Thursday, August 20, 2015

Happiness Is....

....gearing up to head out tomorrow on my Alberta roadtrip. I don't have anything solidly planned, well other than to be in Edmonton on the 29th for the wedding, but I'm pretty excited for the opportunity to be alone and somewhat spontaneous for a little over a week. That to me is happiness. Even if I'm going to miss the heck out of the dogs..and I'm a little bummed that Reg D can't join the first leg of this journey after all....but still a full week to explore, experience, appreciate new areas full of natural beauty and just general amazingness. :)

...the awesome routine that has developed for the dogs at my parents place. The fact that my parents took the dogs for the full five weeks I was gone, they're having them now, and they'll watch them during more work related travel opportunities. The dogs get spoiled with bacon, a set morning and night routine, and oodles of attention on the back patio...but it's also been great for my parents I've realized too. I feel so incredibly fortunate that they've bonded and gotten along so well together.

...daydreaming of the room changes that will happen once the current house renter moves out and I can convert the middle room into an office. I'm looking forward to organizing and creating a space that will truly let me have a regular space to work from home in.

...this last month having Reg D crash in the guest room. He and I butt heads about as much as we get along, but our friendship is good for each other in so many ways....and it's been wonderful having him here routinely to chat with, fix food with, brainstorm with, finally have him meet many of my other friends, and get suckered into watching episodes of Parenthood with....oh and he even fixed the futon for me too! He's scheduled to be living elsewhere as of mid-September, which is right when my return housemate moves back in. :)

...having bosses that are mentors as well as friends. When I hit a snag in my professional thoughts the other day, I called my other boss who has been my supervisor for 4+ years to ask him about a situation with the newest job. Even though this job has nothing to do with him (and in some ways could eventually lessen my availability for the job he oversees), he's still such a phenomenal mentor and friend that he took the time to hear me out and offer his insights and perspectives on how to approach that situation. I so appreciate working for people who truly want the best for their employees in the short and long run.

...spending so much quality time with family this month. As it was Granny's 104th birthday, it was wonderful to celebrate with all of the cousins via our regular ladies tea party and a BBQ as well. My parents came for a day soon after my return to help me tackle the beast that had taken over the yard and I spent another few days this past weekend with them. My cousin hosted a night at her house for our extended family so I could show pictures from Tanzania in one swoop and answer questions. I've been at my other aunt's house twice for clothes alterations and had my other cousin over three times for produce picking, canning lessons, and a photo shoot so I could get a picture for the job's website. We had our first regular monthly dinner at my parent's for my immediate family and my parents and Granny came up on my birthday to take me out for breakfast. Loving the family time!

...realizing how many wonderful things I truly have in my life. A great rental with landlords I adore, an incredible support system through my family and friends, water/sanitation/food/safety readily available, two jobs that are extensions of my passions, a body that functions, and I could go on....

So much to be grateful for! :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tanzania Recap

I'm finally feeling that I'm in a place to discuss the happenings that occurred on the Tanzania trip :)

To say that the trip was an experience is an understatement. It was a phenomenal experience, a rewarding experience, a beautiful experience, and in so many ways an exhausting experience. There has been a lot of professional development in flux in the weeks since our return, but as of today I feel that things are more solidly in order and have returned in many ways to how they originally started out.

The climax of the trip happened early when the trip coordinator became ill, we discovered it was malaria, and as her medical situation deteriorated rapidly in the Tanzanian hospital, she was medically evacuated out of country. She and I had already been in country for eleven days prior to this happening and she became ill on the second day that the students were in country. The experience was definitely daunting, worrisome for her health, taught us a LOT about where policy and program gaps exist that need to be fixed, and also left the coordination of the trip on the shoulders of our boss and myself....The good news is that she's recovered and that we also had individuals in country who were able to assist us with language/transportation/etc. Thank God :)

The daily coordination of multiple details, student advising, travel, programming, etc meant that I had limited moments to myself, slept like a log most nights, and came back home just wanting to sleep for weeks. Since I'm not good at just sleeping for weeks, I actually feel like I'm more tired now almost a month later than I was when I returned....

But on to the good stuff!!

The ten days in country before students arrived, my colleague and I traveled to the various locations where we would be taking students to ensure that lodging, program contacts, travel was all in place and to set up programming activities for students. Since this was my first time ever being in country, it was really great to get acquainted with the locations prior to the arrival of the students. I also discovered that Zanzibar is absolutely beautiful....and I relished the sunrises and watching the morning harvest of seaweed at low tide:

After those ten days, we traveled to Moshi (which is near the base of Mt Kilimanjaro) where our boss joined us and then the students arrived a day later. Moshi was not my favorite town ever. It's a major stop for tourists and climbers thus there are a lot of pushy salespeople and individuals that wander the town hoping to lure tourists. I did however find a great dress shop before the students came where I enjoyed an afternoon chatting with the local women, trying on dresses, and negotiating having a dress made for me. I also took a guy out for lunch who had just come off of Kili and it was great getting his story and seeing his pictures. 

Honestly, it was wonderful having the students finally arrive! We spent two days in a rural mountain village halfway up Mt Kilimanjaro. In the village, we toured the local market & clinic, chatted with individuals about health concerns, played with the kiddos, hiked to a gorgeous waterfall, did a herb walk where we learned about the immense amount of local plants that can be used to treat various ailments, and explored the various parts of the town/water sources/ways of living/etc. This was one of my favorite experiences.

From Moshi we went to Serengeti.....on LONG bumpy roads :) I'm not going to lie...I may have choked back tears from the back of the van watching sunset the first night in Serengeti. I just kept thinking to myself...I'm here...I'm in Africa...dreams truly happen...somehow life truly turned around and it keeps going....etc etc. In Serengeti, we went on three game drives. One in the early morning, mid-morning to mid-day, and then a sunset game drive. Truly words could never do the Serengeti justice. It's dusty as all get out and you're coated in it....but man, it's beautiful and you're looking at the most amazing creatures with your own eyes...truly seeing them in their own gorgeous natural habitat.

From Serengeti we drove all the way back over to the eastern seaboard to spend a few days at a different program site. Honestly the second day of driving there was one of my favorites also. We drove alongside this beautiful fog coated hillside for miles that just called to me to come hike it, the terrain changed drastically, we crossed a river on a tiny ferry, I helped one of the student groups brainstorm ideas for the next day's presentation, and we drove through a multitude of small Muslim towns and along dirt packed roads. 

We spent two days at this program site. One was a day of rest for students. The second was a programming day when they practiced wilderness first aid and held focus groups with local contacts about first aid practices in Tanzania. This site is BEAUTIFUL and we truly only have this contact due to the coordinator's connections. Interestingly the site coordinator/contact ALSO had malaria while we were there so we were unable to do everything we had planned at this particular location. 

From there we drove down to Dar Es Salaam (the capitol) in order to catch the ferry over to Zanzibar....which was an incredible cultural experience in its own right. In Tanzania people don't really line up, so it was a mess of individuals all trying to push through the security door to get into the waiting area to get onto the hot, humid weather with sweat running down one's body and hauling our luggage with us...and a couple in our party having horrible flare-ups of traveler's diarrhea. Internally I thought it was an incredibly fun experience that was one of the best cultural exchanges of the trip...but my empathy for others in our group who were struggling was immense too.

Final ten days of the trip with students....Zanzibar...and I have to say....if I fell in love with anywhere on the trip, this was it. Our site location was an hour from Stonetown but we were able to take the group to Stonetown on two different occasions (once for dinner with a public health contact and second for a cultural experience day). Zanzibar is primarily Muslim with a large amount of astonishing poverty that is highly contrasted with the tourist industry that markets its culture, amazing beaches, and incredible water sports opportunities. There was so much in Zanzibar that I didn't get to experience and would have loved, and there were also a lot of amazing potential contacts there for additional programming options for our students. Our ten days there included three days working with a local NGO working with "mamas" (the women of the village) to turn seaweed cultivation & harvest into products to be marketed internationally. We held focus groups with them about particular health areas of concern and then the students developed culturally appropriate suggestions to improve quality of life, etc. We were able to tour and observe in two separate clinics (these students were medical students) and talk about health improvement projects with a NGO representative who is working with the government. We went on a spice tour, saw the Slave Museum, toured Stonetown, had multiple classes, and on our final night we had a traditional goat meal served on mats in the village.

Altogether the experience was pretty incredible and the students made it rewarding in so many ways. I don't know that I truly soaked up as much as I would have if I had been traveling solo nor did I have time to truly process any of what was happening. In so many ways it was just plain surreal though. I already look at pictures and think "I was there?!"

I'm sure there are many more thoughts, reflections, and suggestions, but altogether it was surreal and just plain incredible :)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Catching Up....Sort Of

Hi all!

So this isn't a massive overview update of the Tanzania trip, but I just wanted to check-in to mention that I'm still trying to catch up on life...and work :) Lots of additional work pieces, even with my additional short-term summer course getting cancelled. I'm helping pick up some additional pieces that need assistance with the new job, reviewing and planning a new course that I'm teaching this fall, updating my standard course, adding details to the course I taught in Tanzania and following up with students from there, AND planning a new course/trip to Argentina this winter. Today was a full day of work (from home thankfully) and I forsee at least another two to three days like that this week.

Beyond work, during the ten days I've been home, I spent a weekend at my parents, the dogs and I spent a morning hiking and have been on three jogs, we celebrated Granny's 104th birthday with two family gatherings, I spent an entire day in the yard overhauling the chaos that grew during my absence, I've had two visits from my parents, my young housemate moved out and I turned over the room cause Reg D is residing in the guest room for at least part of this month, Reg D and I have been tackling the show Parenthood together, we floated the river, I met a friend/colleague for lunch & work talk, I went to dinner with an old dude, I cleaned out & reorganized closets, and countless other to-do list items.

To say that I'm still tired from the return is an understatement, but I'm hopeful that once I get a few more of these work ducks in a row and check off a couple more to-do list items that I can spend a few additional days just relaxing. Although there's the Alberta road trip to plan, hopefully the den to paint, a potential half-marathon to start training for, my birthday to celebrate, and the usual research, acquiring, and canning of some local produce :) So many great things to look forward to....once I finish prepping the rest of fall.

Hope you all have been well however....and a Tanzania update is to come still! :)