morning.

Futures were next, and they were also really good...I could understand some of the lyrics! They were definitely more melodic with some lovely harmonies and their set seemed to be over too quickly. But none of us had come to see them, the feeling in the crowd was electric! And my friend Adam showed up just in time.

Ash were playing their "Free All Angels" album in its entirety, plus a best of set, so it was a total showtime of an hour and 45 minutes. Super! Free All Angels is a brilliant album with some kick ass singles, but also a number of tracks they'd never played live before this tour, so it was interesting to hear them live. What I love about watching Ash live is how much fun they appear to be having - the 3 guys formed the band when they were teenagers (if not before) and in their mid-30s now they've been together for a long time. And yet, they just look like they're having a ball. And Charlotte is awesome - if I'd actually been a good guitar player, I would've wanted to grow up to be just like her...hell, I still want to grow up to be just like her! :-)

The 'best of' set was insane. I kept hitting Adam on the leg every time a new song started, as they seemed to be playing all of my favourites (and I guess, everyone else's favourites too!) From memory (and in no particular order), A Life Less Ordinary, Girl From Mars, Goldfinger, Oh Yeah, Kung Fu, Wildsurf, Projects (I think), Warmer than Fire (with the guy who wrote it coming out on stage to sing it, VERY different to Tim's version!), Starcrossed, and Orpheus. There are not enough superlatives to sum up what was the best Ash show I've seen!!

The after party was a bit weird really. I hung out with my new friends and one of the guys was pointing out local 'celebrities': radio hosts, other bands - all people I'd never heard of! It was fun meeting different people from around the world, talking about random things and having a laugh, but it was a bit awkward!

If you've never heard Ash and have somehow made it to the end of this post, then (a) I hope my enthusiasm has swayed you to check them out and (b) go and check out their official website.

And now, it's time to go home for the first time since I left for Liberia in April - got a jam packed schedule of social engagements to get through in the first two weeks, can't wait!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Admitting Failure

The inimitable J. over at Tales from the Hood has started a regular forum for aid bloggers to discuss a particular topic. The latest edition is Admitting Failure, and I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts which may or may not come together into a single outcome.

Story 1 - admitting programme failure internally
When I worked in Bangladesh for a large INGO, my job was to cruise around the field sites of their biggest programme (which Incorporated agriculture, women's empowerment, humanitarian response and a fourth element I can never remember) and produce case studies on the successes and failures of the programme. Once staff understood what I was trying to do, the success stories came flooding in. "Come and visit this programme, it's very successful," etc etc. Of course, different people had differing ideas as to what 'successful' meant, and it turned out that a couple of the so-called success stories were more like failures. Not one project manager put their hand up to say they had a failure. I guess that's to be expected, but even though these case studies were primarily for internal learning (though I'm sure the success stories were used with external audiences) no one wanted to admit to their colleagues that things hadn't gone according to plan.

Basically, I thought this was crazy. I understand why people keep quiet. But when you're talking about programmes that can change people's lives for the better (as I saw over and over again) or really cause harm (which I didn't see thankfully) then shouldn't we want to communicate what NOT to do within an organisation?? Seems pretty logical to me...

Story 2 - admitting individual failure internally
I had a debrief with my manager this morning and somehow we got onto the topic of people making mistakes and then denying they had any part of it (which is really a bit of a joke when their name is on the piece of paper in question). What my manager said was that the courage of an individual to come forward and say that they'd made a mistake and that they'd either rectified it or had a proposed solution, is actually highly respected in the department. It's never easy to say that you were wrong about something, but while you may get your head chewed off momentarily, in the long run it's better to come clean.

Story 3 - admitting failure externally
It's not really a story, just another conversation that I had a couple of hours ago with a person from donor relations. I asked that when reporting beneficiary numbers that a caveat be included to say that we can never be 100% sure that some people haven't been counted more than once, and that any single number that reports beneficiaries can't give an indication of the quality of the service/s those people received. My colleague told me that such a statement would be difficult to include in an update to donors, as we want to present ourselves as best we can. She then said, "but we shouldn't treat our donors as if they're stupid. They pay very close attention to what we do, and understand a lot more than many give them credit for," and she's absolutely right.

Actually, now that I think about it, there is a story in here. I spent a year as a donor reporting officer, and the thought of being completely honest with a donor was not one that was often entertained. Even though they'd already given the money, and we'd already spent it, I didn't want to let them know that there may have been, for example, delays in spending the money etc etc. I'm not talking about financial reporting, but reporting the progress of implementation. And yet, now that I think about it, wouldn't ECHO want to know that we'd had a rough time doing something, but had managed to overcome those constraints to deliver what we said we would? I don't think anyone actually believes that aid work is smooth sailing all of the time, and we shouldn't pretend it is in our reporting.

So I suppose if I were to try and sum my thoughts up on admitting failure, I'd have to simply say that I'm all for it. For both internal and external actors there's a lot of value in admitting failure, particularly if you're able to demonstrate that the failure has acted as a catalyst for learning, and that the 'lessons learned' don't just remain as 'learned' but are acted upon and changed. What's the point of admitting failure if it doesn't act as a change agent?

I haven't answered any of J.'s proposed questions, but if you head on over to the collection of links to other people participating in the forum, I know you'll find lots of interesting insights into admitting aid failures.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Giraffe videos

I'd completely forgotten that I'd taken some video while at the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 16, 2011


A few weeks ago in Nairobi my friend Cynan mentioned a gin bar outside of Oxford that had 50 different gins. Knowing that I'd be ending up here, we agreed that a mission was in order to check it out. Yesterday was a lovely sunny day (it's odd, everyday since I got here on Wednesday has been sunny) and I quite enjoyed the 20 minute bus ride out to the quaint little village of Woodstock.

Feather's is a posh hotel and as I got there first I made my way out to a nice little courtyard in the back, denying myself the option of looking at the bar before Cynan and his lovely wife arrived. And then, the fun began. We were presented with a ring binder (a classy one) which must have been two inches thick. We weren't sure what to do with it, so we ventured inside to the bar.

Cynan was wrong. There weren't 50 different types of gin, there were close to 150!!

While I've enjoyed a nice G&T for a few years now, I had no idea of the many different varieties - like wine, you can smell the different bouquets and they can taste completely different. And I also had no idea that tonic water could be so delightfully different.

I started with a glass of Oliver Cromwell 1599 (GBR), which the book told me has a "big nose packed with distinct, clean juniper and good support from the traditional aroma. Big rich, full mouth, with all the flavours from the nose with juniper definitely in charge. It's wonderful aromatics in big, bright finish." (I had many concerns over the grammar in the gin book.) It was suggested that I match it with a Fever Tree tonic, and in a nutshell, it was terrific.

My second choice was a cheeky French gin called G'VINE Nouaison which was "fruity and rich, intense and complex aromas of cinnamon bark, baked citrus, floral juniper follow through on around silky, zesty and robust entry. Very sharp with solid character. Amplifies the aromas of spices, yet retains the sensual and silky grape base as well as the subtle floral note." With a little bottle of Fentiman's tonic it was again, superb.

Of course the whole expedition was slightly pretentious and I was reminded of the scene in the book Brideshead Revisited where Charles and Sebastian are drinking (copius amounts of) wine and as they get more and more drunk their descriptions of the wine get more ridiculous, like it being an 'intelligent' wine or a 'promiscuous' one. I wish I could remember the exact quotes, but I did feel a bit like that!

Afterwards we walked down the street to a little pub and, well, English pub food is really quite perfect for an early evening where the temperatures have dropped a bit!!

With 150 gins to go, and only 6 sampled between the 3 of us, I think it's a good thing I'm here next weekend as well!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Close encounters: giraffe edition

I've just gotten home from the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, and what a fantastic way to spend my last morning!! There are 12 giraffes in the herd, and there's a viewing platform at head height (for the giraffes) where they come to be fed. And who does the feeding?


I've never been slobbered on as much, and while I was quite happy feeding my new friend from my hand, I just had to get a kiss. There's nothing like a gigantic head approaching your face and a massive black tongue reaching out for the pellet pressed between your lips!

It was really great to see the giraffes so closely, they really are beautiful creatures.

Perhaps not as traditionally beautiful, there were also a few warthogs running around. Though this one wasn't running as his front legs were lame.

I can't recommend it highly enough to anyone travelling through Nairobi (more photos here). I had lunch with a friend from Senegal afterwards, came home and managed to pack everything up (very glad I made the decision to buy a new carry-on size waterproof bag yesterday) and now there are just a few hours left until I have to head to the airport.

It's been a pretty magical few months!

Zanzibar wonderful wonderousness

I can't say enough how magnificent my holiday in Kendwa, Zanzibar was (well I can, but I won't). I did exactly what I wanted to do, which involved a lot of lounging, reading (6 books finished), swimming, napping, eating and drinking. And in surrounds such as this:

and this:

I really felt like I'd found utopia. I even managed to write 5,000 words of my long ignored novel, so not only a relaxing little spot, but a productive one as well!

I stopped in at a spice farm on the way back to Stone Town and really enjoyed learning about all the different plants, roots, flowers and fruits that create the little spice jars that Masterfoods sell. This one was especially cool:

They call it the lipstick plant, because if you squish the little berries you get a very flattering (!) orange paste that you can smother on your smackers.

I wasn't too fussed about Stone Town and wished I'd spent my final night at the beach. I did enjoy strolling around the old town taking photos of all the wonderful doors. This was the best blue one I found:

and the rest were quite stunning.

There's so much I could say about how fantastic Zanzibar is, but I don't quite have the energy to write an essay on it. You can see all the pictures here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Paradise found

Am emailing this post through my Kindle, Amazon Whispernet is the only
availale internet here at my little touch of paradise in
Kendwa,Zanzibar. SoI will not be checking facebook or twitter for the
next 5 days, I will simply do as Ive done since i got here an hour
ago:gaze out across the white sand to the stunning blue water, dive
in, and the sit with my book and sip a G&T! Life is bloody brilliant!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Last day

Wow. 3 months has certainly flown past! Today marks the end of this deployment. It's been an interesting experience, particularly the month I spent in Ethiopia. I do wish I could've gotten out to see some of the sites in Kenya, but not to worry (there's always a chance I'll end up back here next year...) I've really enjoyed meeting so many different people; with three country programmes and a regional centre, there has been no shortage of interesting, dedicated and friendly people to work with, and a couple of pretty great housemates as well!

As with most last days at the office, I'm just tidying up a few things, clearing out my emails, planning my holiday...the usual! I'm off on an adventure next week, then I'll head to Oxford for a couple of weeks, and finally home at the end of October, 6.5 months after I left for Liberia!

It's amazing how much work has been accomplished in the last three months, we've reached close to two million people with different services, including emergency water trucking, cash, repairing boreholes and distributing household necessities. 2 million people is a pretty impressive number, but there is still much more that is needed. If you haven't already donated any money to the crisis in the Horn and East Africa, please do so if you're able to!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Meat Fest

A couple of weeks ago I went to Carnivore, a restaurant which is a tourist institution in Nairobi (and elsewhere) where you eat as much meat as you possible can, and once upon a time used to serve up all sorts of exotic game meat. Thankfully the Kenyan government put a ban on that a few years ago, so it only gets as exotic as crocodile, ostrich and camel. I went with a couple of old friends who were in town for work, and had a lovely evening being entertained by the servers carving bits of massive hunks of meat.
Yep, it's a touristy touristy place, but it had its charms, like the open roasting pit that greets you on entry. On your table is a little flag, and when it is up it signals to the servers to bring you every type of meat; while I drew the line at chicken gizzards, I did have a bit of an ox testicle, which flavour wise wasn't so bad, but the texture was weird - to be expected really. When you put your flag down, they stop offering you meat.
Last night a bunch of us went to Fogo Gaucho, a Brazilian restaurant that operates a similar way. Noticeable difference: we each had individual little tags that we could flip over to signal if we were ready for more or not.
Final result: Fogo Gaucho wins on quality of meat. The range wasn't as extensive as Carnivore, but the cuts and cooking were much better. Atmosphere wise, Carnivore takes the cake as "The Gauch" (apologies if that means something totally offensive in Portuguese!) is a bit too stiff and formal (though the servers do wear awesome trousers).

Either way, Nairobi is the place for a Meat Fest!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fun with editing

When I first started this job I acquired a little video camera (Kodak Zi8 for those playing at home). I had a short, sharp introduction to video editing by the in house specialist, who told me to make a short film of my first deployment to Mexico and Guatemala. Yesterday I was given a hot tip on some free editing software (Camtasia), while I await an order that's been placed for another program, so I decided that it was finally time to have a crack at it. A little caveat - I did have weekends while I was there, so it's a mixture of work and play!

You'll want to make it full screen (or maybe you won't); for some reason I can't make it any bigger than this!
What do you think?

Monday, September 19, 2011


It's about 8:15am and I just sat down at my desk, well not my desk exactly, but the person who the desk belongs to is away for the week so I decided I'd like to sit next to the window for a change. So anyway, 'my' phone has gone all gotten all existential on's a bit early in the morning for such questions no?

Sex strike in Mindanao

This is awesome!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Not something you see everyday

I went for a 5 minute stroll to the ice-cream store to meet a friend. We sat outside, marveling at the sunshine which has been a bit of a rarity the past month of so. After an hour, I strolled home again, holding my breath down the little alley way near our apartment block that had such a stench to it.

I knocked on the gate and the guard opened it up smiling. "Hello!! We have a horse!" "We have a horse?" I asked, not sure if I'd heard correctly. He opened up the gate and let me in. "There are two horses! he exclaimed. And sure enough there were two horses. "What are the horses doing here?" "They're giving rides to the children." "Just around the carpark?" "Oh yes, just around the carpark."

So I patted one of the horses on the nose, and watched as a little boy was lifted onto a horse. His mother said that he would love it. But after a few steps she changed her mind and said he didn't like it. He was holding on quite tightly to the neck of the horse's owner, who was slowly leading the horse around the parking lot. And sure enough, a smile broke out and the little boy squealed with delight.

"Not something you see everyday," I commented to the guard. "No, not every day," he said with a smile.

How many continents are there?

Not as simple as you first thought...

Friday, September 16, 2011

An ode to Sandwich Man

Oh office Sandwich Man
you bring such welcome delights
when I don't think I can,
you get me through til night.

You spell my name as Cally
but you say it with a smile
and over receipt writing you dilly dally
it always takes a while.

Oh office Sandwich Man
I really shouldn't compare
but when I think of my dear Shwarma Man
his skills you do not share.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The baby elephant orphanage

I only had one thing that I really wanted to do in Nairobi this time around, and that was a visit to the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage. I'd planned to go around my birthday, but instead, extended the anticipation by waiting for a friend to arrive. Our antipodean crew of 4 traipsed out to Nairobi National Park and the surprising lack of traffic on a Sunday morning got us to the orphanage about 40 minutes early. There were already quite a lot of people there, but we hung out at the entrance and when it was time to go in we were very close to the front. Friends had advised us where to stand (in front of milk bottles or a water barrel) so we had a prime position.
We stood around a roped off area, anticipation building as to where the little ellies would come from, and then seemingly from out of nowhere, they came trotting into the 'arena', ready for a feed...

and boy did they suck down those gigantic milk bottles quickly!

It wasn't just milk they enjoyed, big slurps were taken from the water barrel in front of us.

I'll just have to say that I find elephant bums (and fronts) adorable.

One of the keepers gave a lengthy speech about the work of the David Sheldrick Trust, and introduced each of the elephants to us.

With the keepers spending 24 hours a day with their charges, the bonds between them are really evident.

The elephants were brought out in two batches of 6, the first group (above) were slightly smaller so as the second older group came out, we could see that they were quite hungry indeed!

A couple of the older ones gave themselves dirt baths, but I was a bit disappointed that none of them seemed to want a mud bath.

It was a wonderful experience, we even got to touch a couple of the little ones (their hair is quite wiry and they were very dirty!) and I can't recommend it highly enough.

I managed to take an awful lot of photos of basically the same thing over and over, so if you're interested, the photos are here.

We rounded off the afternoon with a lovely lunch at Talisman restaurant in Karen, which not only had a lovely atmosphere but the food was delicious as well. Perhaps next week I'll head back out there to the Giraffe Sanctuary and get pashed by a giraffe!

To set the scene

I suggest you listen to this while I'm organising my latest post..

Monday, September 5, 2011

Back in Kenya

My month long sojourn to Ethiopia has come to an end, and I am now happily back in Nairobi. Unfortunately I seem to have brought the grim Ethiopian weather with me, with grey clouds and thunderstorms marring the weekend. With only about 4 weeks left of this deployment I'm trying to figure out what needs to be done, what can be done and how best to do it, which is at the same time frustrating and exciting. There is no lack of work when one thinks for more than a minute.

Someone on twitter linked to an article by Thomas Keneally, the Australian author, on the famine and food crisis. It's a great read, and I think it's summed up perfectly by the following:

Perhaps we must try a new theorem: to try to get the Somalis and the Ethiopians fed precisely because their governments have not yet created societies in which supply and support are taken for granted.

Aid agencies could be given breaks from endless pie charts about administration costs and aid delivery per donor dollar and stop pretending that they will be permitted to go everywhere they like and to do all the good they can. They should simply invite us into the general struggle to deliver aid as energetically, cleverly and well as the malign circumstances on the desolate ground permit them.

Hear hear! And here's the link to the article "War and corruption are responsible for famines, not droughts".

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I'm a huge fan of lolcats/loldogs/lolwhatevercuteanimal, so I'm super excited about the latest LOL* range, aidlolz. Hilarious stuff!!

One of my submissions has already been put's handy knowing who the lolrus is. And more importantly, getting (in the words of the lolrus itself) the "seal of approval. SEAL GEDDIT SEAL." Puntastic stuff!

*note for those not in the know: LOL stands for Laugh out Loud, not Lots of Love!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tweet up IRL

Last night I had the absolute pleasure of dining with two twitter/blogging pals. I'd met Cynan, who blogs over at LaVidaidLoca for the first time earlier in the year and our mystery guest was none other than Michael Keizer (A Humourless Lot) who had disappeared off the map for quite a number of months, which caused the creation of his own twitter hashtag: #FindMichaelKeizer. Cynan had also dubbed him Michael Keizer Soze (if you haven't seen The Usual Suspects go and find it now and watch it so you understand the reference!) so we were very happy to hear from him and head out for dinner.

The three of us met at a nice little Italian place; as Michael in town for a bit of a holiday from the wilds of Somaliland a pizza and a couple of beers were a welcome treat. It was super to finally meet Michael, having followed his blog and twitter for ages, and we had quite a nice evening discussing annoying donors, annoying requests for information, and aid work more generally.

It's nice to find out that the people you admire and respect online are just as interesting, funny and entertaining in real life. We have a great little online aid community and I really hope I can meet more people around the traps (perhaps discover the secret identities of some of them!) in the near future!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Waiting for water

We drove for about 2 hours on dirt roads this morning - we'd left at 6:30am and the sun was rising over the red dirt. Little dik diks darted across the road. I spotted a couple of gazelles; it was kind of like being on safari, just with more donkeys and cows and less lions and elephants. So on we drove, the red dirt turned to black dirt, then to grey dirt, then to sand. We were heading to Dillo, a place where we've been trucking water.

Most of the journey was relatively green, but the last half hour or so I really noticed how dry the land was. We cruised through Dillo town and arrived at the local government water authority. This was the view.
Somehow, these bright pink flowers bloom in the middle of nowhere, when nothing else is green.

We picked up a local government official and drove off into the bush. We stopped at a small village to pick up one of the senior community members so he could take us to the well. It was in pretty bad shape.

You can see bits of wood in the background there - the whole well is supposed to be covered over with concrete, and is fed from a smaller opening off to the side. It's been in disrepair for some time, and this means that only one household can use the well at a time. There are 96 households in the village that use this well...sometimes the women have to wait for 8 hours.

With the water level so low, each household is allowed to fill one jerrycan (20 litres) every second day. With household sizes ranging from 6-10 people this really isn't much water. And it's not a quick process. The young girl above would drop the USAID tin into the well, clanging against the sides as it dropped, then pull it back up. She would then tip half into the smaller yellow container as her elderly grandmother couldn't hold it properly if it was full. The grandmother would then tip the half full yellow container through the funnel into a jerrycan. The men stood around and watched. I asked my colleague if they carried the water back to the village, and thankfully she said yes (which is so often not the case.) I asked whether the men ever filled up the jerrycans from the well as that seemed to make a lot of sense to me, but no, culturally the women fill the water containers and the men carry them.

The next well we visited was worse - well better in that it was properly covered, but worse because it was completely dry. The government worker seemed to be a bit shocked by this.
We went and spoke to some of the community who use that well. One woman told me that if it weren't for the water trucks that we operate they would be in "serious trouble." I thought that was a bit of an understatement really.
The thing with water trucking is that it's a last resort measure. It's expensive, it's not sustainable, but there really is no other option for these communities. It hasn't rained in 2 years.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pancake Palava

I love pancakes. I loved in the guesthouse in Nairobi that Florence would make pancakes for breakfast at least twice a week. In my hotel in Addis there are usually pancakes; they're more like crepes and you get two thin ones on a plate with syrup. For some reason, they're always cold, but that's ok. The problem is, because there are only two and they're very thin, it really only takes a minute to devour them and I don't feel particularly full afterwards.

Today is Saturday. There's no lunch in the office on Saturday, so we thought we'd be strategic and order some extra pancakes to get us through the day. By the time I got to the hotel restaurant, my colleague S had already had her 2 pancakes, so she was going to order another 2. I thought 4 thin pancakes was the best way to go. So we asked the waiter for an extra 2 for S, and 4 for me. He came back a few minutes to clarify, and we said the same thing.

45 minutes later, a massive stack of pancakes was presented to me. There were about 13 pancakes on the plate. It made no sense. Well, it kind of made sense - we soon realised that he'd thought I'd meant that I wanted 4 orders of 2 pancakes...but I definitely had more than 8 on my plate. While we thought this was quite hilarious, it was nothing compared to the staff who thought we were absolutely crazy. I palmed off half of my stack to J and made my way through the rest as best I could. There was no way I was sending any back to the kitchen, so we sheepishly had to ask for a take away container.

There is a take away container now sitting in the middle of the conference room table; none of us can bring ourselves to look at it. Pancake coma....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Visiting Lucy

This is Lucy (sort of). She's 3.2 million years old and lived once upon a time in Ethiopia.

Why it's not really Lucy is because it's a cast of Lucy's bones, and the real bones are locked away in a vault somewhere in Addis to keep them safe. But they're very good casts and reading about Lucy was the most fascinating part of the National Museum of Ethiopia.

The rest of the museum is pretty grim. It smells manky. There's a weird assortment of bits and pieces, with explanations that are as detailed as "ceremonial dress" or "pottery jar ?" (far too many questions marks for my liking in a museum!) The second floor was an art gallery of sorts - a strange collection of religious paintings (including what must have been 5m x 2m painting from the 17th century that was just leaning up against the wall, though there was a rope in front of it to stop people getting too close) and then graphic depictions of the struggle against the Soviets. On the plus side, the small entry fee for locals (about 10 cents) meant that there were lots of fathers with their kids roaming through the museum.

As I was taking the photo of Lucy, two little boys ran past and stopped to remind me "no flash" which I thought was utterly adorable (and of course, I followed their instructions!) Further into the lower level where Lucy lives are all sorts of fossils and vague explanations of how fossils are made, and paintings of animals that may or may not have lived around Lucy's time, which included a mammoth that had tusks that pointed down (it was disturbing) and this:

which looked to me like the My Little Pony of pre-historic antelopes...

For a rainy morning, it was a wonderful choice of entertainment, which was followed by a leisurely lunch in the restaurant next door, aptly named Lucy, during which the sun came out and became very pleasant. And of course, what better way to top off a Sunday than with a massage at the Boston Day Spa. Super!!