In a wedding: 10 days in Puerto Vallarta

Last week, one of my best friends got married. She was a gorgeous bride and it was a beautiful day.

I arrived a day before most of the wedding party, so I stayed downtown at the Oasis Hostel for one night before moving to the Now Amber resort. It was a pretty nice intro! Sunset, yoga, beach (and maybe a Starbucks..). Perfect.

After that nearly sleepless night (the noise from the busy street below is SO LOUD), I went to the resort to wait for all the Viponds! I checked in, and immediately felt out of place in my room. I couldn’t even sit on the bed, it felt so fancy! So I lounged on the patio for a while, and then decided to go down to the lobby to begin my stakeout (literally. I sat in the chairs opposite the reception desk for at least 3-4 hours waiting for all the blondes to start pouring in).

I’ve never done all-inclusive before, but once I adjusted to the luxury of the hotel and not paying the bill after dinner, it was pretty nice… We bummed around for a few days and then got into wedding gear. The bachelorette was a fun but very busy day of nails, photo scavenger hunt, fancy dinner, and a poorly-executed music trivia night (thank you, Now Amber wifi, for your atrocious download speeds, so that I could not get the proper playlists. And thank you again for your obscure movie theme song tracks that you provided instead.)

Then came the big day! It was so, so lovely. Though of course, without some last-minute dress alterations. Apparently 2.5 months of sedentary Port Alberni life has not done good things to my waistline 😦

As I was part of the wedding party, and also had the ceremony music on my phone (which therefore was with the DJ for the afternoon), I did not get many pictures of my own. I am so looking forward to getting the pro shots back!

We had a day to recover (I did a lot of napping and hiding in my room) and then everybody parted ways. I moved back to the hostel, and spent three more nights there, getting a taste (literally) of Puerto Vallarta.

There’s definitely a lot more allure and charm to the town of Puerto Vallarta than I was expecting. I thought it would be compounds for staff that was built solely around the resorts; my idea of a “resort town”. But instead, it is resorts that hijacked the nicest beaches in an already existing and beautiful town. I would love to see more of the country, and one day I will surely go back.

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Mali gets into the very fiber of your soul, and it is impossible to shake off anything about West Africa once you get the bug gnawing at your heart.

Well, that about sums it up.

via The Invisible Humanitarian | Canadian Humanitarian NGO & Commercial Fisherman involved In Water & Drip Irrigation Community Development in Mali, West Africa. Raw Stories about Life, Encounters, & Adventures as a Humanitarian NGO. Join an African Adventure.

In my own backyard: exploring Vancouver Island

I can’t say I’ve been getting out and about too much, as most days I’m stuck at home, far from “town”, and without access to a vehicle. But when I first got home, I went out to work with my Dad; a couple weeks ago, I made my way to Victoria; and this week, my Dad’s been away, so I’ve had the truck! Which means freedom.

So here are a few pictures of when I checked out my Dad’s “office” in Port Alberni.

And here’s some from when my lovely and amazing friend Steph and I went down Dallas Rd. and I remembered just how much I love a) the Pacific Ocean/West Coast and b) Victoria.

And finally, here are some shots from the Roger’s Creek Trail, which I’ve been able to check out for the first time, catching a few nice days this week and getting out for some fresh air!

Now, aside from these lovely West Coast pictures, I’ve done pretty poorly at posting anything since I’ve been home. Mostly just Ebola outrages updates because, honestly, my own life right now is pretty slow. I’m still looking for work, and starting to hit that wall you hear about where a prolonged job search turns into depression. And let me tell you, it does.

Not to mention all the personal walls I keep hitting; more questions about motives, roles, purpose, ethics… you know, just the meaning of life. 

Each day, when I listen to the news, there’s something that makes me cringe. It’s the way someone casually generalizes about Muslims or Africa, or undermines the work being done to stop the spread of Ebola, by spreading fictitious rumours about the threat to the Western world, or cries about the loss of Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto. The way we glorify the “heroes” lost from the Canadian forces, when we’re currently bombing the fuck outta innocent civilians every day. Pardon my French.

I basically always feel like an outsider. Like all these media sources are saying the same thing, and I’m the only one thinking something different.*

*Obviously an exaggeration.

Sometimes I feel like I should listen to that reasonable logic that tells me, “Stay home. Make change in your own backyard.” But, when I look at the changes that are being made here, such as with the ever-increasing rise of feminism (which really should be a positive thing, right?) all I can think of is, “If only they knew what women go through in other parts of the world.”

I am constantly faced with this awareness of the fact that suffering is relative, and that where I live in the world, the bar is higher. And instead of fighting to continue to raise it, I feel this uncomfortable feeling of wondering why we can’t all just get some more realistic perspective here, and do something about bringing up the rear. That goes for women’s rights, children’s rights, human rights

And I don’t know how to deal with that.

Plus, then I’ve got to see all these people who spend their entire lives working towards this goal of just having more stuff. As if more stuff will make them happy. Who needs a boat? A second, third, vehicle? What happened to just making things work in the name of financial (and environmental) sensibility? But instead, everything needs to be so convenient. We can’t make due with one car, one television, one computer, because that’s requires flexibility and sacrifice. And then there’s this whole idea of “leisure”. Our lives here are so disconnected from the Earth and each other that we need all this filler to occupy the space where we have nothing to do. We don’t fulfill our primal urges to provide for and protect our families, so we satisfy that by all these recreational activities that trick our bodies and our minds into thinking they’ve done something productive.

God, I’m rambling. This is what it’s like inside my head these days.

At the end of the day, I guess I know that I need to work overseas. Because at least there life seems more reasonable to me. So I’m back to square one.

But I feel like I’ve got something holding me back. Aside from a simple lack of experience; it’s more like a lack of confidence. I’m putting myself out there, but perhaps less so than I should be to really get somewhere. I see people I know who are doing things they’re passionate about, pushing boundaries, making their own future, and I’m trying to do that, too. But I think I need to be more entrepreneurial about it if I’m going to get anywhere. And I’m not sure I have what it takes to do that.

I can hardly even define myself when “building my brand” (aka writing the bio section) on my fancy new Twitter account (a problem I’ve had for a really long time). I just can’t boil myself down to a mere 140 characters. Which means I don’t really know what exactly I’m all about. And that makes it really hard to sell myself to anyone… in other words, it’s really hard to get a job. 

Maybe it’s because I am too modest; maybe I’m just hesitant to give myself credit for my qualities, skills, and experience. Or maybe it’s because I really don’t think I have them. And if it’s the latter, that’s not really a good sign.

Because what I’m trying to do is sell myself. Sell myself to get onto the career path I’ve always dreamed of, and am currently failing to get into.

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On the web: MSF Ebola webinar

Happening now! Looks to be pretty interesting and might help to answer some questions you might have. Join in. 

http://www.msf.ca/en/live-webcast-stopping-ebola-msf%E2%80%99s-experience-front-lines-historic-epidemic

 

Update: Some great insights into the effort to control this outbreak, but still a distinct lack of calls to action, metrics, strategies, etc., as mentioned in my previous post. At least the World Bank has identified a need for 5000 new workers in the fight. Also learned that the MSF has been training the Red Cross, Save the Children, and the Centre for Disease Control out of their mock treatment facility in Brussels, on how to deal with the outbreak and build their own training and treatment centres.

Also had a heartwarming story of Patrick, who survived the Ebola virus. Read it here.

Tracking Ebola: the first case in Mali

A great guy I met in Bamako just informed me that Ebola has now been confirmed in Mali, which shares a big chunk of Guinea’s border. It’s actually quite surprising that it hasn’t hit sooner. But it’s exactly the kind of situation that never should have happened, but keeps happening anyway, due to a lack of adequate protocols on the ground; hundreds of miles of public-transport travel, with a sick baby that has no idea about contagiousness or public safety.

But as the Western public focus on Ebola turns away from West Africa and inwards to Canadian and American policies, we are losing sight on how bad the situation really is there. Instead of re-investing and containing the disease at its source, we are scrambling to make sure it doesn’t cross over onto our doorstep. Obviously, we are developing necessary and important policies, but what’s happening to the effort in the area where this 2-year-old girl in Mali marks a staggering 10,000 cases, is failing completely to address the issue.

My questions lately have been,

Where is the call to action? Where are the organizations on the ground, and why aren’t they clamouring for help? 

And, well, they have been. Kind of. But in a very generalized, and non-population-targeted sense. For example, Médecins Sans Frontières has been doing incredible work from day 1, and early on, had their requests for increased funding and manpower essentially rejected as overreacting by the WHO. From then, we heard over and over that those are the things that they need. But to an average Canadian, we don’t respond well to that. We aren’t really the “take initiative” kind of folk. When we read an article stating that an organization like MSF is absolutely at the end of their rope, that they need assistance, new recruits, and more money, it allows us to think, “Gosh, why doesn’t the WHO do something about that?” But why, when Hurricane Katrina hit, or the 2010 Haiti earthquake happened, was the public motivated to donate millions of dollars to the cleanup relief efforts? More specifically, why isn’t that happening NOW?

Why? Because we need specific and targeted requests. 

We need dollar figures, that give each person an opportunity to text to donate, round up their bill at the grocery store, or charge their card through an online forum, to reach the financial goal for enabling success in the region. And we need short- and long-term recruitment strategies that don’t just put the question out into the air, but really reaches out to every single tradesperson and healthcare worker out there, and asks them “How about YOU? Can you do this?”

Because if we work with your employer to negotiate an 8-week leave, and can provide you with a comprehensive training package that will address all of your safety concerns, I don’t see why this can’t work.

And I frankly just don’t see why this isn’t happening. MSF, Unicef, and the Red Cross all have dedicated recruitment and fundraising departments, but they seem to me to be extremely underutilized, as you can only find the available avenues for donation and volunteering when you actively search for it. And there is NO apparent collaborative approach. Nobody’s matching donations, there are no viral social media campaigns.

We needed action months ago, but it’s really spiralling out of control. If you want public health measures that address the spread of this virus, don’t forget that we’re not the victims here, and while yeah, maybe we will be, but the course of action is not just to bolster our own measures, but primarily and most importantly, target the source. 

So despite the lack of a coordinated fundraising campaign, I urge all of you to take a minute and think about making a donation to fighting the viral spread in West Africa, even $1 is enough. It is better than nothing.

If you don’t know where to donate, consider MSF, the CDC, or the Canadian Red Cross (which is actually offering a dollar-for-dollar matching by HSBC until October 31!).

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On the radio: 10 months in music

Thanks to my trusty iPhone, I was able to Shazaam my way through North and West Africa, collecting songs I heard along the way, giving myself one of my favourite souvenirs. Some songs are not native to the place (such as many in Morocco and Ghana), but were heard often, or are associated for me with specific people. Listed in chronological order. Additional player on sidebar. Favourites include tracks by: Magic System, Afel Bocoum, Shatta Wale, Amadou & Mariam, Davido, Sarkodie, and R2Bees (who am I kidding.. I love them all). Enjoy!

See the Playlist

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Back to the drawing board: making a new plan

So, I’ve been home for just over a month. And it already feels like a lifetime.

Day in and day out, in Port Alberni. Cooking, cleaning, and bookkeeping for my dad. Not exactly keeping in pace with the chaos and vibrance of W. Africa life. A very hilly walk to the grocery store a few times a week is about as exciting as it gets.

So I’m working on my escape route. I have been saying all this time that when I returned home, I would reapply with MSF, and that with my newly acquired French skills, plus 10 months living and travelling in the region, there was no way I wouldn’t get in. I was so sure.

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From the comfort of home: still thinking of Ebola

As someone who regularly picks up a cause and runs with it, not only do I relate to, but I also really admire those who have something they stand for, day in and day out. Regardless of their opposition. Who shout from the rooftops incessantly, shining light onto whatever it is that they are riled up about.

So shine on, my friends, because there are so many distractions in our world, and so many ways for us in the West to avoid these dark corners. So some of us need some flashlights. Shine on. Thus, regardless of the fact that I am no longer in the region, I will continue to keep my personal spotlight on the subject of Ebola. I guess, having been there, I have a good grasp of the scenario in my mind’s eye, which makes it easier for me to feel compelled by the images, and the descriptions; to bring myself to the ground, and comprehend the disaster. The social and cultural components which are perpetuating the disease; the merciless environment which takes a toll on even the most able-bodied of us. I can picture it, and yet, I’m still sure that my idea is still not even close to reaching the actual level of desperation in the affected areas.

So perhaps I have a bit better of an understanding of the problem that most of my friends, but it’s actually not that complex, so I cannot understand how with such a relatively simple problem, there is such little action.

This is not a civil war. This is not a complicated, religious/tribal/ethnic, heavily-skewed-in-the-media kind of problem. It does not stem back several decades. There is no unrest; no clashing forces. This is not an incomprehensible kind of problem; the kind we normally avoid with ease, due to too many factors obstructing our ability to understand.

This is the kind of problem that, in the West, gets immediate and exaggerated attention. There are protocols, education campaigns, and safety precautions (think: SARS, or the ongoing debate about vaccinations in Canada). On an international level.

But above all, this problem, if it were in the West, would receive funding. Funding and manpower.

No one is asking where the rest of the response is. They don’t question why, after five months of talk, and more than 1,500 known deaths, the epidemic is still raging. They don’t ask, “Where is the money donors are pledging? Where are the boots on the ground?” – Ebola: “Fighting a Forest Fire With Spray Bottles”, MSF 09/02/14

But instead, they are receiving the attention of a handful of actors, who are struggling under the weight of this epidemic; working tirelessly to get it under control, but repeating the fact that they cannot do enough. There needs to be more.

I took Tewa’s aunt home when she recovered—one of the rare happy days—and saw her mother. I looked for Tewa’s face among the sea of excited children even though I knew she wasn’t there. “How is she?” her mother asked me. “Yesterday she was able to shower,” I told her. But the next day when I asked about Tewa, the doctor in charge of her care shook his head. “It’s not good. She started bleeding,” he told me, “and she has that look.” I knew the look. I’ve seen it too many times over the past five months. “Ok,” I said, biting my lip and willing my eyes to not fill with tears. “I’m sorry,” he told me.

We’re all sorry.

We’re sorry that we don’t have a medicine proven safe and effective to kill the Ebola virus. We’re sorry that we don’t have a vaccine. We’re sorry that we’ve failed to stop the epidemic. We know we should be doing more but we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the capacity, we don’t have the staff. Some days it feels like it doesn’t matter how hard we work because there aren’t enough of us.

I mean, come on. We’re flying home 3 Canadians because someone in their hotel became infected, and we recently flew home two Americans who contracted the disease. Now that’s totally fine, and I wish them all the best of health and recoveries, but if we can do this, why can’t we do more to save the lives of those who cannot leave?

It’s as if the world wants to bury its head in the sand and hope that it all goes away. I made it in and out of three airports after leaving Morocco, and not a single person stopped to ask me anything about it! I had to spoon-feed the information to the one person that got even close, but as much of an annoyance it would have been, I was really hoping for a little quarantine. At least take my goddamn temperature!

“This is not an African disease. This is a virus that is a threat to all humanity,” Gayle Smith, special assistant to US President Barack Obama and senior director at the National Security Council, told reporters. – “Ebola death toll accelerates in West Africa“, Aljazeera 09/03/14

At least I have the luxury of returning to a place where I can receive adequate medical attention; at least pretend it’s on the radar. Because those who do not have western medical facilities to return to, and whose situation worsens by the day, as fear overtakes the population and dictates their behaviour, they are the ones that will truly suffer.

If it were in our backyard, the international community would not sit by and watch, so I shall continue to advocate until I see that they stand up and take action.

Back in Morocco: a new perspective

So it’s my last full day on the continent; I fly out tomorrow for London.

It’s been a hell of a trip. “Trip of a lifetime,” as many people have said, though it never felt like it at the time. While I was in it, it just felt… hard.

And it was. It was challenging in so many ways, and infinitely rewarding because of that (which is, of course, very easy to say now, from the comfort of Morocco). But now I can definitely see the validity in the statement.

Of course, coming back to Morocco itself has been giving me a lot to think about; it’s like stepping into another world. It’s magical here, really; I can see why there are so many tourists. It’s like Aladdin, Arabian nights; all that. Though as I always said, so much of it is completely fabricated.

But some of it’s real. Like the old men. Tons of them, huddled up in the cafés, in their djellabas, with their tea and their banter. Extremely dignified, even without many teeth to speak of. Classically Arabic, Berber; something from the desert, a nomadic heritage, whatever you want to call it.

But I struggled again to fully define how things work here and what this place is all about. A bizarre mix of tradition and modernization. And it’s amazing how much a place can change once you see it with fresh eyes. I feel almost as if they were closed the first time; but I realize you can only absorb so much at a time, and I was working on other things then.

I still see many things the same, but also notice new things now that I contrast it directly from 7 months in west Africa.

That said, the process of identifying these differences and similarities is not a simple task. As I walk down the street, I notice a thing here and a thing there (we’re in a medina: obvious difference #1. There are real shops to buy your souvenirs, where you can browse at your relative leisure, but you will pay for that convenience: thing #2), but I find it difficult to nail the less obvious things down. Everything blends together and I have a hard time separating things out. Especially the deeper and more meaningful things; the things about culture. The things about how tourism has changed, both corrupted and benefitted the country. How to measure these differences in development? How to compare and contrast these two regions of the same continent, which look and feel like they couldn’t be farther apart?

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Flying Royal Air Maroc: Ouaga to Casa

I’m on the plane; I want to write, but the app’s not working. So I’ll write a note and transfer it later.

Airplanes have a definite way of signalling the end of one thing and the beginning of another; or at least, one place, and another. And for now, while I’m not yet leaving Africa, I’m leaving the “real” Africa, and it feels like an ending. An ending with a hefty dose of melancholy.

I’m ready to go home, but I have a knot in my stomach, and tears are close at hand. I feel like there’s so much left undone, unseen, and unknown. I’ve explored a lot of places, but I’ve only just scratched the surface. I know this isn’t over yet; I’ll be back. I’ll always come back.

But that offers little consolation as I hurl myself back across the desert, wrapping up 9 months of travel into one little 4-hour flight. Makes short work out of all that effort.

IMG_7902-0.JPGDesert and desert and desert

A couple aisles over, I see a man fighting with himself, to keep from crying. He’s not winning the battle, but it reminds me that I’m not alone in my heartache.

IMG_7905.JPGAt least I have the entire row to myself. Flight was nearly half-empty

Thought to make a quick call to my dad before boarding, and ended up talking for 40 minutes; somehow my $.75 credit stretched itself very thinly. We talked about how so many things are going to take time to sink in, and I won’t realize them until long after I’m home. It’s going to take a lot of adjustment. This is probably very true.

IMG_7906.JPGArrived at the Casablanca airport. Waiting for the train. Time for a selfie