Thursday, December 31, 2015

The three years of 2015

Right, so I'm pretty much the worst blogger huh. It's been a big year for Carly. I was talking to a friend the other day about the paradox of how while it's crazy that this year is over already, I do feel like I've lived 3 lives in this year. So let me reflect on the three years of 2015 in my world - this is a super long post, and I haven't re-read it, so please excuse any grammatical errors...

Year One

Three months in Sierra Leone. You can just scroll down to the next couple of posts to read about that, because that was the last time I wrote. Whoops. It took quite a while to process all that had happened in Sierra Leone, but I'm so glad I went. After I finished up there, I headed to Oxford for a night to catch up with some old friends, and then jumped on a train to Shrewsbury, in Shropshire (you have to click on that link, trust me) to visit my dear friend Jane.

As luck would have it, Jane was heading to Ebolaland herself so we only had a few days together and it was lovely getting to know her part of the world, right on the river Severn.
After Jane was confident that I'd found my bearings (and because she had flights booked) she left me to house and cat sit and take over her life for a week which was brilliant! I had a lot of fun hanging out with Bob, who's a very clever cat:
I also took the neighbour's dog for a walk which was a super fun way of seeing the great outdoors
And Jane had organised her lovely friends to take me to a ukulele group (I'd never really played before, but it's very easy to pick up), and out to the pub which was incredibly nice. I really had a fantastic time and Shrewsbury is such a charming place to visit. I highly recommend it. 

I stopped off in Oxford again for a couple of nights and then made the long journey home to start Year Two...

Early in the year my uncle Peter passed away. Peter had lived in Williamstown in Melbourne, for the last 40 years, and it was decided that I was in the best position to execute his Will and finalise his estate. It was a big job, to say the least. After spending 40 years in the same house there was understandably a lot to sort through, and it was a sad, and interesting way to get to know my uncle a lot better. 

Williamstown is a wonderful place to live, it's like a little village, just across the bay from Melbourne City. I really enjoyed being so close to the water, and going for walks along the waterfront. What I didn't enjoy was the coldest winter in 20+ years...that was incredibly difficult coming from West Africa!
After spending a month getting rid of a lot of stuff I was able to put the house on the market, and in just a few days...
this lovely 150 year old house, which was once the Flagmaster's Cottage, was sold to a nice family who will turn it into something wonderful. It was a huge weight off my shoulders to get it sold, though it took another few months living there, to find new homes for Peter's belongings. Executing a Will is not an easy task, and those months that make up Year Two of 2015 were quite stressful, but I'm proud of myself for getting everything sorted in the end. 

I did take a little break from the Victorian winter, and escaped home to Queensland for a couple of weeks, and then, more excitingly, went to Papua New Guinea with Em to visit Jez! Yea!! 
We spent a couple of days in Port Moresby, the capital, hanging out with Jez. There are a few touristy things to do there, like the Bomana War Cementary, which is beautifully maintained
and the Port Moresby Nature Park, where we looked at cool wildlife like tree kangaroos (no CusCus though unfortunately) and cassowaries and took stupid photos like this
We temporarily said goodbye to Jez and headed for paradise, aka Tawali Resort. I'm understating it when I say paradise, it was truly some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever encountered. This was the view from our balcony

This is a pic of the house in, the reef that surrounds the hotel, that is right there in front of you all the time! 
And now here are a number of photos I took with my awesome new camera while I was scuba diving and snorkelling...
It was an incredible few days, and I highly recommend Tawali to anyone who likes being in paradise. 

We had a couple of days back in Moresby with Jez and did more touristy things like visiting Parliament House, and the National Museum
 and on our last day, we convoyed up a mountain to the Koitaki Country Club, which was an hour or so out of Moresby, and completely different scenery. The roads were a little precarious, but the views were spectacular. 
It was a wonderful holiday to distract me from the challenges of Year Two. I wouldn't say you should all rush out and book tickets to PNG right now, but it was definitely an experience. 

Year Three began in September when I finally started the job I've been trying to get in Melbourne for about two years now. I'm working in an international NGO's head office in Melbourne in a humanitarian role. I will be doing some travelling, but so far the only trip I've done was up to Sydney for a day, and I've been really enjoying just establishing a routine and beginning to live a 'normal' life. I'm renting a room in one of the coolest suburbs in Melbourne, while I look for my own place to buy. What I've loved about Year Three of 2015 is that it's been relatively calm, both professionally and personally, which sets it apart from the rest of the year! 

Having spent the last hour or more typing this up, I think I'm now ready to say goodbye to 2015. I'm really looking forward to more adventures in 2016, and hope you all have a safe and happy new year! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Finishing up

I've been bad again. Sorry. I still have to put up some reflections on the three weeks I spent in Bombali district, which while it was easier for living, was just as challenging work wise as Kumala was. I'll get around to that at some point.

I'm leaving Sierra Leone tomorrow morning. I was supposed to be hanging out on a little island off Freetown this week, but a decision was made that I shouldn't go as I had malaria last week (it was really awful, but I'm fine now) and there were concerns I'd get sick again. I remain fit as a fiddle and annoyed that I'm not on an island, but ah well. I'm going to the UK to take my leave there (since I've not taken a day of leave in 3 months!) before heading home, so that will be nice too.

So I'm trying to reflect back on this response, which has been so unlike anything I've done before for any number of reasons. The work was challenging. As a first time programme manager, particularly as the roving programme manager, I was expected to quickly take over an office, understand what the teams were doing, sort out any problems, represent the programme externally, and all sorts of other things, without knowing all of the ins and outs the normal PM would know. So that was challenging to say the least - the learning curve was incredibly steep, but very interesting as well.

Living in Kumala was difficult. I look back on it fondly now, but at the time the heat, the food, the noise, the mice, the long hours 7 days a week, the stress, all added up to a very tough time for me. And perhaps the hardest part of this response is that you can't just get hug when you've had a tough day - the no touch policy remains in place.

On the up side, I've really learnt a lot: about management, about myself, about ebola. And also on the upside, I was reunited with so many old friends here, which was absolutely wonderful.

We're still not at 0 cases in Sierra Leone - I had really thought when I got here that I'd be here to see that milestone reached, but unfortunately there are still some sporadic cases popping up. Ebola has ravaged this country, and it will take a long time to recover from it. I've enjoyed so much working with my Sierra Leonean colleagues, all so determined to play their part in ending ebola, as well as speaking with people in communities affected by ebola, whose strength and resilience have been really inspiring.

I can't wait to come back to Salone a few years from now, and experience it for the vibrant, musical, wonderful country I'm sure it was, and will be again.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Three weeks in Kumala: part 2

I've just spent three days in lock down. That was the best thing that could have happened for me, as I got to do nothing but sleep, read, and rest. Delightful. 

But back to Kumala. For many years I've heard about hand dug wells, I've written reports about hand dug wells, but what I realised is that I'd never seen a well being dug by hand (which is what a hand dug well is, in case you hadn't caught on). It is truly amazing. The two man team would dig over night (it was too hot during the day), and get down a couple of metres each night. This was taken after a few days, and they were already past 6 metres. Super cool.
Another bit of local engineering genius are tippy taps. In order to properly wash your hands you need both of them to rub against each other, so when you step on the stick lying on the ground (which is connected to the lid of the jug) it tips the jug over and water comes out of a hole. Genius!
These were some of the hygienists who work at the holding centre, where patients suspected of having ebola are tested and await their results. Most of the 18 hygienists are students or teachers, and volunteered to take on the job many months ago. Since schools are supposed to re-open in a couple of weeks, we advertised for new hygienists. 78 people applied for jobs, and there will only be 7 spaces. They have a hugely important job, responsible for cleaning all of the areas of the centre with chlorine. This photo was taken after they'd just carried a body to the morgue (the tarpaulin covered structure on the right of the photo). A very ill woman had come to centre and died over night. She didn't have ebola, but every case has to be treated as such. Wearing the full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is incredibly hot (I've not tried it myself), and with the temperature outside being over 35 degrees celcius most days, it was very hard work for them to do.
This is the 'bridge' into Kumala village. I'd wander down every couple of days to check on the progress of the new centre construction, and also to check on the quarantined people. Walking anywhere around the village you'd hear the cries of "Tubabu!!", which means white man. The little kids were always so excited to see any white foreigners, and would follow me around. So so cute.
And on my last day, while I was sad to leave the team I was also very ready to get back to Freetown. I was tired, I was dirty, I was absolutely exhausted. It was really interesting to see Sierra Leone from above, far greener and hillier than the impression Kumala had given me.
We had two stops in the helicopter before reaching Freetown, and as we flew in over Kono, my colleague pointed out the diamond mining going on. Kono is the diamond capital of Sierra Leone and was the setting for the film Blood Diamond.
It seems strange, coming from a big mining country where the infrastructure is so huge, to see how diamonds are mined here. Just a few men here and there in these dirty pools of water. Much like the gold rush days I suppose.

So now I have a couple more days in Freetown, before I head to Bombali district to spend a few weeks there. I'm looking forward to the challenges that await me there.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Three weeks in Kumala: part 1

Four weeks ago now, I travelled for a good six hours to get to Kabala, the capital of Koinadugu district in the north of Sierra Leone. I can't really remember much about the day and a half I spent there, but it was a lot of coordination meetings, and introductions to district officials who I may need to contact from my next location. 

That next spot was a village called Kumala. Or rather, a camp 10 minutes walk from Kumala. The back half of this dome tent was my home for three weeks. 
For my first outing as the roving manager, I thought I was strolling in to Kumala for a couple of weeks, and wouldn't have too hard a time of it. The team there is great, and have been working really hard for the last few months, so I was confident it was going to be smooth sailing.

Oh but I was wrong. Every single day something went pretty badly wrong. The worst thing of course, was after having no positive ebola cases for 20 days (21 days being the incubation period), there were suddenly three positive cases over the course of a week. When positive cases are found, the people who have had contact with the person are quarantined for 21 days. So we suddenly had 55 people in quarantine in two villages, who needed water, sanitation, and food. While WFP is responsible for providing the staple food for the quarantine period, it's basically just rice and oil. So my organisation has been supplementing that with condiments (that the households can choose) so that their diet is a bit more varied. We delivered jerry cans and coordinated with the army and the local communities to actually get those jerry cans filled with water every day, we instructed people how to dig a latrine pit and when completed, would deliver a latrine slab so that they had somewhere safe to use the toilet. I'm incredibly proud of the quick response the team would make whenever a new household was quarantined.

We had many many other challenges, but somehow we managed to figure out appropriate solutions and mostly carry on with the work that needed to be done. And how was that work done? By sitting under a thatched 'palaver' hut (you may know it as a tukul). Yes, my office was nice and cool, well, it was probably only 34 degrees in there rather than the 37 out of the shade, and early on, was frequently visited by chickens. (I named this one Dinner).
The base camp was an interesting place to live. It houses three NGOs, doctors and nurses from the African Union, as well as District Health teams who work on contact tracing and active case finding. On average there were about 50 people there each night, all of whom required feeding. A local women's group had been formed, and they provided the catering. While they still have a ways to go in organising themselves in things like timing the meals to be ready when they're supposed to be etc, the food was surprsingly good. Though I am completely sick of rice and fried chicken and cassava leaves. One of the great things about working with engineers and logisticians is their ability to create things out of other things. Like a BBQ out of a metal box one of the tents had come in. This roasted goat was the best meal I had in Kumala!
There are many other photos I could share, but the internet is pretty slow in my guesthouse in Freetown. I got back here on Wednesday (via the UN helicopter) and was absolutely exhausted. Three and a half weeks without a day off (without even half a day off), in the heat, the dirt, and with a resident mouse in my tent, was incredibly tough. Luckily for me, on Friday a 'stay at home' 3 day period was instigated by the government. Basically a lock down, across the country everyone stays at home (of course there are some exceptions) for three days, so that active case finders can do exactly that, find sick people who should be in ebola treatment centres. This happened a few months ago and they found 150 cases. But for me, an excuse to sit at home for three days and just sleep, watch movies, and hang out with my housemates (who are old friends of mine) was a very happy turn of events. 

I'll write more about Kumala soon enough, I have to mention the hand dug well that blew my mind!!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

An update is coming...

I'm back from the bush. Three weeks spent in a tent. I'm incredibly exhausted. I will write about it soon. Using full sentences. I promise.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

One week in Freetown

I had a wonderful few days in Oxford catching up with old friends and meeting new colleagues. It was relatively freezing compared to the summer I'd just left, but most of the days were blue skies which always makes the cold more manageable. Oxford is such a beautiful city, even though this time around the only times I got to see the centre were on my way in and out, it was still nice to see!
The journey from Heathrow to Freetown was pretty uneventful. I was travelling with two colleagues which was nice, as we were delayed by almost 2 hours in London. That meant when we got to Casablanca to transfer it was a mad dash through the airport and straight onto the next plane. (Casablanca airport didn't look too interesting, but flying over there were lots of interesting lighting arrangements in the city below.)

We landed at Lungi airport at 4ish in the morning. After getting through immigration, and having our temperatures checked for the first time, we collected our bags and were greeted by an agent my organisation uses to meet people and arrange their ownward journey. The thing about Lungi airport is that it's across an estuary from Freetown, so you have to get a speedboat which took half an hour. I was fine the whole way, except the last few minutes so I was quite glad it finished when it did. By this stage it was 6am and the sun still wasn't up. We were taken to a hotel and eventually the sun started to come up. This has been my view out over some mangrove trees.

There's also a weird duck enclosure in the hotel. Well, it's attached to a Chinese restaurant, perhaps not too weird, but I've been counting the ducks each day and none have ended up on the menu. What made this particularly weird was that there was a tiny deer type thing in there as well, but it disappeared a few days ago (hope it didn't end up on the menu!)
My days at the office (where we get out temperature taken and recorded, then wash our hands with soap and water before we can enter) have been filled with briefing meetings and reading through a lot of documents and budgets, and on the one occassion I managed to leave early enough for a little stroll on the beach, I came across this:
 Yep. It's a large dinosaur statue (missing an arm), on the beach front. Bizzare. The beach itself is pretty enough to look at
 And then there's this statue on the other side of the road. Weird weird weird.
Today I'm heading up to one of the northern districts for a few weeks to cover for the manager while he takes some much needed R&R. I'm really looking forward to getting out and seeing the water, sanitation and hygiene promotion work the teams have been doing. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Bad Blogger

Wow, I've been incredibly slack. So slack, that my Dad removed this blog as one of his start-up tabs because there was never anything new on it! I was so lazy that I didn't even do my end of year  reflection. Oh well, it's a new year now and there's been some excitement.

I'd flown through Changi airport in Singapore so many times, but never left it, so having two friends now living there provided me with the perfect excuse for a sojourn. Singapore is really cool. I did loads of touristy things (and it's been a long time since I did that while holidaying alone!), like the Night Safari (where otters know how to recycle)
the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, which had spectacular Chinese New Year arrangements
and a wander up on the Sky Bridge
and how cool is this view - it really looks like something from the future!
The Botanic Garden's Orchid garden was lovely
and I had a fab day at the Singapore Zoo (even if it was a bit rainy).
One of the weirdest places I've ever been in my whole life is Haw Par Villa. I encourage you to read the wikipedia article, but basically it was set up as a 'morality theme park' to remind families of the dangers of living without virtue. Soooooooo weird. There are many parables told in plaster, and some of them are quite graphic - this one was about a few boys who were out when a wolf came upon them. One of them ran away, leaving his friends to die. But one of them played dead so the wolf chased after the one who'd run away and ate him instead - a very complicated tale of being a good friend.
The piece de resistance of Haw Par Villa is the 10 Courts of Hell cave. These are incredibly graphic depictions of what happens to particular types of people when they die and go to hell, with punishments like "thrown into a tree of knives" for crimes like "cheating, abducting others, misuse of books, wasting food", and "tied to red hot copper pillar and grilled" for "escape from prison, urging people into crime and social unrest, disrespect to elders." It did seem like some of the crimes were a little less severe than others in their groups....
I also hiked up "Mount" Faber, which has a pretty impressive loo with a view at the cable car station
and then onto the Henderson Wave bridge at the Southern Ridges (I think that was the day I did over 21,000 steps!)
I of course stopped in at Raffles and enjoyed a Singapore Sling
And on my last day, I enjoyed wandering down Haji Lane and peeking in all the little boutique shops, and meeting this guy
Throughout the whole trip I was entertained (and housed, and fed, and watered - and by watered, I mean kept in gin) by two lovely friends I know from different places, who happen to coincidentally not only now work together, but sit next to each other. So, sharing dual custody of me for half the time I was there, they each took me on some different the batting cages (90 km/hr is my peak hitting speed)
 Lots of good food, not that I actually tried the below in Chinatown...
When you stay with gin enthusiasts, you can count on being taken to some very cool bars that make the best drinks you've ever tasted:
Operation Dagger is a very cool underground bar, owned by a guy from Melbourne...which I think has a lot to do with why the decor reminded me of an Aesop shop. But the drinks (along with the light fixture) were really out of this world. I highly recommend you stop by if you're ever in Club Street!
 More good eating was to be had of the seafood variety, with loads of excellent sushi
and the cutest macaron you've ever seen!
And of course, there was a lot of time spent shopping on Orchard Road - I definitely came back with a few extra kilos!

All in all, I had a wonderful time there - it was fantastic to be able to catch up with my friends (thanks again for having me friends!!), to do touristy things, to have some down time, and to tick off another country.

I'll be ticking off another new country soon enough, it's back to work for Carly, on Monday I head to the UK for a few days of briefing, and then on to Sierra Leone to do my part in the Ebola response. I'm really excited about the challenges ahead!