In school: the first week

Guys, bear with me. My writing is feeling very disjointed this week. My last post was awkward, and I’m struggling with this one too. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure how I feel about where I am now, or maybe I’m just rusty because I haven’t written in so long.

But if you didn’t get the hint, I’m not entirely thrilled yet with my new surroundings. In terms of the town, I haven’t been wow-ed, and in terms of the work, it’s been largely uncomfortable, with a lot of miscommunication and misperceptions. It’s been colder than anticipated, and I haven’t really found my niche. The produce guy blew me a kiss the other day, but that’s not exactly what I’d call progress. Continue reading

On the way: getting to Morocco

I started writing something on the plane, trying to capture all the whirlwind that was landing this job and landing in this country. But I kind of abandoned it and didn’t pick it back up when I got reconnected, and now I’m having trouble finding its flow.

So I’m offering this: it was mayhem. I didn’t know up from down by the time I was finally heading out. And it really didn’t finally sink in until I boarded my flight to Casablanca: an hour delayed boarding, with no explanation; a mad shuffle to board at that time, regardless of what rows were actually being called; and the sounds of crying children heard over the blaring Arabic music on board. Announcements made in Arabic, French, and then (thankfully) English.

(click a photo to view gallery)

So then I arrived (only 2 hours late). “The Man” (who turned out to be just a hired driver, I later found out) was holding a piece of paper with my name on it. The other new teacher, who was also to be my roommate, had arrive before I did, and was waiting with him. We drove to our school only to pick up the keys, and then were dropped off somewhat abruptly at our new apartment. It’s a nice place, but despite the warm colour scheme (our living room and hallways are orange), it’s a lot cooler than I was hoping; it’s all tile and the walls are this glazed stucco kind of stuff, so everything feels very cold and modern. Again, very nice, but a different style than the gypsy-Arabia-mosaic-Bohemian style of most hostels I’m used to; it’ll take some work to warm it up.

There’s a decent sized kitchen with a fridge and stovetop, but it’s not yet hooked up. I’m wondering if I should try to connect the propane bottle myself, but decided against it; I’ll probably blow myself up. There’s a hot water tank, which we plug in, because we both certainly could use a shower. There is a nice living room, and two bedrooms. I am chagrined to find out that there are sheets on the bed; the only thing I had been told explicitly to bring with me (which caused a hurried trip to Ikea the night before I left, and took up a substantial amount of space in my bag!). At least these ones I brought with me are nicer, and luckily match my blue room quite nicely.

There’s food in the fridge, and pasta on the shelves, but again, we have no way to cook them. So we head out. I’ve never been to this town before, let alone this neighbourhood, but thankfully the main road is around the corner, and we easily locate the lunch spots. However, it’s an awkward time of day to be eating, around 3 pm, so most real food is already gone. There’s no wifi at the house yet, and I definitely want to get connected, so we decide to brave the city centre and wave down a cab.

My french is surprisingly good; I mean, not good good. But totally functional. I’m impressed; I didn’t think I was getting by that well. So, off we go. We still don’t really find a solid lunch, but I’m happy because I did manage to get my hands on some red mzemen; a flakey flatbread kind of thing, with cooked onions and peppers inside. Soooo good. We have some tea, and my roommate (first time in Morocco) orders some cow’s bone with chickpeas (obviously not what she was expecting, but I thought she would get the drift when I said that I didn’t want it, and she should look at it again to make sure she was on board). She picked, I ate. We left.

I got my phone hooked up at INWI with a Zen International plan, but we held off on getting a modem until we found out how the reception is at our place (turns out, it’s great. However, our boss suggests we go with Maroc Telecom for wifi, but as that process is going to take a while, I’m using my phone as a hotspot for now).

We headed home, and ended up skipping dinner since we ate so late for lunch. But when we get there, we are surprised to find that our place was freezing. I mean, there was snow on the ground when I left, and I’m complaining about the +10 in Morocco, but seriously, life without central heating is not a life worth living. I don’t know how people do this. It took us two days to get space heaters, and let me tell you, those were a long two days.


Celebratory Christmas Couscous

So, things around here have been fairly quiet. For more than a year, I have struggled to find my path – trying for months to get something, anything, with an international NGO. Then – in desperation – I decided to enroll into a 10-month postgraduate program at Humber College in Toronto. I moved to the big city, worked back at my old agency for the summer, but ultimately decided that the back-to-school plan still wasn’t actually the right fit. Toronto wasn’t for me, and neither was the idea of spending $10k on something that really had no guarantees – there is nothing that says it would be the ticket into the development world.

But still, I needed out. I needed a plan to make this happen – I need out of this Western lifestyle, and I can’t afford to keep jaunting around on my own dime. I need this to be sustainable. And believe it or not, part of me does crave some stability.

Enter: TEFL. Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

Brilliant. Why haven’t I thought of this sooner? Teaching English doesn’t have to be just a way for young kids to fund their SE Asian party-tour. It can also be a way to get somewhere I want to be, afford to live there, learn new skills, and maybe actually contribute something! And immediately, I knew I wanted to go to Morocco; the climate, the culture, the language, the food, the beaches, and the hammam – oh god, the hammam.

So I bought an online package, and started studying.

It took me about 2 months to complete (longer than anticipated) and honestly (& ironically), it didn’t teach me all that much about how to teach. Really, I learned more about how not to teach, but I suppose that’s nearly just as good.

Then I found a job posting that I really wanted. A well known institution with a good reputation in a great little coastal town that I’ve heard only amazing things about.

On December 9, I applied.
On Dec. 10, I heard back.
Dec. 11, I had my first interview.
Dec. 13, a request to submit references and a sample lesson plan.
Dec. 16, second interview.
Dec. 17, contract in hand.
Jan. 3, I fly to Casablanca.

8 days. Just 8 little days to go from “Oh man, I hope this works out. I really want this to work out. I need this to work out. I can’t spend another 7 months stuck here.” to “Holy sh*t, it’s happening. It’s actually happening. It worked out. I’m really going!”

And 15 days later, I’ll be off.

So in the meantime, not only is it Christmas, when everyone and everywhere is hectic and busy, but now I’m scrambling to see everyone and get everything I might need (which oddly includes a set of sheets. Why I can’t get them there, I’m not sure, but it’s been suggested to me twice by my director, so I’ll be damned if I’m not bringing them with me.) Criminal record checks, translations of my degree into French, booking flights, stocking up on my favourite products, baking treats for my dad – all things I’m getting done in the days before and after Christmas. Feeling a bit frantic.

And also, my heart is heavy with these goodbyes. I’m hopping around, trying to see everyone I can in this ultra-busy time. I welcome anyone and everyone to come visit, but I know that it’ll be a while until I see some of these faces again. I’m obviously thrilled about this next step, but it does always come at a cost.

So for now, as I put that aside, it does call for some celebratory couscous. My favourite. And soon to be my staple. I can’t wait.

What to do in the event you wake up Tuesday morning and Stephen Harper is still Prime Minister

I know it’s been a long time since I posted anything, but I was in tears laughing while reading this, and I’ve been pretty active on other social networks regarding this upcoming federal election. I sure hope we don’t have to employ any of these tactics!

Drinking Tips for Teens

[sigh...] [sigh…] 1. Remain calm.

2. Check for structural damage.

3. Be prepared for aftershocks and gloating.

4. Deal with any minor injuries, including cuts, sprains and ideological collapse.

5. Take two minutes to weep in silence behind closed doors so as not to alarm the children.

6. Eat a healthy, nutritious breakfast, because breakfast is the most important meal of the next four years of fear-driven dogma and social alienation.

7. Listen to the radio for further instructions. If it’s CBC Radio, you better make it quick.

8. Stay away from downed power lines, washouts, Twitter and Facebook.

9. If you begin to hyperventilate, take a plain paper bag, open it, fill it with large sums of 50-dollar bills and mail it to the member of the Senate representing your region.

10. Try to find out who is the member of the Senate representing your region.

11. Stock up…

View original post 442 more words

So, I have a travel blog. You may have noticed this, since you’re currently reading it. The thing is, right now I’m not travelling. I’m sure that I will be again soon enough, but for the time being, I’m grounded here in Port Alberni, with no pending trips on the horizon (scary – let’s not dwell on that).

So, what to do with this here blog? Many people have encouraged me to keep writing – I get a lot of really great feedback from other travellers, and I’m so thrilled that it’s actually being used as a resource – but if I were to keep writing, what would I write about? I’m just… here. Living my boring Canadian life. I’ve made a post here and there about Ebola, some pretty pictures of the island, and my brief visit to Mexico, but nothing that really lives up to the excitement and allure of the Iron Ore train in Mauritania, or endless struggles with culture and language in Francophone West Africa. And posting non-travel stuff on a travel blog just seems sorta… wrong?

But as it turns out, despite all that… I still really like this outlet for my life. And while I don’t really have a focus (because my life doesn’t really have a focus), I might just keep posting about what speaks to me. My plans aren’t working out, and I’m trying to figure out what to do next, but it’s still really nice to have a space for me to write. It might not be very exciting, or immediately useful, but I hope that anybody who has been keeping up doesn’t mind if I begin to digress into more mundane things, like vegan food, yoga, and… more Ebola (it’s inevitable). Also, a shameless plug: if you do happen to be on-board for that, here’s a reminder to please sign up for email notifications when I post… 😀 (“They” tell me that email subscriptions are the key to traffic, and traffic is the key to “success”, so maybe one day I can be “successful” ;))

And with that out of the way, I’m about to get personal. It’s on my mind, and writing has always been one of my top ways of processing emotions. So, here we go. Continue reading

With Common Sense: Dan Carlin on Ebola

So I’m a really big fan of Dan Carlin’s podcast “Common Sense.” He provides intellectual and critical assessments of current events, which I find very intriguing and informative. He discusses topics that I often know nothing about, but presents information in a real way in which I don’t feel lost or manipulated.

I was a bit late on listening to this one, episode 283. I am not sure how to provide a direct link, but for now, here’s the website, which you can scroll down to find the player for Summoning the Demon. I normally have the episodes downloaded to my phone using iTunes. I urge you to have a listen, as I absolutely love his proposal for Ebola relief worker recruitment.

In the meantime, I’ll summarize what he says. And as a note, Carlin speaks from the perspective of an American citizen, yet I still use “we” when I write, as I feel that I can generalize about the responsibilities and actions of both Canadians and Americans in the same way in the response to the epidemic.

As a lead up to his argument, he offers a similar sentiment recently expressed by New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo:

“Let’s put these people on the payroll and pay them like military reservists.”

Carlin suggests that it’s not just the time abroad that people are concerned about. It’s also the 21-day incubation period. And fair enough, there’s a lot of hype, and a lot of fear building around this idea. It just adds to the panic surrounding Ebola. So, he says, we need to treat it as an over-the-top safety precaution, and add a healthy financial incentive to convince people to sign up, including this period of incubation.

“We just have to pay them enough… Everybody’s got a price point.”

Carlin says there are two reasons for this: “One, you’re trying to get those people to put up with nicely and quietly with their quarantine period, and at the same time you’re trying to add a motivational tool.”

He compares the way we’re handing the Ebola crisis to the way that we would handle terrorism. He discusses how the US government is concerned over Ebola relief spending; that it might reach US $1 billion. But, he points out that “if this were terrorism, they would have 30 billion dollars there the next day, and we’re sweating a billion?” Thus, he suggests that we start treating these threats the same.

“If you’re trying to set a standard that encourages more people to go out and do this kind of thing, why won’t you just pay the people the way that we would be doling out cash if this were Haliburton* solving the problem for us.”

*Haliburton is the private company in the US “responsible for creating the entire infrastructure of a US military operations overseas” (Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine, 2007). 

Carlin reminds us of different industries (financial, automotive, etc.) in the US that have received government bailouts in the past, and suggests that we approach the issue of Ebola in the same way. He calls is the “Ebola Middle-Class Stimulus Act of 2014.”

His proposal goes like this: take a middle-class healthcare worker, and offer them an incentive to work overseas with the Ebola epidemic. Give them a completion bonus and something like $10,000/day during the incubation period. This will “give them an inheritance… a new house.” And that’s surely a motivational prospect, especially when he reminds us that we’re not looking for specialized critical care nurses, just regular healthcare workers. Ones that can run IVs and feed patients.

Carlin then goes into some arguments that I suspect of being a little unfounded. He suggests that US taxdollars would be well spent, as sort of an “Anti-Ebola Insurance”. He offers that investments in infrastructure building in the regions currently affected by Ebola would serve the world, by containing the spread in the future. My problem with this, however, lies in the assumption that this region will be affected again, or will be the only region in the future, as this was the first instance of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa in history. He claims that it occurs “nearly every year”, which in itself is false (especially when we remove laboratory/chimpanzee-based cases from consideration), and completely neglects that it’s only ever been found previously more than 3000km away. So I contest the idea that any amount of funding for infrastructure building will be able to eradicate the disease, but I do however, completely agree with his ideas on incentivising the relief effort.

So have a listen, as his presentation is much more convincing than mine!

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.