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Australia: I Can Order Coffee Easily and Nobody Has Challenged me to “Knifey Spooney”

It’s been a little over two weeks since I left Canada and I’m sure all of you are dying to know how things have been so far! So here is an account of what’s been going on 🙂

shanghai

I spent an inglorious two days in Shanghai (inglorious for China’s reputation, not me lol). Before going there I was super excited to revisit the city after nine years. However, after spending two days there experiencing and observing the behaviour or the locals, I became completely turned off and will never visit China again. The city itself is quite attractive and modern, great shopping and an abundance of food.

What turned me off was the attitudes of the people themselves, the worst situation I experienced was on my second day there it was pouring rain and the hotel I stayed at had umbrellas on loan. I had to wait until other guests returned their umbrella. I saw two umbrellas returned and the hotel staff went to get one for me, before he got to them, two other guests (a Chinese couple) went and grabbed both of them and didn’t even go outside, they took them into the elevators to ensure they wouldn’t have to wait later. The hotel staff didn’t give a rats ass, but I was completely shocked at how people could be so rude and inconsiderate! It was inconsiderate on multiple levels, they only needed one umbrella, they were a couple and could have shared! Also, taking them upstairs so they wouldn’t have to wait later, that just crossed the rudeness threshold with me and that was when I decided I would never go back to China.

What’s the big deal? There’s rude people everywhere right? That’s true but to them what happened wasn’t even considered rude, as one of my friends who was born in China said “sounds like a typical day in China” when I told her what happened. With this every man for them self attitude they’re not going to make it very far in terms of tourism and hospitality. I noticed that 90% of the tourists were Chinese from other parts of the country, western tourists were few and far between, and for good reason. I never really paid attention to the stereotype that Chinese people are rude before because I have had many friends from China and even traveled to China before. There is a huge difference between going there on your own and going with locals. If you still want to visit after my complaints, I recommend you go with someone local. In terms of technology, consumerism and food China is up there, they still have a long way to go in terms of social etiquette though. I mean…I took a shuttle bus to the gate for my plane departing to Australia and it smelled like urine, something is terribly wrong if it’s acceptable to pee on buses if you can afford to fly internationally. If you want to experience great shopping, go to the M&M’s store, maybe go to Starbucks, eat delicious food and encounter some rude people just save your money and flight time and go to New York instead.

Australia

Now for the good stuff, I’m in Australia and I love it here! I do miss home a lot and barely know anybody here yet, but I have to say I am really impressed 🙂 The weather is as amazing as I thought it would be, it’s winter and over 20 degrees everyday. It’s pretty funny they find it cold and when it gets down to 10-12 degrees at night everyone is in their wool coats, hats, warm scarves etc. Then there I am in a light jacket just laughing at how weak they are!

Aside from the weather, what’s impressed me most about Australia so far is the people! I am amazed at how polite people are here, people always thank the bus driver and I have had doors held open for me many times (not just by men). Canadians are known worldwide for being nice and polite, but this goes beyond anything I’ve seen in Canada…but then again, I spent most of my independent adult life in Toronto and we’re rude by Canadian standards.

I am also super impressed by the coffee here, it’s amazing!! and I consider myself a coffee snob. One very funny thing about coffee here is, they hate Starbucks! lol. Admittedly, I never really get just coffee from them and usually get a frapuccino or some sort of flavoured latte….but in general, we have great love for Starbucks in Canada, here, not so much. The only people who go to Starbucks here are foreigners like me 😉

Food here is also amazing, I should have kept a food journal of all I’ve eaten since I arrived here but in a way I’m glad I didn’t cause I would have read it and felt complete guilt! Miraculously, I’m shrinking despite indulging in deliciousness. There is an abundance of dessert….pastries, cakes and macaroons are everywhere! Starbucks and McCafe have cheesecakes and donuts. There’s amazing ice cream everywhere, prawns are more than double the size of what we get in Canada and everything I’v eaten has been heavenly! I hope this losing weight while eating whatever I feel like keeps up 😉

 

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There have been a few things I’ve noticed about Australia that have surprised me, I imagined there being a lot of fit hot people here, but that’s really not the case. It actually seems there are more chubby people than Canada lol. Apparently all the fit people on the Gold Coast and they’re just fake Jersey Shore types so that doesn’t really count as being fit or hot. In my opinion Canada, Toronto in particular has the best looking people, I suppose I’m a bit biased though lol. Another thing that has surprised me is the bogans…bogan is their term for hick or red neck. Despite being a fairly large city, there’s a lot of them around. I’ve actually had a couple bars point out to me and was told that’s where the bogans go. Too funny, definitely no bogans at bars in downtown Toronto.

I’m surprised at how small and suburban this city feels, I was anticipating something comparable to Toronto, but it feels more like a sleepy little town where everything closes early and the transit system is awful. Hmmm, kinda reminds me of a place I lived for a year before I left Canada, haha! Ok, I won’t go as far as comparing Brisbane to Ottawa…the shopping here is awesome, whereas Ottawa was complete crap for that. The level of stylishness of the women here on a night out is below Toronto but above Ottawa. So that’s perfect, once I make friends to go to parties with I won’t feel completely overdressed as I did in Ottawa, but I will definitely stand out a bit 🙂

Another big surprise is how much I’ve had to lower my living standard 😥 This is probably the one part that has been most disappointing for me. My apartment is basically shoe box size with no natural light, where I have to share a kitchen and laundry with other people. I’m just thankful there’s a gym that nobody else but me uses, (I’ve confirmed this by leaving weights laying around everywhere several times) a pool and a beautiful garden that nobody else sits in lol. I guess I will just have to spend most of my time outdoors. That really has been an eye opener for me and made me realize I was really living the life before, always being in beautiful new places never having to share anything with others.

The one thing I find absolutely disgusting here is the bugs, on my second day in my place I saw a cockroach and screamed my head off. Apparently it’s normal to see them here, even in new places 😐 ugh. Since then I have set off bug bombs in my apartment and thankfully the property management has sprayed the building again.

Tomorrow is my first day of classes, omg I hope the other kids all like me! I miss all of you, not a day has gone by since I’ve left that I haven’t been in touch with friends from back home and I can’t wait to see you all again. I will definitely be blogging more later this week once school gets moving along. I am going to try my best to be social at school, normally I don’t approach new people, it’s not cause I’m mean or snobby, I’m just shy 😦

I am thinking of starting a blog series called “Bogans in Action” where I take photos/videos of them and post, hehe, not sure yet if it will happen, but it’s an idea….

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Life and Death

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I wasn’t expecting I would have anything to write about again until closer to my departure to Australia, but with the passing of my grandfather, I feel the need to write. This may sound morbid, but for the longest time I’ve had a fascination with death and dying…However, my fascination doesn’t stem from anything morbid at all. My interest in death is so I can educate myself and be reminded of how to live my life to the fullest before I die…..and really, none of us know when our time will come. There have been plenty of people in my life who crossed over unexpectedly, so constant growth, reassessment of values and expressing how you feel and not being passive in any situation are all of utmost importance to me.

I have both fortunately and unfortunately been given the gift of being able to see people’s raw emotions under the facades they present to the world. I say fortunately because it gives me a sense of hope that as a species we have not yet become totally mechanical, there is still something salvageable. On the other hand, I say unfortunately because it breaks my heart that most people are not brave enough to express their true feelings or they have become so rigid and controlled by ego that they are not even conscious of what their true feelings are.

I really don’t understand how or why most people don’t act on their internal desires and hold off until X amount of dollars are earned, or until they are X number of years old, or ….. The truth is you don’t know if you will ever reach that X. I can’t speak from experience on this because I have never had a near death experience, but I sense as we come closer to that moment our ego dies first allowing us to review life in a more objective light. Memories are going to flash by in those moments, and in contrast to our ego driven nature of always seeing the negatives, all of the past disappointments and all that may go wrong….without the filter of the ego functioning, our flashbacks are going to be of all the best memories we’ve ever had, not of any heartbreaks or grudges, so why not put as much effort as possible into creating those memories rather than shutting down to avoid heartbreaks, disappointments and failures?

 

Thirty Six Days

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Thirty six days to pack my Canadian life away in boxes

Thirty six days for hugs, kisses, smiles and inevitably a few tears with the people I care most about

Thirty six days to prepare myself physically, mentally and spiritually

Thirty six days until I embark on one of the biggest adventures of my life….

 

I was meaning to write about my upcoming departure for a while now, but have been at a bit of a loss for words due to being emotional. It’s hard to believe that it was almost 4 years since the very first feeling I had about living in Australia…at that point in my life, it wasn’t even a decision I made. I can clearly remember I was having dinner at this vegan place in the Annex when I overheard a couple talking about their upcoming move to Australia….I got goosebumps and was overcome with a knowing that I too would be living there someday but had no idea what I would be doing there. That day in October 2010 was when I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together…I could write a novel about all that’s happened from that day until now. However, there is only so much I can write in one evening….and I know most of you have been following along and reading my blog since I started so you know some of the tales of this puzzle coming together.

Instead, I’d like to share a more condensed version of what I’ve learned from that day in my life up until now, because taking huge steps forward in life really does make you sit down and reflect on what you’ve done from point A (2010) to point B(now). Not only that, I have also been assessing and reassessing what my goals are from point B to point C and connecting with my values in life.

It’s harder than I thought, putting down in words what I’ve lived and learned in the past few years without going on a rant full of anecdotes under each point I make, so I’m just going to list them all and perhaps someday I will write individual posts on all of them filled with stories of adversity which I can smile about now….but here they are:

1) The only person in life who can be your saviour is yourself….others can definitely help you, and guide you, but ultimately it’s you who calls the shots about how you’re going to live your life.

2) Money and material things don’t really matter so much….a huge part of my reluctance to just pack up and go was the financial commitment and the fact that I would be spending pretty much the down payment of a house for a masters degree and a year of life experiences. I gave up my BMW and beautiful home and feel as if I have gained more in life through humbling myself and really felt no sense of loss. In fact, all my most memorable moments in life involved little to no money at all.

3) Feeding off of drama in life is a waste of time and energy, it’s something I did for years without even realizing it. I can’t really explain how it finally hit me, but it’s like I woke up one day, became aware of what I was doing and just stopped.

4) It’s ok and even a great thing to give up on people sometimes. I’ve been both blessed and cursed with the ability to see people’s full potential when they can’t see it themselves. Trying to nudge people a bit is ok, but when they can’t see they have what it takes to do pretty much anything with their life and continue to be destructive and negative…..just drop them.

5) Judgement of others and instant stereotyping is what causes us to put walls up and segregate ourselves from others, sometimes to the extent that we end up missing out on great connections. I’m sure our inherent ways of easily passing judgement are far more detrimental on a societal level than on the individual level of barricading ourselves in social bubbles.

6) There’s no shame in asking for help. Asking for help actually takes a lot of courage and strength, I figured out that the mask of pride we often wear and mistake as strength is actually fear, fear of being judged or rejected when you’re in need.

7) The universe isn’t out to smite me repetitively….For the longest time, I thought that may have been the case. ESPECIALLY when it came to men in my life. I somehow got myself involved in some terrible situations for the longest time, many of which involved guys breaking up with me by not answering my calls or texts anymore, being stood up two weekends in a row by the same guy, and overall being left with many unfulfilled promises. I realized that there was purpose in all of this….I sometimes wished I had just arrived in this world as a super strong person able to brush off and disentangle myself from bullshit effortlessly, but having to evolve into strength from a pile of mush has left me with something I would have never had if I had gotten the easy way out and that is, empathy for others.

 

I know it sounds like a bit much and to some of you it may sound like an over dramatization cause it’s not like I’m physically dying or something. In a way the past couple years have been like death though, and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. What I mean is, a death to ways of life and values that were no longer the right fit.

So that’s what’s happened over the past four years but, what’s next? I mentioned examining my values and setting goals for the future and some of my musings are:

1) Australia won’t be permanent, I know when my plan to study abroad solidified, I told many of you “I might not come back”. I realized I can’t do that, and it’s not my moment of sadness or thoughts of missing everyone speaking. It’s my value of family that’s just too strong to move to the other side of the world permanently. I feel a sense of obligation and responsibility to my parents as they age. It’s also extremely important that my future children know their grandparents and have a relationship with them. It’s always the girls mother who helps with kids and I would NEVER trust my future kids in the hands of a babysitter. I guess I’m old fashioned in that way and it may be a cultural thing that was ingrained into me, but the only ppl I will ever allow to look after my kids are family members.

2) Relevant to my first point, I want babies and I want them now!!! lol, well not quite now, but ASAP after I finish school, find my job and own a home again, and I guess I need to throw marriage in there somewhere too. So…a few years, and time really does fly. It’s a bit scary, but for the first time in my life I’m having baby pangs :S at least this will push me to accomplish all that I set out to faster 🙂

3) I need to always remember the things I learned in the past to have a happy future. Those 7 lessons over the past few years and my resistance of them were the biggest sources of stress in my life, and I know if I forget, the same challenges will arise again.

That’s as far as I’ll go with my musings for now because the future has room for flexibility and I do love spontaneity in life. The present also needs to be thoroughly enjoyed. That being said, I think I’m done with being anxious and sad…at least for a bit.

Thirty six days to make lasting memories with all of you

Thirty six days to be wild and free until I do it all over again in a new setting

Thirty six days to love all of you as much as I can before I go ❤

Light Cannot Exist Without Darkness

“Light cannot exist without darkness. Each has its purpose. And if there is a purpose to my darkness maybe it’s to bring some balance to the world…” Dexter

With my recent emotional release which many of you read on here, some insight from friends prompted me to write a post, because their words showed me how different the principles we live by are. Out of respect for my well intentioned friends I won’t be quoting any of those conversations. Rather, I will write about how my way of being with emotions,my “ugly side”, the “ugly side” of others and how it differs from what’s generally accepted by society. Most people see expressing anger, or sadness for the world to see to a great extent, a display of weakness and negativity. However, I was trained to see all emotions as equal and simply part of the human experience….If we were not meant to experience rage and sadness we would not have been given the ability to do so. The depth of ones “ugly” emotions is equally proportioned to their capacity for emotions of the opposite end of the spectrum, the laws of physics seem to apply to human emotion quite well. 

We are conditioned by society to not show our sadness and anger to the world, we are taught to hide behind the facade of smiles masking what’s beneath the surface. As children we’re told to not get angry and told to not cry and suck it up when sad. This way of being is what leads to adults who lack passion and are unable to experience the full range of emotions we were given the ability to. We could learn a lot by observing toddlers and animals, they become angry or sad and have their tantrums and after a while it passes and all is forgotten. On the other hand, human adults hold much of their emotions in because of how society judges “negative” emotions and this leads to people holding grudges and underlying negativity towards those who have crossed them for years and years. I choose to release my rage all in one big dose to get it out of my system as this is actually healthy and allows you to move forward. For example, with my ex bf I let out all my angst towards him in a sequence of angry e-mails telling him how I felt and then it was gone from my system for life, I became completely neutral towards him. 

For those who do not get their emotions out and take the stance of swallowing their pride and pain to pretend to be happy for the sake of looking good, I see them dealing with feelings from being cheated on and/or abandoned by a person 5-10 or even more years later. 

We don’t contain our happiness and joy and hide it from the world, so I don’t understand……why exactly do we have to hide our angst and pain? Those moments of happiness and joy would not exist without the rest. 

Life and Death

Yin and Yang

Peace and War

Light and Dark

We live in a world of duality where all things are meant to exist in balance, including our emotional responses. To live life fully this needs to be embraced and expressed with no holds barred. I will continue to share my angst and pain when it comes up, as well as my happiness joy and success in life, because that’s life and I live the entire spectrum to its fullest

 

The hours of darkness and light on earth exist in cycles of balance as do our internal cycles of light and dark.

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All About Boobies

Most of you know I recently created a few paintings with the help of my boobs to do the painting and had the idea of hosting an art auction to raise funds in support of a local breast cancer organization.  I will get straight to the point and say, the event failed…

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However, the fact that my event didn’t turn out as I wished isn’t stopping me from still pursuing the idea further. In the past I would have taken this as ultimate failure and quit right there. I have taken it as a learning experience though, and feel I am better equipped to make this successful the next time around. I have learned that organizing a fundraising event takes FAR more promotion than you think, some form of incentive to attract people (lets face it, not a lot of people care about paintings, even if they were made with my boobs!) and better planning on what demographic I am going to target.

I put this event together in three weeks, one of those weeks I was sick with the flu and not able to do much. Next time around I will be investing 2-3 months into planning and promoting. The event will happen sometime in February as it’s a month where nothing much aside from Valentine’s day seems to happen.

I actually had a lot of fun putting this event together, I was so excited that part of my promotion included walking down the streets and stopping people to ask if they like boobs. Some of the reactions I got were hilarious, I generated a lot of interest and got people to verbally commit to attending…..I realized that people are busy though, and being so close to Halloween parties may not have been good timing. Even though the street was not an effective marketing tactic, I kind of want to do it again next time around just for fun.

Anyway, my point in writing this is, if you have something you REALLY want to do, don’t let some minor set backs completely stop you from trying again, keep going and it will eventually work out. My friend Anna reminded me I sought out to do what 90% of people don’t do…..and I would actually say given the fact I did something as out there as boob paintings, I did what 99.99% of people don’t do 🙂 lol

The Trophy Wife, What is she Worth?

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I was having an interesting conversation the other day with my friend Matt about trophy wives. The conversation came up when discussing the women in the town he lives in. It’s a small city which is fairly affluent, yet retains an old school mentality when it comes to a woman’s level of personal ambition. Basically, they have none, and if anything their highest ambition is to be a “Trophy Wife”. You know, the woman who marries a man primarily for the security his finances offer and the fact that he is able to shower her with gifts and vacations when all she has to do is go shopping, and stay at home watching “the real housewives” because she completely relates to those women more than those of the outside world. 

What do I have against women being “trophy wives”? First off, It disappoints me, because I have actually observed some very intelligent girls who are more than capable of holding their own go down this road and the thought that comes to mind is “wow, that was a life wasted”. Furthermore, these women are setting back female empowerment and contributing to the stereotype that attractive women who care about the way they look are mere objects with no substance. 

One thing I wonder is, do these women actually see themselves as trophy wives? i.e. think that their partners are lucky to have them? If so, I find it quite funny that someone whose skills are limited to cooking, cleaning and looking pretty would think anyone would be lucky to have them. I know enough people who do all three of those things in addition to expressing their intellect and creativity, and have life goals that go beyond going shopping. Ironically, these are the women who are modest and don’t seem to recognize their accomplishments and focus more on what they haven’t done in life. Yet somehow, the silicone and botox injected freeloaders who haven’t done even a quarter of what these modest women have done think they are gods gift to men and deserve free stuff for some reason….what a backwards world we live in! I hope these trophy wife types eventually die off through natural selection, it’s plausible as they lack both physical survival skills and intellectual capacity to deal with real life if they are ever called to do so.

In my opinion, men and women should be seeking success and living out their dreams equally in western society. We are given equal opportunities education wise, and although the gender income gap still exists, it has significantly decreased over the years and statistics show that in younger generations the gap is much smaller than when looking across the board. Surely, this is a sign of progress and an indication that all women are capable of holding their own financially. 

So what is the trophy worth? No more than the dense lifeless stone she was carved from….this is the message you are sending when you are essentially giving another person ownership of your life. 

Revelations: Do What You Love

 

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I remember writing a month and a half ago about how I was dissatisfied with almost every aspect of my life and set out to make Changes. Shortly after making that post I heard from a friend who hadn’t spoken to me in about two years due to a falling out, it was such a nice surprise to hear from him. Not only was it nice to catch up after so long, but seeing and hearing about all that he’s done over the past couple years was very inspiring and motivating…

Speaking with someone who in comparison to myself has “got it all together” motivated me to really get on track. When I say “got it all together” I don’t mean they’re making crap loads of money, what I mean is they have discovered their passion in life and are living it fully. They are living a life that’s full of spontaneity and excitement, and earning their living at the same time. Ironically, seven years ago when we first met he was the one who would say “you’re beating me in life” cause I made more money than he did.

I used to think that I would have to make a choice in life and either work a job that pays well but brings me little fulfillment and have my passions just be hobbies or do what I’m passionate about full time and be broke cause it’s not a “real job” Seeing in black and white this way has been one of my weaknesses, even after going to Tanzania and meeting an amazing woman who lives her passion through her work and being inspired by her I ended up having difficulties seeing the same for myself. That recent re-connection with my friend has hurled me into action and it feels amazing. Work is going well, and although I know what I’m doing now isn’t my final destination, I’m building a financial foundation to do the things I want to and  am getting better at accepting this as one of the necessary steps in moving towards the future rather than whining about not being farther ahead. I actually just won an incentive trip to Cancun from my work for January! This gives me even more motivation to keep working out and taking care of myself. 

I know I had said I would work out in moderation, aiming for three times a week but something happened and I fell completely head over heels in love with it again. To the point that I can bolt out of bed at 5am to do it and I am NOT a morning person at all. Typically if anyone interrupts my sleep I will want to murder them, when it’s exercise that interrupts my sleep though, I am one real happy girl! Much of my spare time has been invested in preparing delicious healthy food, working out, learning more about nutrition and fitness and sharing what I know with others. With food my creativity is flourishing once again, when I feel a craving for something less than healthy come on, an idea for a healthy substitute usually comes to mind automatically and I’m lucky that in being a scientist by nature, I don’t need to follow recipes to cook.  Seems I’ve rediscovered something I’m passionate about and want to build a future around.

I mentioned before that I have a lot of great ideas, but have often lacked follow through. Surprisingly, (I know, it’s terrible for me to be surprised at my own forward momentum) things have been flowing at a nice pace.  I’m teaching friends how to eat, and how to work out, keeping them motivated and following their plans to a T. I even scoured my friends fridge in TO this weekend to make sure there wasn’t anything in there that shouldn’t be lol.  Once this becomes a set lifestyle for them, I’ll have some amazing people to vouch for me 🙂 

Another big thing is, I’ve stopped worrying and being critical of myself for not being farther ahead in life……I don’t know exactly how I accomplished that but taking action that is fueled by positive inspirations rather than that fueled by fear and anxieties about not being where I want to be in life is FAR more productive. Another positive source of inspiration in my life other than the friend who re-connected has been my father. It’s funny that it’s taken me 28 years to see him as a source of inspiration, but I suppose I had a few things to learn before I could see it. My father has so much passion for his work, he’s in his late 60’s and tried to retire at one point but he was bored and lacked energy. When he’s working he’s up before the sun every morning and drives over an hour to the site he’s working at.  When something gets you out of bed every morning and you don’t complain about it, that’s passion. When something draws you away a bit from other aspects of your life but not to your detriment, that’s passion. My dad built his business on a dream, and many people told him he was crazy to even try. He educated himself independently and started with trial and error, and almost twenty five years later he’s still going strong even though he’s had some major ups and downs.

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What I had to learn before I could see my dad as an inspiration is, life is hard, and the only way to be successful is hard work and dedication. It took me a while to catch onto that one, although my dad had to work really hard for everything he’s ever gotten in life, I just had everything handed to me. This gave me the idea that life was easy and success could happen overnight. Once life stopped giving me free rides, the realizations about how important strong work ethic is came along…..the realizations that if I didn’t work hard now I would not have the career I want by the time I’m in my early 30’s kicked in. I used to think I could sit around on my butt and do a bit of work here and there and the rest would take care of itself. This is why independent projects I’ve started working on the past have always come to a halt. In my actual jobs, I look back now and see that I mostly got by on my looks and charms, I once got an 11% raise within 5 months of starting a job for major reasons!

I’m not content with that though, sure it’s money and it can be sustained easily with looks and charm, but it’s not passion and (gasp!) what if my looks are gone someday? Now I don’t feel great unless what’s given to me is earned through hard work, even if it’s not one of my great life passions I’m working at, that sense of earning something really feels great. My overall approach to work has changed quite a bit, and this whole hard work thing that I wanted to avoid like the plague in the past is now proving to actually be pleasant and rewarding. I know it’s even more rewarding when that hard work is being put into something you’re really passionate about….now that I’ve found something that really makes me tick, and have discovered that genuine hard work is actually great, it is time to work at combining my two findings into something grand! 

I also realized that in addition to hard work, the path to success involves sacrifice and discipline. Through my twenties I spent most of my time frivolously on other people to the detriment of my own professional development. I mean, look back at some of my older articles and you will see that the bulk of them are about my dating life and the opposite sex. Not that there’s anything wrong with that lol, we all need some lovin’. The way I see things now is, that can wait. In my mind it’s easier to accept not being in a successful relationship until later on than it is to accept not having the career I want until later on and quite frankly, I think sustainable relationships are easier to cultivate later on anyhow, at least until you’ve gotten through the bulk of your  “know thyself” and “to thyself be true” lessons in life, I seem to have taken a long ass time with mine. I’m not saying that this is an absolute truth for everyone my age, I know plenty of people my age who seem perfectly on track, know exactly what their goals are and are in great relationships. The things I write about are a reflection of what I put my energy into and prioritize, for a little while I think I was doing things backwards if career and achieving personal goals are higher priorities for me than dating and relationships. 

That being said, I am looking forward to including more posts on this blog re: professional development, inspiration to achieve success, and strategies that have worked well for me. Life is definitely on an upswing at the moment 🙂 

 

Amazing People Doing Amazing Things

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You have all heard me babble on numerous times on here about the life changing experience I had volunteering in Tanzania a little over a year ago, I’ve gone on about what I learned, how my values changed from living in a primarily self serving way to a way of wanting to help others more. In many ways I can be an “ignorant westerner” still, especially in terms of being picky about having specific food items like coconut oil and hemp seeds. However, I currently live in a place that’s barely furnished and haven’t felt much urge to go crazy with furnishing…I will just consider it zen, at least I’m not sleeping on a mattress on the floor anymore lol.

Anyway, I will cut myself off there. Instead of listening to what I have to say, I would like for you all to check out what my friend Gerallt has to say about his experiences volunteering in Tanzania. Gerallt is one of the coolest volunteers I met, and although I don’t know him too well in terms of time, something about him cracks me open and I’ve shared with him many details about my life that very few people know and it seems him and I have shared some similarities in life experiences. I am very keen on helping the school Gerallt supports and fund raises for in Arusha and anytime I see or hear about the work he’s been doing I am so impressed by what a selfless person he is. The photo of the impala brings him to mind because I have seen him accomplish huge things to fast and it’s impressive.

I encourage you all to check out the facebook page for Cheka School and support in any way you can. Even skipping out on a few coffees, a few drinks or a few smokes can help, and it may help you kick some of your vice’s in the ass too 🙂

What inspired you to volunteer in Tanzania?

I would think that I’m definitely not alone in having always had the thought of assisting in situations of poverty at the back of my mind. I can vividly recall seeing iconic images of suffering in the extreme famine of the mid 1980s in Ethiopia. There followed at the time a global effort to contribute towards easing the suffering, culminating in the Live Aid effort set up by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure (and a super display of rock showmanship by one Freddie Mercury!). Being around 11 years old at the time, it would probably have been one of the first few times in life that I’d have started to realise that all was not well in the world, and that not everyone’s life revolves around playing football from dawn to dusk during school holidays. The impact of that period of time would definitely have stayed in my subconscious, and it would be some 25 years later before I’d be able to act on that urge to “help” or “do something” whatever that may be. In around 2009, I found myself in seasonal employment, and being relatively commitment free (no wife, no children, no mortgage) I was left to my own devices for around three or four months over the winter. I spent one winter helping to set up a boxing club in my home town and volunteering part time for the National Trust, and that’s when I truly caught the volunteering bug. In March 2010, after watching a wildlife documentary on the Serengeti, it occurred to me that I could volunteer abroad at the end of the year. The first place that came to mind was “Africa” and after a spot of googling I found IVHQ who offer programmes in various countries on the continent at reasonably affordable prices (certainly affordable compared to other similar companies that I now know to be offering virtually the same experience for around five times the cost!). Choosing which country wasn’t particularly easy – but the fact that I’d always wanted to go to East Africa, had always wanted to go on safari after watching countless Big Cat Diaries and other African wildlife documentaries over the years and had a keen interest in hiking up mountains left me with a choice between Tanzania and Kenya. I decided on Tanzania after being convinced by some volunteers who’d had a great experience there. It definitely turned out to be the best decision I could possibly have made, and probably the best decision of my life to date.

In what way did your life change for the better from volunteering?

Some people talk about filling up their backpack and going to volunteer in an orphanage in a poor country and having this overwhelming sense that their life is immediately transformed in a matter of a few weeks, ie having an immediate and radically life changing experience. That indeed has been the case for many people following similar ventures worldwide. But I think for me that any “change” has been a more gradual process, and a series of smaller mindset changes have occurred, although I certainly recall that when I first left Tanzania that I’d had the most unique of experiences in my own personal life and that I had a deep, impactful feeling that I simply had to return the following winter.

The major way that my life has changed is that I have definitely found something that I am extremely passionate about. If I’m given a stage to talk about Cheka or Arusha and volunteering in Tanzania, then I could easily talk about it for hours on end. I wish the whole world could find the time to go to Cheka and meet the children, meet the families and the staff and it baffles me why people don’t hand over their life savings once I’ve described what we do at Cheka to them! In many ways, Cheka is a purpose in life for me and it is never far from my mind. The idea of there not being a Cheka for some reason fills me with a sense of great sadness and horror as does the idea of not returning there every winter for a few months.

Priorities have certainly changed in the time that I’ve been going to Tanzania every year. A lot of things are way down the list of importance these days. I still follow football, but it’s with a passing interest. I hardly ever watch television, and avoid celebrities and reality shows like I would the plague! Perhaps it’s a natural sign of maturing that I prefer a hike in the hills or a long walk through the countryside, but I definitely find that I do that a lot more since I went to Tanzania. I would of course like to think that it is observing the Tanzanian way of life has taught me to appreciate my surroundings and what I have rather than ageing!

I understand you now actively volunteer and fund raise for Cheka school. What are some key projects you have worked on for them and how have these projects progressed?

Currently, Cheka is set up as a small charity in the UK and registered as an NGO in Tanzania. That brings with it quite a lot of work, and it is shared between a structured Committee of five members each having their own specific roles.

I am currently the Secretary, acting Treasurer, Volunteer Officer and Family Business Project Manager of Cheka Foundation. Enough to be getting on with for sure!

The Committee Chair is Amy, our Teaching Advisors are Arika and Sarah and Al Kaasam who deals with sponsorship (Al was born in Tanzania but has lived in Calgary since he was 13 years old – I’m not at liberty to tell you how many years ago that was! Myself and Al were Cheka’s very first volunteers and he also returns every year to Arusha).

Cheka Foundation’s main project is Cheka School, a pre primary school for 50 children (I find that it ends up being more than that if I’m in charge of registration – I find it difficult to turn down parents who turn up and want an education for their child). It started in late 2010 with just a few children sitting on a living room floor with one desk, a blackboard and a bag of crayons – and a totally bewildered volunteer from Wales!

We split the classes into four groups based mainly on their age – 3 year olds, 4 year olds, 5 and 6 year olds. We employ two local teachers – Happy and Tabea – to teach them and in the main the children are taught by doing group activities which we find is extremely volunteer friendly (as opposed to a volunteer having to teach a class of 15 children as a whole, which is also an option). We also employ a Headmaster – Herman – part time to take care of the finances in Tanzania when we are unable to be there.

As well as teaching the 3-6 year olds we also hold classes for the former Cheka students who’ve gone on to Government School. We teach them English every day for an hour or so and we also pay Government School fees and buy uniforms for those children to make sure that they still attend at school. We actively try to find a sponsor for them so that they are able to go to a well established,  reputable English/Swahili medium private school locally.

As a further teaching project, we also teach some of the parents of the children. Quite a significant amount of parents are illiterate and never had the opportunity to go to school, or their education finished early by reason of poverty. Some parents were initially unable to even write their names or even a single letter but after a few weeks show significant progress and start to speak very basic English with a degree of confidence.

Last year, after making several home visits and creating profiles of all the Cheka families, we decided to assist some of the worse off families by discussing the financing of a small business with them. I used a fair amount of fundraised money to start up a number of businesses – such as selling fruit and veg, selling milk, cooking and selling food, egg selling, clothes selling and so on. With the assistance of the fundraising of a local 6th Form College in North Wales, we’ve managed to buy a cow and a goat for two different families as well as renovating one or two homes. Prior to my last visit to Cheka, I was given a lot of organic seeds to share amongst Cheka’s families and some 15 families in total benefitted from growing and selling vegetables such as broccoli, various types of beans, lettuce, turnip and so on.

Those are the main projects associated with Cheka School and I’m always keen to keep them growing as it gives a lot of different things for volunteers to see and do when they come to Cheka School.

However, our main priority has to be paying the bills to keep the school open. It is the only pre-primary school in the immediate area and is totally free of charge for the children and their parents. In order to keep it going we have to pay for the children to have two meals a day, pay for two teachers, a Headmaster, a cook/cleaner and two security guards. Our biggest expenditure is the rent we pay for the two houses in the same compound – one for the school and one for the volunteers. We raise money by donations and by having volunteers come to the school and pay rent on the house. We charge a very small weekly rent, and we’re easily the most affordable Volunteer Organisation in the area! In an ideal world, we would build our own school and volunteer house to cut down on costs, make the school more self sufficient and to take the pressure off fundraising a bit, but it’s difficult to find that level of financial backing. It’s hard enough just to keep the school open every year!

What do you think volunteering and supporting small organizations in Tanzania directly has given you personally and the communities you have worked with that goes beyond what supporting large international organizations could?

Working with Cheka to support the communities directly in the impoverished Sakina and Kyrani areas of Arusha certainly has been beneficial to my life. As we don’t profit financially from working with Cheka, all benefits have been purely emotional and spiritual for us rather than material (although the families out there are extremely grateful and will cook you a meal or bring a gift to you to show their gratitude).

When I’m out and about in Arusha I like to look around different projects and visit other schools and orphanages. It varies things up for me, I get to know the area better and meet new people who share ideas that may work for Cheka. Sometimes I’ll find a pretty hopeless looking situation where a local family has nowhere to turn so I’ll assist by raising awareness through social media. For example on my last visit, an Arushan friend of mine introduced me to Samwel and his family – a 12 year old boy who’s leg had suffered pretty horrendous burns (the whole of his leg up to his knee was literally red raw) and who had been left virtually untreated in a local Government hospital for around three months. His parents had no way of funding his treatment in one of Arusha’s better private hospitals, and together with a few other volunteers I raised money through a social media appeal. Money soon came in and we ended up managing to pay for the treatment of another little boy as well – 3 year old Noeli who’d had severe boiling water burns to his shoulder and the whole of his left arm. People were so incredibly generous and through their donations probably saved the limbs and lives of those two children. I did feel a real sense of achievement in helping those two families out – especially when after around three months I was leaving and Samwel had just started to put some weight on his leg for the first time in over five months and Noeli was happily running around, virtually pain free and getting ready to leave hospital.

I would say that direct, hands on involvement with a small organization on the ground can be something incredibly fulfilling. It takes you through the emotional mill, that’s for sure. It’s sometimes as infuriating and as frustrating as it is heart warmingly fantastic and joyously out of this word. It’s always great when you find a project that you can physically get involved with rather than just being the man who hands over the cash. I’ve helped to push a great big wooden wheelbarrow full of sand up a Sakina hill in the searing midday heat once. A never to be repeated experience for me!

For over two years I’ve sponsored the private education of a former Cheka pupil called Glory. I always look forward to seeing her and her family when I return to Tanzania. I’ve been able to see for myself how much she has progressed academically since going to her new school – and I was particularly ecstatic the last time I went to Arusha as her English had improved so much since the last time I saw her, which makes communicating a lot less troublesome (my Swahili is not as good as it should be – but it is something I’m working on!). It was also great to hear that her father had turned two packets of seeds and ten chickens into a successful veg and egg selling business. His success was such that he had bought a lot of material for building a new house for himself and his family so that he can knock down the mud hut they now live in. It will be a project that I will be getting behind when I return at the end of the year.

As we’re a non-profit making organisation money donated to us goes straight through to running Cheka School and supporting the local families. We transfer money every three months, which also helps us keep bank charges to a bare minimum ensuring that more money goes to where it should – straight to keeping Cheka school open and supporting the local families. As volunteers for Cheka, we don’t take a salary or reclaim any expenses such as flights or visas or the cost of living out there. We don’t have our own company vehicles and flash 4x4s to get us around and I prefer getting around on one of the local motor bike taxis or dala dalas (the local mini bus!) that are always an adventure. By donating to a smaller organisation like Cheka, you’ll definitely get more personal updates and a greater sense of knowing exactly where your money is going and exactly what it is being used for. We have a newsletter, a facebook page and a website to keep everyone updated.

Here’s a few links for you to look at –

www.facebook.com/chekaschool – please like it!

www.cheka.nl

www.chekaschool.com

What keeps bringing you back to Cheka?

A multitude of reasons keep me returning every year to Cheka. It’s almost a given now that I’ll be returning there for a few months every year at some point between December and March.

After my first venture, there was no doubt in my mind that I had to return there the following winter (or as soon as possible!). I had been completely taken by the way of life, the welcoming and friendly attitude of the people and the relative laidback-ness of it all. I was eager to go back to Cheka and help work on taking it to the next level and, of course, couldn’t wait to see the children again.

After I left for the second time, my plan had always been to skip returning to Cheka for a year and go to volunteer in South America. But the nearer it got to the winter months, the more and more the idea of returning to Cheka got inside my head.

And so it went. I never saw South America. I returned last December for three months and I now not only feel that I want to return there, but I want to make it a more long term move if at all possible. Our ultimate goal at Cheka would be to buy land, build a school and a volunteer house so that we can cut costs right down and ultimately benefit more children and their families in the area. It is something I’d love to develop and get involved with and I guess that the fact that this hasn’t happened yet is one reason that keeps me coming back.

Another reason I’m drawn to the area is the fact that every time I go I am guaranteed to meet new people and make friends and work with volunteers from all over the world. I have many local friends that I have known since the first time I went there, and I also get to meet up again with some volunteers that I met at the end of 2010. It’s always good to meet up with old friends and make new ones wherever you are in the world.

I always miss the hustle and bustle and the chaotic craziness (in a good way!) of Arusha. There is never a dull moment in that town. Getting from A to B around Arusha is hardly ever mundane and you never know what’s around the corner.

One of the major reasons why I, and any other volunteer with any other project, like to return is to meet up with children again. Ultimately it’s why we all do it. You see them at school and you love the fact that they are all so full of big smiles, energy, cheekiness and willingness to learn. I remember the first time I went on a family visit, and to see a Cheka pupil living in such conditions of poverty was pretty moving to say the least. You then see that same child the next day at Cheka and you’re totally in awe of the fact that they’re bouncing around so full of life and smiling and that makes you all the more determined in some ways. I don’t get so involved in the teaching side of things these days, but I’m always around during lunch when all the children are at the school and playtime is in full swing!

I also love returning to the area so I can update people who donate to the school or those who sponsor some of the children. I am also given fundraised money to spend on setting up businesses for families every year I go, and that gives me plenty to think about when I return. It’s interesting and challenging to go around Arusha to find the best deals for all kinds of stuff – clothes, chickens, cows, goats, cement or sand – and it’s also quite energy zapping when you’re caught in the Tanzanian sun in the afternoon (which also may be a bit of a determining factor in my returning to Arusha every year – it beats the Welsh winter!).

If you’d like to donate to Cheka School or any associated projects – such as starting a family business or sponsoring one of our children – please get in touch.

We also have highly affordable year round, volunteering opportunities at Cheka School.

If you’re interested you can email me at geralltparry712@hotmail.com

Thanks Michelle for letting me ramble on your blog and thanks to everyone who’s read it!

Reflections of the past couple months

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It seems like I never write anymore, and I definitely should be doing so more often. So much has happened over the past couple months that I haven’t communicated about.

Work is new, location is new and it seems like life as a whole is new for the most part. I only told a handful of people I relocated to Ottawa for work and it wasn’t anything personal against anyone that I didn’t say good bye or keep in touch. For those of you I told, you are the ones who are closest to me and know me well. For those of you who I have been close with in the past and didn’t contact, it was simply a difference in core values that caused me to fall away. For others who are acquaintances, or friends who I am generally not in regular touch with, you get to hear about it now!

I lived in Toronto for about 6 years and grew deeply attached to that city. As time marched on, relationships started and ended, friends came and went until it got to the point where I felt lost and alone in my own city which I had once been so lively in. Opportunities in all areas of life came to a stand still, so change had to come. As I always do, I left much of the direction of change up to the universe to decide i.e. Opportunity would come to me in the place I am supposed to be. Ottawa popped up, and it was an appealing change. Not sure if I will survive in winter here, but we shall see when the time comes if I see fuzzy little beavers around lie in the photo above, I am sure it won’t be so bad. I don’t know yet if this will be a long term home for me, I will be testing the waters here for a bit but so far I like it.

Things I like about Ottawa so far:

-less traffic than TO

-wider variety of coffee shops!

-small town feel in a relatively large city

-the fact that if you are a regular somewhere people acknowledge that. I went to the same freaking grocery store and coffee shops for years and nobody cared despite seeing me ALL the time. Only exception is the coffee shop Cabin Fever, those hipsters were so nice!

-All the great spots for running

-Gatineau park. Went for a hike with friends there a couple weeks ago, it was so lovely

-The simplicity and laid back vibe of many of the people in comparison to TO. It’s not as much of a look at me and look at what I have sort of place.

Although I like most things about Ottawa, it is a bit tough adjusting to a new home and new city. It’s not a perfectly laid out grid so I find it a bit difficult to navigate and the amount of French I hear here has me freaked out sometime and I really don’t know why lol. That being said, I am not homesick in any way.

For those of you wondering what happened to my plan to go to Australia for a year and do my masters degree in International Public Health, that plan has been derailed, at least temporarily. The financial investment became a concern so I’m taking my time on that one. My spidey senses tell me I won’t be married until about 4-5 years from now, so I have plenty of time to still go off on that adventure.

In the meantime I am living out an adventure a bit closer to home.

If I Told You I Was Homeless, Would You Believe Me?

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I thought I would share with everyone, the very humbling story of someone who is very close to me…..

From the outside, and her ability to keep up appearances, anybody would think her life is just all fine and dandy. However, for the past six months she has been out of a job…..she used up all her savings, couldn’t afford to keep her car, sold most her valuables and got evicted from her apartment. She is now homeless, and has been drifting around from place to place with just enough money to eat, and no stable income. She keeps her head above water with little wind falls of money that come along from different sources.

It’s shocking in a way, because she’s one of those people who comes across to others as always having it together. I guess it goes to show, you never really know what somebody is going through. Nobody would EVER think she’s broke or homeless by looking at her.

I’m sharing this story to make a few points about life that she has shared with me. She told me that with each hit she took financially, and all the material losses, she didn’t fight it, she allowed it to happen and it didn’t shake or break her, cause in a situation where you’re pushing so hard and see nothing changing, all you can do is let go. When she got her eviction letter she smiled, because she was no longer going to be pushed deeper into debt. When her car was taken, she smiled again because it was one less unnecessary thing for her to scramble to pay for every month. She realized that the material things were not what defined her, or things she needed and was empowered by the fact that she could live with nothing more than a mattress on the floor in her apartment and be happy.

However, as time continued, she began to wonder why she lost everything, and was now stuck in a corner with no opportunities coming her way for work, or every opportunity that she thought had her name on it slipped away, or even the odd jobs she tried just ended up falling through…

She eventually realized it was because despite having gotten through all the losses, and remaining in tact, her strong sense of pride and judgement towards others were still running full force. The way she spoke of this really struck me….there was a night where she had nowhere to go, although she had started asking a few friends for help, her lesson hadn’t really hit her yet. She sucked up her pride, and made a call to social services, telling them she needed a place to stay, and had no money. She was surprised that the conditions she ended up staying in were nowhere near as bad as she would have imagined. She took a short nap, and when she woke up it hit her that her pride and judgement were what she was still carrying around and needed to let go of. She had flashes of the first time she walked into the social services office to apply for assistance, she told herself at the time “I don’t belong here, I’m not like these other people” she saw herself as being above them due to her work experience, education, etc. etc. She also had a flashback to one of the jobs she tried out for some quick money….again, her thoughts of the other people working there was “uneducated hicks…”  It was her failure to open up to others and see through the barriers we sometimes call differences, but really are judgement that was holding her back from really being humbled.

She now sees that we are all essentially the same in most ways…we eat, we sleep, we breathe, we laugh, we cry all regardless of our looks, education, financial status, cultural background, IQ, etc. etc. and she’s going to carry forward seeing that and trying to relate to others rather than judging from the surface. She’s still a bit lost, but in giving up judgement and being humble the only direction from rock bottom to move is up.

We are all guilty of judging people on a daily basis, it happens because we’re programmed by society to do it from the day we’re born. We’re usually not even conscious we’re doing it. I think this story goes to show that we’re not necessarily damaging the people we judge, but more so ourselves.