Sunday, December 12, 2010

Turning into my typical Saturday, and I like it!

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t enjoying my time in Barbados. Working at the UN has its own set of challenges – hierarchies, office dynamics and atmosphere, some menial work tasks – but I am learning and enjoying myself for sure. And outside of work, I’m really getting the chance to learn about Bajan culture. I’m getting the slang, the dance moves, the walk and the food. Okay, so I am a bit of a foodie so I like to focus on that a bit too much sometimes. On a side note, in addition to the almost daily temptation of the ice cream truck circulating in our neighbourhood, today a bakery-on-wheels came though as well! Canada needs to get on the ball on this one.

Back to Bajan food. On today’s menu: soursop punch. Soursop is a green, bumpy round fruit with white, sour flesh. Not the most appealing sounding, but mix it with some sugar, water and a bit of milk and it’s really tasty! The hard part is taking out all the seeds, blending it and straining it.

Yesterday was another food first: I actually caught and then ate my own fish that night. I went fishing with a friend in a sit-on-top kayak. Well I fished for a bit, and I caught a robin (obviously not the bird) and a herring (apparently not the same as the ones that come in cans or that are featured in Monty Python). The third and fourth from the top in the photo are mine. The technique was to throw fish pieces in the water, wait for the fish to swarm it, and then throw the baited line at them, hoping they would nibble. I can be a patient person, but after catching two fish, I was ready to just snorkel around and look for turtles. I found a mom and a small guy not far from the kayak so I just followed them around for a bit. I am really falling in love with turtles here though; they are so graceful and beautiful.

And then it was time for surf lesson #2. I have to say that I was a little bit nervous since it has been 2 weeks since my first lesson. But we were alone out on the waves and after more than a few falls, and a little technique adjustment, I actually was able to stand properly on the board! I rode that wave to the end (okay it was tiny) but picture me, fists pumping in the air yelling “yeeaaahhhh.” Success!

This photo was taken after I gave back the rental board, so I posed with my teacher's board. Mine was 7'10" - much easier to learn on. And so after that natural high of finally getting up, I learned how to cook fish stew and how to cut yams and breadfruit.

Today, I limed like it was my job. Speaking of work, this week is going to be quite interesting with staff from Trinidad and Tobago coming in for meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday is about integrating their activities, success, challenges, etc. into our annual report for this year and Wednesday we are supposed to plan how to integrate them into our country programme plan for next year. They are the newest member of the UNICEF Eastern Caribbean team, bringing the total to 11. And Anguilla might join at some point too. This is a really unique region in that way, working in some many places, with different targets and baselines in each. I will let you know how it goes! And can you believe that I actually ran on my own accord three times since the half-marathon. I think I’m officially crazy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

D- Day

The time is now. Well it was actually Sunday morning at 3am when Laurie and I forced ourselves out of bed to catch the FREE! shuttle to the start line. After psyching ourselves out by watching everyone warm up and look super professional, the race started right on time (unlike everything else in the Caribbean haha) at 5am.

As much as running in the dark is weird, it was really nice not to have the sun draining all your energy. The course went from Bridgetown to Payne’s Bay close to Holetown on the West coast, where runners turn around and head back to Bridgetown. Off we went, sticking together most of the way to Payne’s Bay, along the highway hugging the coast line, eerily silent until BAM! steel drum band. Oh so stereotypically Caribbean, but lovely nonetheless.

As I neared Payne’s Bay, the crowds of people lining the streets started growing. Who wakes up at 6am on a Sunday morning for no reason?! And my friend Sam, who lives out that way, came out with a big sign for me and after I turned around, he proceeded to bike with me back half way to Bridgetown. Pretty good incentive not to walk. And after Sam went home, a women who had been running in front of me most of the way told me she thought she couldn’t finish and had never run alone before. She pretty much summarized her life story, 40 and a single mom, working at the UK High Commission etc. etc. and so together we pushed to run the second half together. So I never ended up walking and finished in 2:07:58 :)

And Rodney, Laurie’s friend and Melissa, one of my roommates supported us at the finish line! Overall, I felt really great to have actually trained and finished. And to celebrate: ice cream!

I am not publicizing my finish line photos because my shorts (originally made for doing yoga) clearly were not designed to sustain so much motion and sweat because they were really drooping down my butt so classily highlighting my white underwear against black shorts. Note to self, purchase new running shorts.

Here are the overall results

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy 44th Independence Day Barbados

I know it is a little late, but Tuesday, November 30th, we celebrated Independence Day here. It is interesting to think that Barbados is just about 100 years behind Canada in separating from the Brits. It makes sense why the island is sometimes referred to as “Little Britain” – which makes me think of the hilarious British comedy show.

Anyways, it is an official UN holiday here and it was quite refreshing to have a day off in the middle of the week! I took it upon myself to experience a little more Bajan (colloquial for Barbadian) cuisine and activities. The surfing lessons the previous Saturday went really well – though I only could crouch by the end of it, it was a workout-and-a-half. So my friend Sam who is giving me surf lessons offered to take me along with him and a friend while they went spearfishing, giving me some goggles and a snorkel to swim around the coral at the same time. So I headed out to the West Coast to meet Sam. I found him really high up trimming loose branches from a tree in his friend’s yard, which backs right on to the beach. After lounging around for a bit, we set out in a kayak towards the ring of coral reefs which encircles the island. I am not so interesting in doing the spear fishing myself, especially since they use a kind of gun and guns make me feel unsettled. But cool to watch. Not that I was watching much. I preferred just to swim around, check out the pretty fish and search for turtles! After having dove numerous times in Zanzibar without seeing any, and having helped those baby turtles back into the ocean, I really wanted to see them in a natural way.

And I didn’t have to look to for long, though Sam was much more adept at spotting them than I was, but they were so used to tourist groups on catamarans dangling fish pieces at them, that human contact is not so frightening for them. I will not delve into the ethics of luring hordes of turtles to have flighty tourists ogle at them. Regardless, to me, swimming with the turtles, just me and the turtles, was wonderful. I plan on going out there as often as I can; it really makes you forget everything else happening in your life. 3 hours of treading water later, and with a few fish each hung around their wire belts, we headed back to shore. I learned how to de-scale and clean a fish on the beach and learned that the fish here eat moss off rocks, which translates to bellies filled with green ooze. Yum. We also enjoyed some conkies, which is a traditional pumpkin/sweet potato based clump (soft cookie?) mixed with raisins, coconut, corn meal, spices and sometimes dried fruit, and baked or steamed wrapped inside a banana leaf. I’m currently sans camera – long story but I will have another quite shortly – so please enjoy this Google Image photo:

After conkies and the swim, we went over to Sam’s family’s place for a BBQ, with fresh fish and more traditional cuisine: pig’s tails. I just tried to find a suitable image and it mostly makes me wish that I hadn’t tried it. Regardless, it was like a hard, fried sausage with I guess a muscle or cartilage inside; edible at least. And they took great pleasure in offering it to me and watching me eat it; so, when in Rome! And otherwise, I watched a few local football matches as part of an Independence Day tournament. Interesting observation: the lines on fields here are painted with leftover black oil of some sort instead of our normal white paint to save money.

Oh and yesterday, I ran a half-marathon! I’ll post again tomorrow about that with photos and links. I’m off to the “hot pot” thermal springs tonight to work on my muscles. Right now I feel like I aged 80 years in one day.

In other news, McKinley, the CANADEM intern in St. Kitts whose bog I linked to earlier, is coming to Barbados for Christmas!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Boosted morale

While I am definitely wishing there were more opportunities for field work, for going to see what’s happening on the ground somewhere like St. Lucia, I know it’s just not in the cards right now. That is unless they urgently need a communications person in Montserrat, since my boss is afraid of very small planes. I have accepted office work as a by-product of working in an office operating out of a relatively high-income country and working in medium-income small island nations. Last week, while my supervisor Patrick was in and out of St. Lucia, I got tasked by the Deputy Representative to map all the available data/social indicators for all ten countries for the Rep to bring to a regional meeting in Panama this week. Let’s just say my math competencies have forcefully been revived from near demise. But I did get a bunch of positive feedback, which is nice since you can only pat yourself on the back so often.

And I wrote my first press release (a sign of confidence from Patrick, I hope) last week!

This week, I finally finished my first draft of the social media strategy for the office, and I did not expect myself to be in such a good mood about handing it over to Patrick. Let me just say, this document is a beautiful thing. Apparently I’m supposed to make a presentation to the programme staff and Representative about it shortly. In the meantime, at least I am starting to tick off more of the tasks on my work plan. And after editing an extremely lengthy funding proposal for child sexual abuse programming this afternoon, Patrick sent me a copy of the trip report he had to write up from St. Lucia so that I “could see the format for the new year.” Gasp! A sign of future travels? I hope so!

Okay, so I might be looking too hard for a sign. But regardless, things are going well enough now that I have accepted my non-field work state.

In the next week, a few noteworthy things are happening: An international surf competition on the east coast, Independence Day on Tuesday of next week, Hagen Daazs opens around the corner from my work, I have my first surfing lesson and I will see the new Harry Potter!

I was planning on talking a bit about Bajan dialect here, but actually another CANADEM intern McKinley, out posted way out in St. Kitts, has a good one on patois. Bajans really love replacing pronouns “her” and “his” with “she” and “him.” i.e. She got in she car.

Here is her post:

Also, I’m considering staying in Barbados until July, just to be here for crop over:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Liming in Bathsheba

Two Saturdays ago, the four girls decided to venture out to see a different part of the island. I realized the other day that although I’ve been here nearing 2 months, I really haven’t seen many of the other parishes. One of the most famous beaches, Bathsheba, is on the Atlantic Ocean side and the "Soup Bowl" is a surfer’s paradise. where international surfing competitions take place each year. And it did not disappoint!
Oh and liming means relaxing, just so you know! Example: “I’m going to go lime on the beach.”

Here are some snaps of serenity:

Calm after the Storm

Since last week, Barbados and other islands that were affected by Tomas, are picking up the pieces, cleaning up debris and many families are looking for normalcy in their lives. Last Thursday, my supervisor went into St. Lucia for a few hours to write a story for a fundraising appeal with the UK UNICEF national committee. I am starting to understand the coordination among organizations necessitated by working in this type of emergency. For example, UNICEF’s mandate is to ensure the security and livelihood of women and children, therefore, UNICEF supplies – hygiene kits, bottled water, recreational and school supplies, and water purification tablets – are supposed to be helping children, more than just the general population. Not such an easy task on the ground, especially when the communities nearest the port get news of 5,000 5L water jugs coming in hours.

Also, when one of the programme staff, Elaine, was in St. Lucia to do training for the Return to Happiness programme, she was saying that one of the elements is to have a positive message song to begin and end the session. So, as she so hilariously demonstrated by singing and doing a little dance in the latest meeting, the children involved chose Shakira’s opening of the FIFA World Cup anthem Waka Waka (This is Africa) – replacing “Africa” so it ends “This is St. Lucia.” Okay, it’s pretty darn cute.

Apparently a lack of drinking water is the major issue right now, so the purification tablets are important if people are drinking from streams so as to prevent a cholera outbreak. And conditions are right, as they are also in Haiti, for child abuse, with shelters packed, adults and children sleeping together and children generally left unsupervised.

Some photos from St. Lucia:

The Child Protection Specialist Heather took some photos in St. Lucia with the Return to Happiness kits that we spent almost a week sorting out and packing. The aim is to help children come to terms with emotions and concerns following a natural disaster and work through them in small groups. Here are some images:

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Breezy Weekend

Now that’s the understatement of the century. Tropical Storm / Hurricane Tomas really shook up Barbados (though not as much as it did St. Lucia and St. Vincent). And being so late in the hurricane season, it caught everyone off guard, and me in particular! Word came late Friday evening of a tropical storm warning, which we took mildly seriously, going out for dinner but calling it an early night. We only heard of the upgrade to a hurricane watch from a colleague who phoned around 11pm. This is the downside to not having a working tv, a radio or reliable internet. After bringing in patio chairs, laundry, the garbage can and shoes, we closed all the windows and went to bed. By midnight, the rain and wind was so loud, I was waking up every 2 hours until our landlord’s phone call at 6:30am.

“We’re all fine; the house is fine,” was all I could string together in my groggy state. No power, but we had water. Melissa, my newest roommate and emergency management intern at unicef, was also up early. The banana tree in our backyard had fallen but luckily it was not large enough to damage anything. The storm was still surging outside. We ate our breakfast almost in silence, discussing tactics for if we felt the winds were getting stronger. We could put a mattress against the glass door. We should take shelter in the corners away from windows. And we should have bought candles.

By midday, the ‘all clear’ was given to emergency crews and police to start clearing roads and getting the people who needed urgent help. Luckily, we remembered that Melissa’s phone has an FM radio, so we took turns following the news and napping or cleaning the house. The news was structured mostly as a call-in show, where people from all over the island called to explain the situation in their area, so that emergency crews listening could make note. St. Lucy, the northernmost point, and St. George in the east, sustained the worst damage. Christ Church, where our house is, was also quite badly hit. Government subsidized housing across the country sounded pretty well destroyed; so much for building codes.

I was particularly transfixed to the radio when callers explain their personal stories:
- An old lady appealing for help after a pear tree fell on her roof
- A lupus sufferer and others with special needs whose neighbours were calling to report roofs blown off and unsure of what to do about medications
- A family whose house was destroyed staying at a primary school and appealing for basic assistance
- Intense flooding in some area; with one report only saying there was major flooding in one house with a baby inside...and so is anyone helping?!?
- “Fisherfolk” in the East and West coasts braving the surf to salvage their boats – their livelihoods
- Someone calling to tell “George” that his house had been destroyed (this one pulled at my heart strings)

The “all clear” was given around 2:30pm, though intense rain continued so we actually never left the house on Saturday. Stores were obviously not open, so with only one flashlight and early nightfall here, we packed it in early for another restless sleep as the tropical storm conditions continued. At one point, around 2am Sunday morning, I was hugging the far corner of my bed, to get as far away from the window as possible – even though I knew the hurricane had passed. Sunday we stocked up on non-perishables and candles amidst a frantic crowd at the grocery store. Power lines were down all over our street, but only our street. So we pretty much have lowest priority on the entire island.

This is like forced camping. Did I mention how much I love gas stoves?

Regardless, all is well here, though without power for an undetermined amount of time. Another experience for the books. Here's to hoping Tomas miraculously steers clear of Haiti.

RIP our banana tree:

Putting together 'Return to Happiness' child trauma counseling kits at work:

Friday, October 29, 2010

I am working here, I promise.

I am constantly reminded of this space I am filling between local and tourist, on an island primarily frequented by Western vacationers looking to have a good time. However, I am here to work, regardless of the frustrations that may accompany these efforts. While today was slow to say the least, I’ll take this time to talk a bit about my work life here in Barbados. Currently, other than supporting the Communications team – Lisa and Patrick – with anything they need, I am working on documenting best practices to write up a social media platform for this country office. Not too time consuming save trying to get in contact with other country offices to figure out what they’re up to. So, I am prone to taking regular tea breaks here, especially since the lunch room (read: closet) has milo as well. And I must say, though I find it odd that everyone drinks evaporated milk with their hot beverages, I am growing to love the taste!

The last two days I was working on a presentation for our rep Tom to make for high school students on UN Statistics Day (try making that interesting), but it got cancelled. Pretty much everything has been cancelled this past week since the Prime Minister died of cancer last Saturday. I think he was quite loved and fairly young. The funeral is next Wednesday. But it was a nice change to have the TACRO (UNICEF The Americas and Caribbean Regional Office) Representative visiting last week, and now you can virtually meet my colleagues:

Otherwise, a few of us have taken to having our lunch break on the beach – it really makes for a legit break from the office, even though I find it a little too hot outside. But how can I complain with the breeze, good company and the sound of waves breaking. Also, I should say that Julie and I share an “office” – it’s actually that we have desks in the library. No complaints since it has windows and a lot to read, but it turns out it also serves as the holding pen for children of staff when they are in the office. It doesn’t help that there is a big screen TV in here. Last week, when schools were on a break, I could swear we were running a glorified babysitting service. I do love kids, I promise, but I cannot be expected to work when they are listening to Scooby Doo on volume 10000 in Spanish. I’m trying to be “child-friendly” – and they are cute, Kayla made us a homage that is up for interpretation:

After work, usually we opt to walk most of the way home, past the smoothie van, hotels, banks and shops, Bert’s Bar, Shell and on to Big B (our grocery store of choice). When we first arrived, we went almost every day. I am trying to buy as much “local” as possible – but it’s tempting with so many Canadian imports. The other great thing about Big B is they have a free shuttle when you buy groceries. A must since there is no bus running to our place from there.

And two nights ago, I spent about an hour making a delicious teriyaki veggie stir fry – complete with (knife) crushed peanuts – and what do I hear? Bells! Ice cream! I grabbed my wallet, ran to the curb and listened. And it was as if the sugar gods heard my prayer because the ice cream truck came around the bend onto my street! Someone hailed him down a few houses away, huzzah! I talked to the ice cream man and told him to drop by any time. This is so dangerous.

After a really lovely run under the stars, I spent the rest of the night relaxing on the porch with the scrumptious eats.

So, does anyone want to come visit?

P.S. False advertising, this is from my colleague's porch, not mine!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Morning Report

Is it possible that I am actually starting to really enjoy running? It seems odd to be looking forward to my morning runs, so much so that I have to stop myself from running every day. Weird. It might in part be due to signing up for a half marathon on December 5th with Laurie, the French intern at the office – I thought it was totally doable until I checked online only to find that the average finish time for a relatively fit woman is around 2 hours. In this heat, it will be quite the challenge for a distance noob like me. I ran about 10km last Sunday, and this Sunday, maybe 12km – so I’m sure I’ll survive. Though the race starts at 5am, harkening back to my press clipping hours. Here are some things I have observed while on my runs so far:

1. Everyone here owns a guard dog, or two, or three. This makes running a heart-attack-inducing activity, with the domino effect coming into full force and before long, the entire block becomes a chorus of different yelps, barks and growls. It’s a little much at 6:30am.

2. I have an unofficial running buddy here. Most mornings I see this old man, with mildly bowed legs, in his navy wife beater and red shorts. We always nod knowingly at each other as we are both dripping with sweat. This always makes me smile, like we have made a little connection. The other day, he seemed to have started pushing a small bicycle wheel alongside him with a stick. Now that takes skills.

3. I cannot seem to shake Sam, a delightful teacher who we met at Oistins, the Friday night fish market, our first week in Barbados. He lives up the street and always sees me running and wants to chit chat about everything. Run away!

4. On my evening runs, I’m still taunted by the distant bell chimes of the ice cream truck. Still unsuccessful in my attempts at figuring that one out.

More to come as the training continues. Wish me luck!

A Lot of Lashes without Defence

One of the major initiatives that UNICEF in general focuses on is the Child-Friendly Schools programme. Because all of the Eastern Caribbean has attained Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary, save one country, the main focus is on upping the quality of the education. CFS focuses on creating an environment where children’s needs are addressed individually, positive behaviour is rewarded, respect and responsibility for each student, from teachers and other students, is instilled, and parents are on board to continue the same behaviours and attitudes out of school. Sounds pretty straight forward, eh? (I know aboot where I come from) But in Barbados, and elsewhere in the region, corporal punishment is still a legally sanctioned and used form of punishment, both by teachers and parents, against children of all ages. I am sure I will get a chance to reflect on other child protection issues, but today seemed dominated by CFS and corporal punishment. And an article in Sunday’s Sun has not seemed to help – I’ll post the link when I find it. Here is something else in the meantime.

My supervisor Patrick was explaining to me, after I had contacted a Ministry of Education to see about visiting some CFS schools in Barbados to write a human-interest story, that people in Barbados feel threatened by CFS. The fact that it is a UNICEF initiative, an organization who many people see as a foreign influence coming in to take control of development of the country, there just is not the widespread support that other islands have for the programme.

I helped out at a CFS sensitization workshop for facilitators of extra-curricular activities (think Guides, Scouts, 4H, sports clubs, etc). Heather “big Heather” Stewart, the UNICEF matriarch here, addressed the crowd to speak to child-friendly schools both regionally and globally. She is quite the compelling speaker, and while during most of her talk, people were whispering amongst themselves, as soon as she mentioned the words corporal punishment, the room fell silent. The issue is obviously very controversial. Even within the Ministry of Education, there has been much opposition to CFS, wanting to re-brand the initiative the “positive school behaviour management” model. Many already think their schools as “friendly” enough as they are. I think people have to put their pride aside, and move forward in the best interest of the children, particularly as gang and youth violence in on the increase here.

Also this is Kayla, she's the daughter of a colleague and a ball of energy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thanksgiving à la Barbade

Finally, a sunny weekend. I hate to complain, but really, I am living on a tropical island and the last few weekends have been cloudy and rainy. After a Saturday of discovering the Cheap(side) veggie market, shoe shopping and going for a dip, I was not really thinking about cooking much. And it gets HOT in that kitchen. But how could I pass up the opportunity to make an international-style Thanksgiving meal after setting a Tanzanian precedent. Thinking back to making a feast for a good 15 people on three hotplates on the floor, mashing the potatoes with the bottom of a water bottle, making ad-lib stuffing from baguettes, and enjoying the oh-so-precious American import jello cheesecake, really motivated me to recreate whatever I could here. And I could not possibly forget our epic live turkey at last year’s thanksgiving in Rwanda. And my pumpkin pies, between seeking out an actual pumpkin at the market, cutting, cleaning and baking it, then scooping and attempting to puree it without a blender, followed by mixing with condensed milk and spices. Not to mention making my own crust from yogurt and coconut cookies I crushed myself with a hammer. I really felt like a cop out this year when I bought pumpkin puree in a can and ready made pie crusts. Lame.

Getting away from the nostalgia, we did make a pretty decent meal this year, although it did not have as much character as the previous ones. No slaving away for the whole day this time, but instead I had a beach break half way through. And I dropped the pumpkin pie. Typical.

And we draped a large Canadian flag underneath the front window of our house on Sunday for thanksgiving, and this had the unintended positive result of correcting our neighbours’ previous perceptions that we were American. And we have met more neighbours in the last few days than in past few weeks.

Now back to trying to fit in. Next step: work on my tan.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Turtle pictures!

Okay, so I've done a few cool-ish things since arriving in Barbados, but nothing yet rivals saving the baby sea turtles. So here are a few snaps I received earlier today, enjoy!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ice Cream and Turtles

Setting the stage: It was the last night before our German friends Jens and Armin, who we met at the guesthouse we lived at temporarily before finding this house, were to fly back home. We met up after work, had some local eats, and went to the newly discovered ice cream place – Chilly Moo’s - very dangerous for those who know me well! Did I mention the “we” is Matt and Julie, the two other Canadians working at UNICEF and living with me? Basically these guys were our first basically only friends so far, and luckily Julie speaks some German because I have to hone my slow English speaking skills still.

So after food – and in case you were wondering I ordered a strawberry cheesecake milkshake, yum! – right, so after food, we went back to the guesthouse for drinks on the beach and some evening swimming.

The main event: After some swimming, myself, Julie and the Germans went back to the porch of the guesthouse to hang out. After about 10 minutes without seeing Matt, I decided to go make sure he didn’t get swept out to see since “Da sea ain’t got no back door,” according to the Barbadian proverb to deter people from swimming out too far. Nearby a shower station down the beach a little ways, I spot a scurrying, scantily-clad Matt yelling and picking up squirmy little things from the beach, then running towards the ocean. “We have to save the baby turtles!” “Hurry we have to save them!!” I grabbed the others and after taking the requisite adorable photos, we starting collecting the little guys and bringing them to the waves. Basically, the turtle eggs hatch in the evening, and innately the turtles flail towards the moonlight. The problem is, the shower station and surrounding development puts off an even stronger light, leading the baby guys in the wrong direction and towards attack-ready crabs!

Basically, we spent about 30 minutes collecting and saving close to 100 baby sea turtles. I felt like such the budding conservationist! Apparently you can volunteer to help do this on a regular basis, so I think I’ll look into that. Armin took the photos so I’ll post them when I get ‘em. For now, enjoy this snap of the Germans, Julie and I and pretend we are hugging palm-sized turtles a la Finding Nemo.

In other news and more on the ice cream front – since most of you know about my mini-obsession – there is an ice cream truck cruising our neighbourhood. And it’s exactly how you would picture it in your mind, ding-a-ling music and all. The first time I heard it, I ran out to the street but couldn’t find the source. This evening, as Julie and I were walking home from work, the truck whizzed past us! I set out in pursuit, literally looking foolish by waving my arms in the air. But unlike the busses here that stop and reverse towards you, the ice cream truck did not seem to care about the scene I was making. I saw him stop up ahead of me, but as I approached, and what looked like a school girl got out, he whizzed off again. Now I’m puzzled. A school bus disguised as an ice cream vendor? Will keep you posted!

And here is me running after a rooster, so imagine me wearing dress clothes, running after an ice cream truck in the dark.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Feeling Grounded: Our New Digs

Two weeks. It has been both a whirlwind and what seems like forever. Before telling you some quirks about Bridgetown and how my life and work is going here, I have a confession to make. Much the groan of the majority of those who will read this, I did not initially want to come to Barbados. I know, I know, I’m a terrible person. But I’m a terrible person who is looking for direction and building on new experiences, and I guess I thought I would end up back somewhere on the African continent. The reason I’m letting you inside my mind, is that I’m still trying to shake that off and embrace Barbados and the Caribbean for what it is, beautiful, friendly and pretty developed!

Okay, so I’m not directly helping people who are plagued by conflict, or those who are malnourished because of crop failure, but I just need to get over that and move on so I can be successful where I am, not where I might wish I could be. UNICEF Barbados covers the entire Eastern Caribbean, including 9 other island states. In no particular order, they are: St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kits and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands. While most UNICEF offices are country-based, this office has to deal with 10 governments, 10 sets of stakeholders and 10 different cultures, plus logistical issues, and a pretty small staff to manage all of it. Issue-wise, the office deals mainly with programming in Early Childhood Development, HIV/AIDS and life skills, Child protection and social policy. I have not quite pinpointed my role in all of this yet, as all I have done thus far is update a bit of web content and become the most informed intern ever. I have a page of question to ask Patrick, my supervisor, but he’s going a contagious eye infection, so it looks like I will be flying solo a bit longer and teaching myself to be patient.

But it is a challenge when, for five days, my fellow intern Julie is going to Montserrat, a tiny British territory with a population of 5,000 people and an active volcano smack dab in the middle of it, to help with an Evaluation conference. Note to self – devise cunning and indirect ways to persuade supervisor to let me accompany him when island hopping. But more about work at a later point.

Enough of what appears to be complaining, because regardless of the fact that it is rainy season for another month or so, Barbados is lovely and homey. And I have to admit, it is rather nice that everyone speaks English here, even if sometimes der accen make it difcul ta undastan. After a short stay at a guesthouse right on the beach, the owner, a German cum Bajan woman named Brigid, helped us find a cute 3 bedroom house in a good neighbourhood, and affordable on an intern’s allowance. Sweet! We even have a lime tree in our front yard! So we are living in a residential area called Rendezvous Hill, a 10 minute walk up from the main road running along the South Coast.

Here are my contact details:
Cell: +1 246 268 3149
Address: No. 43 4th Avenue Amity Lodge, Worthing, Christ Church, Barbados, West Indies.

Big hugs and a turtle story to come,


Friday, September 10, 2010

Off in a week

I've updated this blog since I'll be off to Barbados in 9 days, but it still includes posts from India earlier this year.

Through CIDA's International Youth Internship Program and CANADEM, I will be working with UNICEF Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean as a Communications Officer. Having most of my experience in East Africa, this is a pretty exciting opportunity!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Widows Care and Share

Alright, so I know I haven't been very vigilent with updates the last week or so, but the reason is that I lost a handwritten blog about a field visit learning about justice for widows in India. But I just found it and I would really like to share my thoughts and reactions.

Bala Vikasa, the organization who runs our training program, has an extensive women's programme with over 200,000 members spread over the province. About 13,000 of those are widows.

In India widows have a long history of struggle and suffering. Up until a few hundred years ago, the Hindu religion dictated that the wife we burned alongside her husband's dead body. Burned alive. And this ingrained view that women have no right to live without their husband was changed by one man.

Here, all women wear bangles on both wrists, ankle bracelets, the bhindi, flowers in their hair, shiny earrings and nose studs and colourful sarees as a sign of beauty. Now, after the death of the husband, the woman must remove all these things within a week, including having her bangles cut in front of her family and friends. Many people also believe that seeing the face of a widow first thing in the morning is a bad omen. They are also excluded from happy celebrations in the community and are ridiculed if they wear nice sarees.

According to surveys Bala Vikasa has done with all the widows, 30% of widows have committed suicide, and most have attempted before being stopped by their families. While the practice of killing widows has ceased, the spirits of these women are killed regardless through isolation, humiliation and deprivation both socially and economically.

Two saturdays ago, the international participants had the opportunity to witness and be a part of one of a hundred multi-community gatherings for widows committed to change. We were told before arriving that almost one thousand women - about half widows and half community leaders - would be present, but I wasn't prepared for the warm welcome we received right off the bus. We walked to the beating drum along a dirt road through brush, piles of rubber and broken chairs, finally arriving at an open field shaded by a giant open air tent.

Sitting among them cross legged on the ground, I practiced my Telugu greetings. Ellaunaru? Naperu Heather. We were quickly ushered to the front stage to sit overlooking the crowd of seated women. Widows were seated on the left and many wore bangles and the bhindi, comfortable in such an atmosphere. The women leaders in communities were seated on our right, there to support the widows and advocate on their behalf back in their home communities.

The first order of business for this monthly meeting is a survey. Since most of the widows are illiterate, the questions are given orally and answered with eyes shut and arms raised. The widows are asked their age, number of children, education level, how their husbands died and different aspects of their lives now.

Almost all the women live off daily wages, have no savings, and have children to care for. It was pretty shocking to see such young widows as well, even as young as sixteen, as it is still common for very young girls to get married early on in rural areas. The picture below shows how many women have tried committing suicide.

So many women suffering, living for their children. Hearing accounts of those who attempted suicide but were stopped by their relatives or children, was heartbreaking. The women shared stories with each other and us, and we were all crying. Many women leaders spoke up and said they would commit to fighting for justice for these women.

After three hours, when we were asked to speak to the group, I got up the courage to say a few things to them. I told them that their strength is inspiring and that while they see beauty in these objects on their bodies, I think they are all beautiful.

I wish I could have talked with them more individually during our free time, but alas language gets in the way again.

Seriously, wouldn't being able to speak any language be the best super power?

I'm not really sure what to do with what I've learn and seen though, so I'll have to think about it some more.

That's all I have for now, I'll update again in the next day or two.

Sending my love.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Culture, culture, culture

Alright well I'd better get everyone up to speed, since I'm pretty excited to post about my experience this morning at the widows programme visit. But first things first. The above picture comes from Sushilla calling Chuck "mukka" which means monkey since he is a big goofball, but then we are all goofy, so I'm a "mukkani" or girl monkey. So we're just making sure we look the part. :)

My week started great actually, a bit of an upswing from a tiring day in Hyderabad on Sunday. We had a two day session on strategic planning with a Mr. Vikas Gora. But Wednesday to Friday we did development communications, and let's just say that we decided the only enjoyable way to attend the class was high on cold medications. This professor was a complete hypocrite, preaching feedback and evaluation, and then ripping people apart in private for presenting the slightest criticism or request to him.

Aside from the mixed week of class, we had another culture night on Tuesday with about 200 Bala Vikasa women coordinators who came from around the province for training. And after my friend Sushilla's wonderful Nepali dance, it was suggested that five Canadian girls learn the dance and perform for these ladies, as they were celebrating Christmas and New Years together. Well I was the first one to volunteer!

So basically we learned the dance in 30 minutes, found some hilariously huge Asian looking pants and popped on some black shirts, and we were ready to go. It was really fun, and the night of performances (dances, singing and skits) stretched on to midnight. Most international participants left part way through but I didn't want to miss all the pretty dances or feel like I was being disrespectful.

Regardless, we (obviously mostly Sushilla) got a great reaction from the crowd, and even Santa, the special guest, came to dance with us also. The whole evening was wonderful, watching all the performances, eating ice cream, exchanging gifts with friends and dancing all crazy on the stage.

To culminate the evening, all of the male staff dressed in sarees (like women) and the female staff like men, and danced around the stage, with some getting out of control or provocative!

And to end the night, the women received some gifts from Bala Vikasa - and the few international girls left received some hilarious nightgowns (think Little House on the Prairie). So I put one on, dressed up some boys in the them, and danced around as well.

So that was Tuesday night. Friday night we went to see Veer with Salman Khan - very famous Hindi actor here. This was my first real bollywood movie and though it was 90 percent Hindi, it was awesome! It had action, romance, singing and dancing, and fighting. Okay the ending where Khan's character is reincarnated is a bit absurd but I was so entertained the entire time, plus it costs a dollar and there's delicious popcorn. A bunch of us ended up going so a great time.

My friend Raju - who is from Nepal - somehow reads this blog and wanted me to post a picture of him and I so here it is:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hyderabad, Jai Ho!

Another week, and more love, frustration and new adventures.

I realize I haven't given an update in a couple of days, so I first need to share my thoughts from this past weekend. Sunday we planned a trip into Hyderabad, which was 19 of us on a comfy bus for the three hour ride each way.

I can wholeheartedly say that this one experience has turned me off organized group travel completely. We rented a bus but the Cenre told us there would be a volunteer accompanying us to show us some sights and shopping areas. Well going somewhere with a giant group - many of which don't have the same concept of time - is difficult at best. We first went to a beautiful white granite hilltop temple but some stragglers kept getting lost and making us all wait around. Most of us just wanted to shop but instead every little thing we did took FOREVER.

I bought one scarf and some bangles. And so I guess I'll be going back in a few weekends to try shopping round 2. It was pretty crazy being in a city of 8 million people, I couldn't even look around fast enough to catch anything.

And we sang ALL the way there and back. Lots and lots of Jai Ho :)

View of a part of old Hyderabad:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Half of a Thousand

It's fun to play dress up sometimes :)

I've definitely been keeping myself busy for sure these last two days, and really enjoying the classes. I have now officially memorized everyone's name and we all get along really well dispite age and experience gaps. Well this one participant Deo - a professor back in Nepal - is an oddball, going off on long tangents about nothing and making us listen. The last two days we have been studying asset-based community development, taught by the executive director of the Centre (Bala Vikasa), and it was pretty inspiring. And we've been doing pretty practical activities utilizing the ideas and experiences of the other participants.

And last night we had our first cultural night, where each country had to present at least one or two songs, dances or acts. Of course we felt lame and since none of us had much performing talents, we sang Oh Canada, gave out pins and flags, and sang a First Nations chant. And we performed first so that people mostly forgot our act after the others. The Sri Lankans somehow transported a traditional drum with them and my Nepalese friend Sushila had a beautiful dress and gold jewlerey to go with her wonderful dance.

And so we danced the night away last night to Tollywood (Telagu bollywood) hits and even taught everyone how to do the limbo, which they loved courtesy of the macarena to accompany it.

Today we visited a model village called Gangadevipally, which has successfully motived its community to use their own funds to have borewells drilled, a health centre built, toilets (actually utilized) in all houses, a temple and have cleaned up all the garbage as well. And now visitors come from all over the country and world to check this place out and learn from their success.

From there we visited a Hindu temple, the Warangal fort and the Temple of a Thousand Pillars (of which 500 are under renovation). I'm pretty exhausted and we're leaving here at 6am tomorrow morning to heard to Hyderabad to do some shopping, which is 3 hours away.

Sending love to everyone, especially the people of Haiti.

Also here is some jargon that Chuck typed while I wrote this:

I'm lost in india because i talk to chuck to much and he makes little sense. bananas are tasty (matt) WHERES DAN! ( anchor) jelly beans are too sweet!! Makka!! get down from there!! (sushila) Don't forget about the toilets! (Sagar Sanitary advisor) " can i just have 1 or 5 minutes." hand in your face (Professor DEO)