Thursday, March 31, 2011

Career advice

I spent a couple of hours this afternoon at the Bond University career fair, manning a stall for the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development program. Many of you will remember that I went to Bangladesh as an AYAD and think the program is a great way for young professionals to get the field experience they so sorely need to get a job in the aid world.

For two hours, I repeated my little spiel about the program and tried to emphasise the need for students to gain work experience while they were still studying. This wasn't something that was ever discussed during my time at Bond, and I could see that many of the students had the impression that they could walk into any job (or volunteer program) they wanted to as soon as they graduated. Is it wrong that I took some pleasure in telling them the average age of the people in my intake was 28 and therefore unlikely that they'd be selected straight out of uni?

It was nice to share my own experiences about Bangladesh and reminisce about some of the challenges as well. My old housemate Lily was looking down at me from a poster on the wall, and Pierre was in the magazine on the desk in front of me, so it was a lovely trip down memory lane.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another day in paradise

I may complain about Australia being so far away from everywhere else in the world, but there really is no better place to come home to!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

To have a hobby

I realised the other day that I don't really have any hobbies. At least no hobbies that are out of the ordinary. I read. I blog. I take photos, but nothing that's really interesting. I have friends who scuba dive, and paint, and sew so I decided it was time to come up with a new hobby. The first thing I did was discuss this with my friend Vardy on the drive down from Brisbane. We determined that hobbies fall into three categories: sports, arts and crafts, and plain weird. So we didn't get too far in actually determing a hobby I could take up. The second I did was google hobbies. The lists that came up didn't really interest me: candle making, cross-stitch, sketching, rubber stamping, collecting coins or stamps, casino gambling (this really was listed as a hobby), gardening. All a little arty and crafty (or weird - gambling? really?) for my taste.

My next step was to pose the question on facebook. I considered the merits of each:
  • Kirsty in Iraq suggested whittling - I'm more likely to take off the top of a finger than actually make anything that can be identified, plus Australian quarantine would probably confiscate all of my pieces of 'art' on return to Oz.
  • Chaz in England suggested horseriding - could be an occassional hobby, but the term 'saddle sore' exists for a reason that I'm not keen to experience again. She later suggested chocolate tester, which I consider to be a lifestyle choice, not a hobby.
  • Adrian in Germany asked about TV, namely bad yet addictive reality TV - I love bad yet addictive tv, but it's usually not reality tv. And, not really something I want to admit to people at dinner parties...
  • Kristen in Pakistan suggested photography or film making, which are probably the only things I could properly claim as a hobby now. I was so inspired by her comment that I thought I'd try to get into some filmmaking and put together the clips I took in central America. But windows moviemaker didn't like the file extension and wouldn't let me import the clips so I gave up on that.
  • Moutushi in Bangladesh said that I could try to write about different experiences from different countries - which is what I do here, so I guess that's another hobby I have.
  • Wendy, lately of Darwin, thinks that online stalking to impress my friends with random details of their pasts is a neat idea. Why she's telling me to do something that I've been doing for years....j/k :-)
  • Rowan in Canberra gave me one word. Jazzercise. Yes, jazzercise is an excellent hobby and one that I miss terribly. But not enough to put on the Jazzercises DVD that I took with me on my recent travels - it's just not the same by yourself.
  • Finally, Greg in Japan said, and I quote directly "Throwing stale croissants at preschoolers is the first thing that comes to mind." With a pre-school just around the corner, I figure I can try this one out tomorrow and report back.
So, to sum all this up, it would appear that I do have a couple of hobbies, but I'm still on the lookout for something a little bit different, a little bit unusual, that I can do no matter where I am in the world. Thoughts??

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Song ja vu

Everybody knows about deja vu, and I've talked about smell ja vu before, but I thought it was time to discuss song ja vu. It's pretty obvious really, when hearing a certain song takes you back to a certain time and place. I love song ja vu, so much that I always try to create a playlist of the music that will forever remind me of a certain place.

For example, I will never hear Justin Timberlake's My Love,

without imaging Jez and Pierre choreagraphing a dance routine to take place in Old Dhaka, which included weaving in and out of rickshaws and CNGs. (Unfortunately the home made music video never made it into production)

The importance of song ja vu was something that was recognised by many of my colleagues in Pakistan, so much so that we all contributed songs to a mix cd. Someone put Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" as it had some sort of significance to their time in Islamabad.

But for me, I'll always be reminded of a party at Ingebjorg's house in Tripoli, sitting beside my dozing boss on the couch, who when this song came on, opened his eyes, raised his glass of whisky and sung along with gusto.

I've always managed to find great albums to accompany long bus rides and the one that got me through what amounted to weeks on the road between Chittagong and Dhaka was the Barenaked Ladies' "Rock Spectacle" album. I always made sure I timed it for this track to play as the bus hit the city limits.

Listening to a bit of Take That also reminded me of an important virtue to have on a 6 hour bus ride:

The bus to Beirut from Tripoli didn't take anywhere near as long as in Bangladesh, and I'll always associate Natasha Beddingfield with staring out into the Mediterranean.

When I was travelling around South America there were quite a number of lengthy bus rides, and thankfully many of the buses playing music videos played Julieta Venegas. Youtube won't let me embed this song, but I seriously recommend you go and listen to "Lento".

But what happens when you mix different worlds together? I was walking to the office in Oxford a few weeks ago and decided to put on "Good Songs from the 'bad", our Islamabad mix. Yes, I was taken back to the balcony of the Horizon Guesthouse, singing along to Gavin playing the guitar, but it all felt like a dream. It was hard to reconcile the memories I have to actually being real experiences.

I then tried it again in Guatemala, by playing Mashy Hadi my favourite song by Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram,

and instead of being weirded out, I was taken back to my Arabic dance class, where I thought the steps we were taught would be a perfect fit for the song

There is a danger to song ja vu, sometimes it's songs you just don't really like. I know I complained once or twice about the boys in Lebanon who'd drive up and down the street blaring out awful music. As such, Yassmin and I would get certain songs stuck in our this one is for her!

Along the same lines, my time in the Philippines was marred by one thing - Miley Cyrus on the radio. And when you spend at least four hours a day in the car, you can bet that you'll hear the same top 40 songs more than once. More than twice. More than enough times to drive a person mad! I won't subject you to that video (you're welcome), instead I'll leave you with one last song, that will never fail to bring a smile to my face - special shoutout to the crew still sticking it out in Pakistan!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A request to all airlines

More penguins in the aisles please...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A week in Guatemala

What a week! When we landed in Guatemala on Sunday morning, all we knew is that we were accompanying a colleague to attend a workshop in Sololá. We had a bit of a wait in the airport and found some brochures, in which we discovered there was a massive lake with volanoes just outside the city. We started scheming as to how and when we'd be able to make it there, and were delightfully impressed when we found out that the workshop was actually going to be held there. Not a bad view huh!

On Tuesday we drove for about 2 hours to Comon Og, a remote area in Santa Catarina where the emergency program has been operating. For a few months of the year, the village is completely cut off, with the only access being by foot. I didn't realise until afterwards that the driver had put chains on the wheels, just in case!

One of the programs was a Food for Work, in which the community reinforced the pretty hairy road with sandbags (a lot of sandbags!).

It was an interesting conversation with the few people who were around, as my questions were translated into Spanish, and then from Spanish into the local dialect Kitcheh, which was extremely gutteral and clicky, and then of course, all the way back through the language chain again. It was a long and slow process, but definitely good to hear the thoughts of the community. We then headed back up the hill to meet with representatives from Pakawex. We met them at the local school, as their homes are dotted all over the hillside. And since we were at the school, we were joined by some very inquisitive kids, who were able to understand my extremely poor Spanish.

On Wednesday afternoon we had a long and arduous drive back to Guatemala City, and frantically spent the evening preparing for our workshop. I was a bit nervous about the whole thing, as we didn't really know who the participants were going to be, but then again, I didn't have to do much of the presenting as it needed to be done in Spanish.

We were both a little wary about today's session, as we were delving into the complicated world of counting beneficiaries (which is a lot harder than it sounds!). After some initial confusion, the participants got right into it. So much so that when we called time on an exercise, and I put the results up on the screen, they simply refused to look at it until they'd worked it out for themselves. A proud moment for me! In the end, our little evaluation sheets told us that we did a pretty good job. I've got a fair bit of confidence now that there are a few people here who'll be able to improve the information management practices in an emergency. In fact, they're so enthusiastic that they're adding a session on information management to a workshop they're holding with partners in two weeks time!

So now it's time to shove everything into my bag, enjoy one last night in Guatemala and head to the airport tomorrow morning. I'm not looking forward to transitting through the US, but definitely looking forward to getting home and getting to my Chinese massage man!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Morning office/Afternoon office

Lake Atitlan and its three volcanoes were the view from the workshop I spent the morning in

The only wifi available in the place we're staying happens to be beside the pool, so this is where I'm working this afternoon.

Guatemala is pretty sweet!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pimp My Aid Worker

Twitter was abuzz this morning, thanks to a link put up by @shotgunshack. This video made my morning!

Go on and have a look at the full Pimp My Aid Worker site.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What is Grameen if there's no Yunus?

A former colleague in Bangladesh posted a link on facebook to a BBC article on the attempted sacking of Muhammad Yunus from the Grameen Bank. Numerous reasons for this were given, one of which being that he is over the compulsory retirement age of 60. You might have noticed in my twitter feed that I pointed out the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, is herself 63. Now it's not the PM who is calling for Yunus to be sacked, it's the central bank. However Hasina is no fan of Yunus, after he publicly considered establishing a rival political party in 2007.

On pondering the potential dismisal of Yunus, I began to wonder what Grameen will be without him as a figurehead, and with the knowledge I have (which is based solely on my own experiences in Bangladesh), I believe that nothing will change. There is no denying that Yunus changed the world with a simple idea and I've discussed in the past the goliath that Grameen has become,in a side bar of the BBC article that, "supporters of Prof Yunus warn that savers and borrowers might get the wrong idea - and that some people might withdraw their savings from the bank." Rumours travel much faster than accurate news (and I'm sure many people would say "accurate news" in Bangladesh is an oxymoron) particularly in rural Bangladesh, and with many of the beneficaries of Grameen loans classed as 'rural poor' and therefore somewhat distanced from the media, the possibility of the scenario above definitely exists.

To illustrate: I was in Bangladesh at the time when avian flu was making the news. Colleagues of mine came across a number of villages that had destroyed all of their livestock because they had heard that avian flu would kill the birds and the people. What they hadn't heard was that it was not a risk in their particular region and that there was no need to cull their poultry. Misinformation and rumours caused them to lose their livelihoods. So to bring this back to Yunus being sacked, there could easily be a flow of incorrect information about the impacts of this, causing people to remove their money, or stop repayments if they believe that Yunus is synomous with the Bank - i.e. If Yunus is finished, Grameen is finished.

But in reality, in 10, 20 or 50 years time, long after Yunus is gone, the Grameen Bank will remain. Even with 25% of the Bank owned by the Government, with Bangladesh's history of political turnover I'd happily wager that Grameen will outlast any political party. When you think about it, Grameen became an independent bank in 1983, which is only 12 years after Bangladesh became independent, and it has been a much more stable institution than the political system. If at 70 years of age Yunus is still capable of running Grameen, then he should continue to do so, and consider how to ensure that when the time does come for him to leave that this is communicated properly.