Tuesday, December 16, 2008

everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery breaking my mind

It is said a sign is a window into the soul of a culture, no?

Perhaps these will convey a small glimpse of another culture...

Billboard over beauty shop in countryside, Uganda "God is Here"
"It is strictly prohibited to wash cars along roadside" - entering Uganda
"Welcome to Uganda, Keep Left" - entering Uganda
"God is Love" - Forex Bureau in Kigali, Rwanda
"Gain hips and bum, call #..." - Kampala, Uganda
"Find a lover, call #..." - Kampala, Uganda
"Focused, Courageous, Victorious - not even a Sugar Daddy can stop her. Cross-generational sex stops with you." - Billboard in downtown Kampala
"Priorities changing ahead" - traffic sign in Kampala
"Tipsy Wood, Preservation Center" - Eldoret, Kenya (is this a nature reserve or drunk trees?)
"Theme: Strategic Worship for Divine Restoration" - Christian worship center in Eldoret
" 'For' 'Your' 'Electricity Bill' " - Easy Pay Billboard in Nairobi, Kenya (I don't think I'm culturally savvy enough to understand what this is code for...)

And finally... this answer came from one of the participants during a conference as Irene used multiple examples to help participants understand the impact of human dignity. "What prevents us from peeing in the streets? Answer: Shame"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I should have known better. Returning from Africa I was so excited to get to bed early, catch up on sleep and recover from the trip. I knew the first week likely would be exceedingly busy with catching up on all I'd put on hold while travelling and corresponding with new contacts, following up on new ideas. In preparing to leave I had, for the first time since starting to work for WYA, actually accomplished all I wanted to accomplish before leaving. I thought, consequently, that I could easily catch up upon return.

There have been great things to keep me busy. Lots of projects requiring some attention, speaking with the staff and hearing how they've all been doing over the previous few weeks, and other matters of great importance but little interest to anyone not me... This all means that sleep continues to wait for me. Being an optimist - I think I'll sleep lots this weekend :p

Last night, WYA partnered with IAV to host a photo exhibit showing Oman in a period of transition from traditional culture to modern conveniences. Many of the pictures were quite fascinating - if you live in NY here is a plug that you have 2 weeks more in which you can come and see them :) Afterwards we hosted a little party for Habib Malik, who was one of the guests of honour for the event, to get to know WYA staff and interns.

Best of all? We now have FOOD! Leftover party trays, and leftover food from post-party Trays. Um-mmm we'll all eat well for a few days.

Tonight, Bissy has invited me to attend an opera with her and one of the current interns. We'll go see Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades. A little coffee pre-opera will likely be essential and then the music and story will have to take over!

ps. The picture is just one I love of my little brother and I looking exceedingly cool. No relation whatsoever with anything in this post.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Little Things in Life

It's the small things in life that make a big difference, and also what take a bit of adjustment.

In London, I asked Simon where I could get some water to drink and he looked at me as though I were crazy "in the tap..." It was my first time in 3 weeks in which I could drink unboiled tap water.

Walking in the dark up the deserted hill to the observatory, I kept glancing around and felt as though it were a very unsafe thing to do. I finally confessed to Phil how odd it felt to realise that it was a perfectly safe thing to do.

Blending into a crowd again felt quite nice :)

Last night, as I briefly checked my emails, I commented to Aliah on how fast the internet was. She replied "oh, it got faster?" before realising that I was comparing it to my recent usage. Even the "high speed" internet cafes were a few minutes slower than high speed here in NY.

I have yet to take public transportation, but I will do my best to remember to stretch my legs out and wiggle my toes a bit in appreciation of space.

I ate uncooked greens and vegetables! Oh, how delightful that was... I've already had two salads in less than a day!

The cold is less than pleasant. I think if I had been here for the past month, I would have considered current temperatures to be quite mild for the time of year. Instead, I feel so very, very cold.

And the weirdest thing of all; I am no longer me. I have been waking up at 6:30/7:00am every morning! Last night I didn't go to 2 parties! That is not me... where am I?

Mary Poppins in Londinium

Monday morning, early, I arrived to London. Managed to find my way to Hunt Castle with little difficulty, until I got within 10 meters of the place. At that point the street became a court and the numbers reflected much but not reality. I finally dug deep into my memory and explored the little center court which brought me to the door.

It was good to see Phil again, I also woke up Simon who was much nicer than Phil was hoping for... We chatted for a few hours, Phil made me breakfast, I finally showered and Phil and I ventured out into the ancient city.

We walked through the center of London to the Tower of London. It was the first time either of us had been there. We first walked around to find the entrance (where we started from) and then began our exploration. It was very cool. I'd somehow always thought of the Tower of London as being a really tall tower surrounded by a moat. It's not, it's a castle. It is in fact, many castles built over many centuries, mostly interconnected by castle walls and surrounded by a large moat to prevent invasions. Now the moat is mostly dry and I'm sure much of the dampness and scum has vanished also.

In the towers where they used to keep prisoners, oddly enough it's not the one called Bloody Tower... there is glass over the inscriptions scratched by prisoners which are still somewhat legible. There is a very high number of jesuits and a few from the gunpowder plot - among others. Apparently the only time the Tower of London was ever broken into was by peasants outraged by an increase in taxes who, upon entering, committed the most heinous crimes - they insulted the guards!

I also received a history lesson in jewels, it's also where many of the crown jewels are kept on display alongside thousands of diamonds beside one crown to demonstrate how many diamonds used to be embedded in it. I also saw the Koh-i-noor, and a demonstration of what used to be the largest diamond in the world which is now split into two large, valuable diamonds, and many smaller ones. The "small" ones of course are tiny and would be an embarrassment to anyone getting engaged, being only a centimeter around rather than 7 or 5 centimeters.

We then took a boat down the Thames (correctly pronounced so that it should rhyme with James and the TH should be enunciated rather than shortened to a T sound - Simon was very careful to ensure I knew that...) to Greenwich village. Here, Phil made sure to remind me that it is the original and best - not like the fake, knockoff version in NYC. By the time we arrived it was already dark. Still wandering through the old naval academy and up to the observatory at the top of the hill was quite beautiful. There was a great view of all of London as we stood at General Wolfe's feet.

For any Canadians out there, I was able to impress the Brit with my knowledge of "British" history fought on Canadian soil. Wolfe being the general who defeated the French General Montcalme and sent the French settlers packing - most of whom fled to New Orleans, hence the Cajun population there phonetically somewhat similar to the Acadian population of eastern Canada. The Acadians remaining in Canada fled west and north, mostly into the woods and resettled in harsher climates. I also thought of Peter who refreshed my knowledge of Canadian history recently (hence my impressive knowledge, down to the details of the decisive battle) and wished I had a camera with me to take a picture with the statue.

We then got back on the ferry up to central London where we met up with Simon and Oliver for drinks - yummy, yummy mulled wine, and supper. After which we wandered around, met up with some other folk and continued to drink until my jetlag hit like a brick wall and I was incapable of even polite smalltalk. I also had a cold and was impressed how polite they all were while I was rather less than the most scintillating conversationalist or entertaining guest. London weather was a bit of a shock coming from Africa and, I've since discovered, also colder than NY.

Leaving on a jetplane

Sunday, I spent the morning packing - it was a work of art. My clothes, by then, were all so filthy that I wrapped my purchases in newspaper and then my clothes to cushion them in my suitcase - they couldn't possibly get any dirtier. I figured I was right around the weight limit, and my only concern was that at some point some customs guy would wish to check my luggage and disturb the perfection that was my packing job...

In the afternoon Irene and I visited Winnie and chatted with her. She is teaching at Strathmore university and has incorporated WYA's training materials into her classes - so that her students basically finish with a good introduction to WYA! We then went to visit Caroline, and Agi, who was in Nairobi from Hungary - small world...

Finally, we headed back to Buru Buru for the last time. Oscar Beauttah drove us there so we would have time to eat before I left for the airport. The Ambassador had promised the evening before that he would come for me in the official embassy vehicle. He arrived just as we were beginning to eat. Irene and Noreen ate in one of the bedrooms while Esther joined me with the Ambassador and his wife. They then drove me to the airport. It was so much fun not stopping to be searched and skipping the x-ray and customs line! He then escorted me to the government VIP lounge where I waited for my flight.

We had pineapple juice together before he left. Somehow I could not squeeze the juicebox into the glass given to me. I sprayed all over the table - he then volunteered to help and had the same luck regardless of direction or tilt the juice was determined to spray. Finally he ripped open one of the corner and managed to pour the rest. I'm sure the staff had never had to clean up a table of pineapple juice spray left by an Ambassador and distinguished guest before :)

Masai market

Buses in Eastern Kenya are crafted with maximum utility of space in mind, rather than passenger comfort. I am lucky that I don't bruise easily, and that Irene is so nice. Friday night I slept in what I thought was quite a clever position, and Irene thought looked like a really uncomfortable F shape... Since my knees hit the seat in front of me leaving no room for sleep sprawl, I twisted my right leg sideways and straight in front of me, with my other tucked under my seat in front of me. Due to the bumpy roads, the window was not so comfortable and I managed to tuck my blanket over my head and into a ball so it didn't slip around too much and to angle my back into a position which allowed for minimal movement against the seat. In that position I slept for a few hours until I awoke thinking my knee caps might slide out of position. Irene was then kind enough to stick her legs into the aisle and make room for my legs in front of her...

We arrived early Saturday morning - thankfully no bus hijacking occurred! Went home just on time to say goodbye to Esther and her niece before they took off to her brother's wedding. I then slept for a few hours. I woke up to find Irene asking for me to let her out of the room next door. The handle had fallen off and she hadn't wanted to wake me up so had patiently waited for 30 minutes trapped in the room till I woke up!

We then went into downtown Nairobi to shop for presents at the Masai market. The last time I went there I got majorly ripped off, and I was nervous it would happen again... Somewhere over the last few weeks though I must have acquired some knowledge. I managed to get good deals, and not good deals for a tourist, but genuinely good deals. At one point (I must have been bargaining really well!) the girl said "I'm giving you this price because you're not a rich American, you're one of us" I didn't correct her perception of the American part as the rich was false, but thought it was funny that she figured I must live in Kenya due to my bargaining style. Later on, I'd gone up to the price I wanted to pay and the guy wouldn't come down any further he said "I've already gone down so much, and you've only come up a little..." so I responded that was because he had started with a muzungu price and I wanted to pay the "my sista" price. He laughed and gave me the price I wanted. Everyone around who was selling cracked up also.

Irene was quite patient throughout this, as we spent hours in the hot sun bargaining and she helped me carry my purchases also.

That evening we went to dinner at the residence of the Nigerian High Commissioner to Kenya. The Ambassador was hosting us, a number of interns and the Beauttah family. I was able to eat Nigerian food - we had gari gari which is similar to ugali along with a typical, very spicy, soup. The Ambassador confirmed my suspicions of what Nigerian soups contained by detailing it's ingredients - basically lots of variety of fish and fish extracts, some local herbs, various bits of meat, and lots of spice!

I wore the Kenyan outfit I had purchased that day at the market, and was one of only three of us to be in authentic African garb that evening. I thought I would look like a poser wearing Kenyan clothes and being obviously not Kenyan. Irene said that it would be good for Kenyans to see their traditional clothing being worn and appreciated by foreigners as many don't appreciate it on their own.

Friday, November 28, 2008


By now, I know my name pretty well - muzungu, it means white person. I've also learned the slang, mlami.

Leaving Bungoma, one of the shuttle drivers was very kind and put our luggage into another driver's shuttle. He kept saying in Swahili that he was so excited to have a muzungu there, and he wished so much he could have the honour of taking me in his bus, and that he wished he spoke english so he could speak with me. It was so funny, Irene was translating and we were cracking up.

We then drove to Bungoma, met a former WYA Africa intern, who took us to speak to another youth group. This group was quite receptive and restored our faith in youth groups. They are from the country and only 3 of them had emails, they also couldn't understand my accent at all, so I chipped in to say a few things but mostly Irene spoke.

Then we travelled to Terige, where a seminar for almost 200 high school kids is taking place and Irene and I were scheduled to present the following day. In a little car we had, taking up a full seat, Irene's suitcase with my rucksack on top, Irene and myself squished into the other seat, and in front another passenger. The roads, even without extra people and luggage would have been rough travelling. I fought a battle with my rucksack for an hour as every time we went over a bump (every 3 seconds to 5 minutes) it would attempt to land on me. Irene commented that I looked like I was in a boxing match. We finally arrived and met the teachers and coordinators responsible for the seminar who were quite welcoming.

By 8pm exhaustion had hit in a big way, and I was no longer capable of even pretending to be sociable, they were kind enough to take us to our sleeping quarters.

Today, we spent the day giving a full WYA seminar to the kids. They were quite enthusiastic, but again struggled with my accent. I've learned that english here is taught sans pronunciation. The teachers make sure the kids know what the words mean, but few of them even know how words should be pronounced so it ends up being a bit of a free for all, that then translates into some pretty funky pronunciations and difficulty understanding english from outside their area.

It was a great seminar and I think most, if not all the kids, became WYA members. We also received our evaluation forms at the end of the day. It was pretty unanimous that we were not nearly entertaining enough and needed some dramatisation to illustrate our points. Next time, perhaps we can work on translating our workshops into song or play form.

We've got a few minutes now before we board the night bus back to Nairobi. We discovered yesterday that apparently bus hijacking along the route have become common recently, we then went back to the bus station and checked on safety precautions. It turns out we'll be travelling in a convoy of 20 buses back to Nairobi to prevent hijacking and robbery. I just hope we're the middle bus! The consensus from people here though, is that the convoys are safe, and only travelling alone is dangerous - I hope that is the case!

If I don't post again, you'll know why... I joke! and I know it isn't funny. I likely won't have internet access again till I'm back in NY, so don't expect a post till next week. If I'm lucky I'll get to internet tomorrow afternoon.

starry night, starry dreams

Leaving Uganda was an adventure. Time is not simply African time, it is specifically Ugandan time which runs about 2 hours later on average than African time. I'd been hoping to have an hour or so to do some shopping and so Irene and I thought we had about a 4 hour window in which to relax before we took the bus to Bungoma, Kenya. Instead I ran from the bus station, spent 20 minutes bartering (actually got some pretty good deals considering the time constraints and skin colour), and ran back to catch the bus which left relatively punctually. Borders here are so remarkable. There is a queue, of sorts, in which 100 people squash into an area which is built to accommodate about 30. Those best at pushing get out a good 20 minutes earlier than those who were actually ahead in line. After my first border crossing I learned to box out. Since there is absolutely no personal space, and my body was pressed from all sides, I also felt not at all bad about jabbing a pushy woman in the chest to keep her out of my place in line, or to gently kick a guy in the shins if he got too aggressive.

Back on the bus, and 40 minutes away from the border, we were stopped for a police check to ensure we all had appropriate paperwork. One guy was taken off the bus as he'd walked from one border to the next, without stopping at either control, and simply got back on the bus without a passport or anything else.

Waiting in line to have our passports checked I enjoyed stargazing. It is so much fun to look up at the sky in another part of the world and invent constellations. I did see the plow and sirius though, Irene pointed them out to me, as well as my beloved manta ray constellation from Australia.

I didn't notice for quite a while that the men and women had divided themselves into separate lines to have an officer of the same sex check their paperwork. Thankfully I was following Irene or would have ended up in the men's only line without even realising what a cultural faux pas I was committing.

We arrived to Bungoma around midnight and were welcomed by the family of one of our members. They were so incredibly welcoming and Irene and I felt so at home while we were with them.

The next day we were scheduled to speak to a group of youth organisation leaders. If it weren't for meeting the family, I would have never wanted to return to Bungoma. It was my first experience with a roomful of corruption, and such blatant corruption! After the seminar they yelled at Irene and myself for almost an hour about not paying them for attending, at not providing food, and at not even giving them souvenirs of the day. I felt terrible for our member who had organised the event, he'd been hoping for synergy between WYA and a number of youth groups, at least we know now not to work with any of them.

Afterwards, a few approached me to reiterate their statements, and after I continued to refuse to apologise to them, one informed me about how hospitable that portion of Kenya was and invited me to spend the night at his house!

I spent the afternoon playing frisbee with the neighbourhood girls (after one of the participants that morning told me how impressive it was that I, as a woman, should engage a roomful of men in conversation - argument? - I made no effort to include any of the boys in the game and only taught it to the girls) sometimes female empowerment is genuinely necessary.

I also bonded with the little boy of the house who was three, by the end of the day he knew a few English words including doggy, yeah, and high five! The next morning he was so sad to see me in my rucksack he refused to say bye. I left the frisbee for the girls to continue to be empowered through playing sports - hopefully it works. (ps. Eduardo, that's where your frisbee is)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kampala, Uganda

This morning Irene and I gave another seminar to a number of youth groups. Most of the youth either live in, or work in, the slum the clinic is based out of. I discovered today it is the largest slum in Uganda.

They all speak English as a second language, after Luganda, so Irene and I both presented in simple words and tried to speak slowly. Even so, at times there was a need for a translation break. Some of the participants had excellent english, but others struggled. I also gave a presentation on Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Seems farfetched to present those technologies to youth from a slum, some of whom haven't even graduated from high school, and all of whom are in need of basic necessities and jobs. I wasn't sure whether they would understand it, or be interested in it.

In presenting WYA, and following Irene's presentation they all expressed a great desire for knowledge. The needs they feel the most, at the moment, are for seminars, workshops, opportunities to learn and to network. With those needs met they feel confident they can even then create their own jobs and opportunities.

I attempted to present the basic biology of the technologies, and then outlined the areas for potential exploitation involved. During my presentation, I was shocked to see that many of the girls in the room had tears in their eyes and many of the guys also looked quite saddened. The points on the potential to exploit poor women hit home in a huge way.

Speaking with one of the participants afterwards, I learned that transactional sex remains a huge part of Ugandan life, especially here in Kampala. Many children from rural areas are AIDS orphans and people will convince them to come to Kampala with promises of money, they are then forced to beg on the streets or work in prostitution. Rapings and defilement are apparently common at every level; from uncles, teachers, taxi drivers, everyone.

In the schools, teachers will either ask for money or sex in order to give a good grade - if a student doesn't agree then they will receive a poor grade regardless of what they deserve. The teacher will simply assign their grade to another student who does pay or have sex with them. There is no mechanism for students to appeal, they all are aware of the system.

Girls at night will often be raped by taxi drivers or other men around. Breaking into houses is common too, and often the men have guns.

Even girls who get into university will often have one man who pays for their books, another for their shoes, another for their hair, and then their real boyfriend - whom they love. It is not just among poor girls, girls who are somewhat well off but who want something nice sooner than later will sleep with a wealthy older man to get a new dress, new car, etc. There are signs throughout Uganda about getting rid of cross-generational sex.

I even learned today that at the local university there is one older man who will pay girls a certain amount for each date they go on with him. All the girls know that he is ill with AIDS, but because he pays so well many of them will go with him anyways. The younger men, because they don't have such money, have great difficulty in finding a girlfriend. Even the modelling agencies will hire out their models to men as they go on business trips or marry them off to wealthy businessmen. The agencies then get a nice kickback from what the models earn.

HIV has started to rise again, especially in Kampala. The young people are aware that having sex with an older man can kill them, but they see the nice things their friends are getting, they see the celebrities on tv and they ignore all the warnings. The youth who were telling me this aren't sure of what to do next. When the information is there, access to retrovirals is there also although much more limited - then it is difficult to do much more.

Unless they were to get rid of corruption and offer opportunities to the girls and to families instead of transactional sex?

Travelling - Ugandan style

Last night, Irene and I physically crashed around 9pm but were unable to get into bed till midnight. We are being hosted by a family here. After taking tea at 9pm yesterday we went back to the clinic and chatted with some of the staff and patients while waiting to find our accomodations. Upon arrival we waited as they wished to also bring us tea and food. By the time we'd finished eating I was so exhausted that I only washed my face and feet before crawling into bed - even though I felt so filthy from travelling all day.

On the bus we'd had the seats directly behind the door. They of course packed the bus so full with seats that my feet extended over the edge and spent most of the 8 hour trip either tucked under my seat or dangling over the ledge. The door also didn't fully close so I would wipe my pants every 30 minutes or so to get rid of the film of dirt which had accumulated from the incoming wind. After we stopped by the roadside for a pee break, I felt much less comfortable dangling my feet.

The toilet consisted of a cement block with a hole in the middle surrounded by corrugated tin. All the women would wait outside while one went inside and squatted. When it was my turn I went inside and the two women after me peeked around the corner to watch. I tried to wait for them to get bored of watching me, but apparently they wanted to see a white woman pee. Eventually I just asked them to please turn around. They nearly waited till I finished, and I guess that is the best I could hope for...

Of course, no one on the bus washed their hands afterwards and everyone held onto the ledge as they entered, then one of the guys on the bus took a sip of water and spat onto the stairs. By the end of the bus ride I alternated between sticking my feet into the air ahead of me and tucking under my seat since I could feel my knees starting to go numb.

Washing this morning, my whole body, was one of the happiest things I've ever done :)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I saw a warthog!

This morning Irene and I left at 530am to take a bus from Kigali to Kampala. The bus, running on African time, left around 630am... We then stopped at the Ugandan border to get our passports stamped, bit of a stampede and my toes started itching after I'd wandered around the area in flip flops. Knowing that when jiggers (fleas) infest a person the area feels itchy, I obsessed and spent 20 min checking every so often to find it again. Of course since there was the thought of jigger there the itchyness didn't go away till Irene also checked my toes and found them jigger free :)

We're now in Kamapala, I'm typing on a keyboard so stiff that it feels like a really old typewriter that you had to pound. I think my fingers will be stiff tomorrow :p

We were picked up at the bus station by a Friend of WYA. He took us to his clinic, he's worked there for the past 7 years. It's in a slum and serves the people of the community. Many are Somalian refugees and there is a mosque across the street. He said 90% of the slum is Muslim, and apparently Somali's tend to be strict as I saw for the first time two little girls of about 5 and 7 wearing hijabs.

They are incredibly friendly. Almost everyone here speaks English, and I recognise my name by now - muzungu. So as they're calling out to me I'll wave or say hi. Many of the kids are excited to practice their english and will say "hi, how are you, I'm fine" and leave so pleased with themselves. The adults will wait till I smile and then they'll grin back. The little babies I think are terrified of this strange-looking creature.

At the clinic there is only one fulltime doctor and 3 other part time doctors as well as nurses and other staff. So many young people are HIV infected, and if they can be offered treatment and counselling then that is a great help to them. As we've wandered through the slums the doctor is a bit of a celebrity.

Gotta run now, but as I mentioned in the title - I saw a warthog today! A few minutes across the border and he was splashing around in a little stream, he looked just like pumba :) We also saw hundreds of goats. Cows being herded (in herds!) horns and all. And the insides hanging gracefully at every market we passed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Thursday and Friday, Irene and I gave a two-day seminar to WYA members (now they are WYA members, they weren't when we started...) at the National University of Rwanda. It is the holidays now for Rwandan students, as it is the rainy season here, the only students left at the university of Rwanda were the science students who were still in the middle of exams. We were incredibly lucky, with an empty campus, to have over 40 students participate for 2 days while taking a break from exams.

Our seminar focused on the dignity of the human person - who am I? who are you? and what implications does that have for freedom, solidarity and human rights. We also spoke about HIV/AIDS and Assisted Reproductive Technologies. As in every seminar, I began by introducing WYA - who we are and what we do. When I speak about how WYA was founded, at a conference on Population and Development at the UN in 1999, I ask the participants - if they had been the young people - what they would have asked to be considered as the basis of development. The answers I almost always receive are access to employment, food, education, basic healthcare and good governance. From time to time I'll receive answers like providing youth with a greater voice, or technology skills. Here in Rwanda was the first time I've received the answer: self confidence.

Upon reflection it is absolutely a requirement for development, we cannot develop if we do not believe we are worthy of respect or capable of creating a better future. After each seminar, Irene and I would break the participants into groups for discussion and they would then present their answers. In every discussion we asked them to present the core issues along with solutions. Every group, at some point would mention again the need for self confidence. They also spoke a great deal about peace, and the need to accept every member of society and demonstrate that everyone, regardless of any condition, can contribute in some way to society.

The answers were so incredible to hear. As I'm always made aware of when speaking to various groups, people worldwide have many of the same needs and desires for change. Here in Rwanda, with its unique history of recent human rights abuses and genocide, our members have extra difficulties to overcome alongside a much greater awareness of how important the work of WYA is.

An interesting side note is that people here will talk a great deal of progress and reconstruction - almost never will anyone say the word genocide, although they might mention 'war' or '1994'.

I also realised in these last few days that while many humanitarian and aid agencies have flocked to Rwanda, no one has come to offer counselling or guidance to the survivors. Both the perpetrators and those attacked are in great need of guidance to understand what happened, how, to make sense of how to move forward, and to deal with any emotional or psychological trauma they may have endured or still suffer with. No one has yet come to offer that.

The lucky ones are those are able to integrate back into society and continue with their lives, they work extra hard to ensure nothing like that will ever happen again and through all this they struggle with comprehending and coming to grips with what happened. Many are not so lucky and retreat into their homes in the hills, living from day to day unable to move on with their lives. I hope someone reading this blog will take the initiative to come. People now, I get the impression, are open to help and guidance and it could really change many people's lives if they were to receive that.

As we speak with the members about HIV/AIDS, about human dignity, about perceptions of the person, there is no need to go into the dangers of what discrimination and placing people into categories of fully human or less human can do. If you simply begin to mention those dangers, it is obvious in their faces how deeply they understand what can happen. In that way, as they become aware of the concept of intrinsic human dignity - it is something which can really guide their lives and their work. I would love to offer more WYA members and youth to learn from the Rwandese about the importance of these issues.

The Rwandese members here are inspirational to me, as they open up little by little about their pasts, and how much they want to accomplish in their lives, it hits home how lucky so many of us are worldwide to not have endured what they have endured, but also how much they can offer to the world if they are able to retain those lessons and remind others' and other countries of what needs to be done.

Chigari (Kigali)

Wednesday was a more relaxing day for Irene and myself. I spent the morning at the GSL (Greatest School of Languages) where they teach English, reading through the beginning and intermediate books to correct grammar and have my voice recorded. All future English students of the school should come away with a lovely Canadian accent!

In the afternoon Irene and I met with some members here in Kigali who want to re-energise the committee that is currently here and were looking for some guidance. We sat outside at a little concrete table and benches overlooking a vegetable garden, overlooking the slums of Rwanda which skirt the embassies and hotels. The slums are scattered along the slopes and in the afternoon sunlight were quite picturesque - then the rains began. We attempted to stay in our little shelter but the rains came down so hard we were splashed from its landing and it blew in from both sides of the shelter as well as from minuscule holes in the roofing. We then fled to our room to finish the meeting.

In the evening, Irene and I attended the Pioneers of Prosperity Africa Awards. The awards ceremony was to honour 10 entrepreneurs from across Africa (selected from over 1400 nominations) who demonstrate excellence in entrepreneurship and are contributing to a better society in some way. The evening was an incredible opportunity to meet some of those most dedicated to improving Africa's development and private sector from a range of angles. There were also present people from across Africa who support or are otherwise engaged in similar fields - an absolute gold mine of people changing the world!

All the entrepreneurs were incredible, there were finalists from South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. The finalist who won the grand prize was a man from Nigeria who runs a paper company, he provides jobs and care for almost 600 people and used his $100,000 of prize money to build houses for his workers - he deserved to win!

I also met a man who works for a health/insurance company in Kenya, called AAR. He absolutely oozed energy - I think I've never spoken with someone who so clearly had multiple thought processes running in intersecting areas throughout his mind, and would pull from one or another as they became relevant to the conversation. His company charges insurance - but with the theory that healthy patients saves money for the insurance company in the long run. By tying the insurance company to the healthcare sector, they work a great deal with preventative care, thereby caring for their customers in a much more meaningful and impactful way!

Andreas Widmer of 7 fund and Eric Kacou of OTF were there as co-hosts of the event with Legatum. I realised in the days leading up to the event that here in Rwanda they are both celebrities. As I mentioned to our WYA members that Irene and I would attend, they were so jealous and wished so much to meet them - they all remembered seeing Andreas on tv years ago, and Eric currently. Seeing them at the event was great by itself, and extra fun knowing that I was speaking with such celebrities :)

We had taken motorcycle taxis to the event, and on the way home it seemed we would have to walk. It was do-able, but at 11pm not the best use of 40 min of our time, especially as we had to leave the next morning at 6am for Butare. Thankfully, 5 minutes into the walk a woman who had been at the event was driving by and gave us a lift home. I think I've already mentioned how friendly people are here?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So it just cuts through the air?

I brought a few frisbees with me to Africa to introduce WYA members to a new sport. I didn't realise how incredibly revolutionary my little plastic discs would be...

In Nairobi, I spent an afternoon with the interns in Uhuru park teaching them to play. As I was first demonstrating how to throw, one of the interns threw it so it landed near a woman's feet. She picked it up to hand it back to me but was staring so intently at it that I encouraged her to throw. A panicked look crossed her face and she shook her head, I asked her again to throw it to me, and she said "so it just cuts through the air?" She threw it back and was so excited to watch it go.

We then threw around for a little while until a few guys walked past, one of them called out to me "I'm Obama's cousin!" I laughed and they asked me to throw the frisbee to them. I did, and then the second one wanted to catch also, I threw it to him but he crouched and it hit him in the forehead - he was so embarassed and the third one also wanted to catch. Then one told me that I was beautiful and should remain in Kenya, his logic was flawless - apparently white women and Kenyan men produce senators and Presidents, so if I had children with him, just think what our kids could do!

Here in Rwanda, the members have been equally fascinated by my frisbee. I threw a bit with them today and they are excited to learn to play tomorrow. The only problem for them is that apparently kids here play with paint can lids, and they are a little concerned about their reputations :)

We couldn't play this afternoon as it is the rainy season here, and it poured. While we sat inside listening to thunder, they asked me if I like the rain - it just so happens I love rain. They then said that they hated rain because whenever there is a thunderstorm here, people die from being struck by lightning, and also their shacks will wash away so they will drown. Apparently every major thunderstorm approximately 50 people will die from their houses being destroyed or freezing in the streets, or other related causes.

It just reminds me how priviledged, and selfish, I am that my whole life I have loved thunderstorms since I can watch it from the comfort of being inside or to enjoy the feeling of changing into dry, comfy clothes after getting soaked. It's easy to remember that people die in earthquakes, fires, typhoons, etc. It's much harder to remember that in some places all it takes is a rainstorm for people to die...

The members have taken such excellent care of Irene and myself. After the rainstorm the walked us back to our lodgings before they left to take care of business. We're staying in accommodations near a Church at the center of Kigali. Irene and I need to explore this Church, it is huge and we are both convinced that this is one of the famous places from the genocide where a few thousand were massacred after seeking asylum here.

One thing that I cannot quite accustom myself to, is how physically affectionate people are here. It is so common for men to walk around together holding hands or with their arms around each other, and women also. They'll do the same with me and I have to remember to be polite and reciprocate. I don't generally hold hands in public or hug people so closely that to do so with multiple people and strangers is a little difficult. Of all the countries in Africa I have been to, Rwanda is the friendliest and most affectionate. People here, especially children are so outgoing and will go out of their way to shake my hand. I think the entire country has made a huge effort to be friendly and loving towards everyone to prevent any hell like what they experienced from ever happening again.

Their thoughts are so geared towards peace, the value of each person, and development at all times - I truly hope they become the most incredible example worldwide of recovering from an atrocity by building as a nation and with a high development standard.

Maramutze en Rwanda

It is now the third day of Irene's and my stay in Rwanda. We are taking a few moments at an internet cafe with a French keyboard so I will likely avoid all contractions since I cant find the apostrophe key...

I think I will never get used to Rwanda's beauty. The red dirt amongst rolling hills and lush tropical greenery everywhere. So much construction has occurred since I last visited, there are more houses and fewer shacks, the roads have more flowers and plants growing alongside - its amazing how much it has developed! On top of all this, many of the Rwandese still wear their traditional dress, so they look so beautiful walking along the roads.

My last visit to Rwanda I wanted so much to take a motorcycle taxi, yesterday my wish came true. We arrived late Sunday night as Kenya air had overbooked the flight and we couldn't get on - so we waited 6 hours to take the next flight. We were greeted by Obadias whom I'd met my previous visit along with Ntezimana - a member from Butare who took the bus into Kigali simply to meet us. Our first night we spent in a hostel which cost much more than our budget, so we took Monday morning with Ntezimana to ask around for a cheaper place. We took the bus to the other side of Kigali close to the embassies where a Christian organisation had said they could offer us a room for a third of the cost. After following their directions to the bus stop, we had to walk 45 minutes back in the direction we had come to find the place. Upon arrival, it turned out they had no rooms but that another center close by might.

Since they told us the other center was close by, and knowing African time, I asked them to call the other place before we spent the rest of the day walking in search of it. They did have rooms, so we walked for 30 min, it was a very nice clean humanitarian organisation with extra rooms, so we agreed to stay there. By that time we had only 20 min to get back into Kigali as we had a radio interview scheduled, so we had to take motorcycles rather than the bus - LOVED it!

We spoke on the English radio station here, we had a one hour segment and a WYA member here was the DJ so he asked great questions to keep the show moving and focus on WYA. We then moved our stuff from the hostel to another cheaper place - it turned out that Obadias knew a cheaper place but thought we would want more comfortable lodgings - very thoughtful, but not how WYA works ;)

Today we gave a seminar scheduled from 8am till 3pm. I knew last evening that it would start on African time - but there was so much talk of punctuality. I arrived just on time, and Irene shortly afterwards as she had been printing slides of my speech since the laptop wasn't working. We then sat till 9am since apparently more than half the participants had called to say they would show at 10am. I felt terrible for the few who had actually been punctual and were sitting waiting there, when I asked if we could begin at least for those I was reminded that Africa functions on African time...

It was especially frustrating though as, true to form, I hadn't woken up on time - so hadn't eaten breakfast. Always a problem, but with anti-malaria pills eating my insides if I neglect to eat every few hours, the time spent waiting was especially painful. After I finally gave my first talk, I snuck outside to eat a protein bar (thanks Bissie!) After the seminar we gave out certificates to all the participants and then had a few photo ops. Then we went for lunch with Obadias, Allen (the DJ) and Bosco (another WYA member).

Food here is so delicious and filling. Meals consist typically of rice, kasava, cooked bananas, beans, ugali, potatoes, carrots, and some form of meat. Not every dish has all those ingredients (although todays did!) but the foods are so filling that it doesn't really matter.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Preaching and Hawking strictly prohibited

That was the sign on the bus yesterday going home, shortly before our driver got into a shouting match with another bus as they competed to remain the one bus on the road. My driver won.

Since last posting I visited with Caroline Maingi, the first Director for WYA Africa, and her 3 little kids. Her newest baby Rafael is adorable with curly hair, and he just wouldn't stop staring at me, I think I was the oddest thing he's seen in his short life... The other two, Victor and little Javi were so funny. When I first arrived two sets of eyes would appear from behind a doorway, and disappear the moment I looked in that direction. As the visit progressed they became increasingly less shy, and rowdier. By the end of the visit they were pushing tires throughout the house and running in and out every few seconds to give me "sweets". Last I saw little Javi he looked exactly like a cabbage patch doll. His body has grown quite a bit since then to match his head, although his eyes remain so big in his face - he is so cute!

Yesterday, Irene and I were media stars... We went in the early morning to visit the BBC. Once they found out we were travelling to Rwanda and Uganda they postponed our interview so we could come back with a field report. We then went to K24 and were interviewed about WYA. We were shown on primetime tv, at 1230pm that same day, with a 30 min. segment. We went to a nearby cafe to watch ourselves with the interns. Later in the day, we visited Pomoja radio station for a brief WYA introduction. Pomoja is the radio station which broadcasts out of Kibera slum - the largest in the world. The interview with Irene took place in Swahili and mine was translated.

On our way into the radio station we drove through Kibera slum, it was my first time visiting Kibera. We parked outside the radio station and two of the most adorable little boys were staring from behind a corner. I managed to become friend with them and we played soccer for a few seconds together until Oscar Beauttah and Irene dragged me into the radio station. After our radio interview they took us onto the balcony which gave a birds-eye view of the slum. As we peered around I saw my two little buddies, they also noticed me and waved at me from 5 stories below! On my way out of the station, they were still there hanging around, I wanted to steal them and bring them with me but managed to leave them there. One of the little boys had a sore in the corner of his mouth, I really wished I had something with me for him.

I'm a huge fan of signs in Nairobi, some of my personal favourites to date are: "car park under rehabilitation" (construction) "driver under instruction" (student driver) "do not urinate here, it is unethical and prohibited" "don't hoot, driver is sleeping". More will come...

Gotta run now, the interns are all waiting patiently for me to finish so we can all go home tonight.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Buru Buru

I am staying at phase 5 of Buru Buru in the Eastern Headlands. The best way to travel there is by the hip hop matatu, although there is a "normal" bus that actually follows the traffic signs - it is much slower. En route from Nairobi center to Buru Buru are numerous roadside stands. I noticed yesterday one stand selling grave-stone markers, anything from crosses to hearts to the standard variety. I also passed one this morning selling soccer cleats - very cool cleats, it made me want to shop! You can get everything from leather shoes, to nighties, to bananas to electronics equipment. All the while you're being tossed around while dodging people, other buses, and road dividers - there is no point in dodging potholes :)

Last night, Noreen, one of the girls I am staying with cooked Ugali, a bony fish and scuma wiki. Ugali is a paste made of flour and water which you roll around in your hand and then use it as a spoon to scoop up the scuma wiki (greens) and fish. The fish also was to be eaten with your hands. Irene was kind enough to eat the head, eyeballs and all, and to leave me with the middle section. I've had a bit of practice by now eating with my hands, but realised about 5 minutes into the meal that I've likely got my idea of how to eat with my hands from babies - I was by far the messiest eater :p

Today, I've brought a frisbee with me to the office, at some point I'll take the interns to a park nearby and introduce them to the greatest sport :)

Of course in the midst of all this, I'm also working! I expect no one to believe me...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sawa sawa

Last night, I arrived to Nairobi! I got a cool visa in my new passport and after claiming my lost baggage was greeted by Irene Mwangi, and Mr and Mrs Beauttah. I was excited they had come, I'd expected to have Irene meet me, but to have Mr and Mrs Beauttah show up made me feel that much more welcome :)

We took a taxi to the apartment Irene and Esther share - WYA Africa staff unite! I was quite happy to see the pilates ball I gave them is being put to good use as one of their living room chairs! It was so great to see them, Esther served me delicious non-plane food and we just chatted and caught up. Irene also gave me a little introduction to the large and small mosquitos Kenya has, with the large ones not carrying malaria. Conveniently, there was a large mosquito on the ceiling which she could point to, I thought it was a daddy-longlegs spider! I got up as close as I could to see that it was actually a mosquito, we took a picture - I have proof that spider sized mosquitos exist. After taking his picture we thought it best to name him. As he is Kenyan and larger-than-life, we called him Obama. I just hope he doesn't get squished by someone unaware of who he is!

Today, Esther and I took a matatu into the office to visit Irene and the interns. We rode on one which markets to teenagers by blaring hip hop and rock music with tv screens on the bus! We stood the whole way, Esther was impressed by my anti-pickpocketing purse hold :) I think I'm still somewhat deaf from the ride and my right arm will be sore tomorrow from holding on. The roads are very potholed outside of the city center which makes for some funky directional changes.

Day one is half over, I'll now get back to work before we head to Caroline's house this afternoon for tea.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Karibu Sana!

At last, the moment has arrived. In 0:50 hours I leave for Newark to head to Africa! I'll be visiting Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. I am so excited to leave!!! I'll be visiting Nairobi, Eldoret and Bungoma in Kenya. Kigali and Butare in Rwanda, and Kampala in Uganda. Irene, the WYA Africa staff member, and I will be travelling together by bus through most of these places for the next 3 weeks.

This morning, I needed another 2 days before I would be fully packed and ready to go. Lots of adrenaline, a little stress, and 1 cup of coffee later I have time to write a short blog before heading out the door. This is the teaser... I'll post as I'm able to find internet during my travels.

Now, off to finalise all the last-minute details of the trip, hug everyone goodbye and start lugging my suitcase through the subway system en-route to Newark airport...

So long rafikis! (Swahili for friends & Karibu Sana is You are Very Welcome)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

In Dignity

Recently, at WYA, we began "In Dignity Moments." Quite possibly the most brilliant idea yet! They are opportunities for us all to take a break in the office and rejuvenate ourselves, have some fun, or simply goof off!

There are only two rules:
1. Anyone can initiate; staff, intern, etc.
2. There is a limit of once/day for each In Dignity Moment of 5-15 minutes

I wasn't sure of the reaction to this idea, if people would tell me to stop wasting their time and focus on becoming more "professional." Haha, that was another spark for the In Dignity name, I assumed I would have a lot of Indignant people :) Quite the opposite... We've only had them taking place for about a week now, so I've had to remind people to make these moments happen. The response has been great!

The first In Dignity Moment was a brief improvisation skit, the next day we learned Kenyan dancing, yesterday we threw chocolate chips into each other's mouths from across the room, today we had ice cream and hot chocolate! You may be noticing a theme of activity and food...

It's wonderful though, since the In Dignity moments can consist of anything (which promotes dignity) they're wide open to people being creative and greatly help to break up the monotony of working for a full day in the office. I hope they continue forever... If you're really brave you can try this at home ;)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I'm Becoming the Hamptons

International Staff Meetings began a week ago. Twice a year all the WYA staff from each of the 5 offices worldwide comes to NY and we plan strategically, have a chance to share our experiences and just get to know each other better. This year, we were lucky enough to be hosted at two houses in the Hamptons for week 2.
Tuesday, we arrived to Bridgehampton around noon. Francois and I jogged to the house we were staying at, initially in the wrong direction. Then drove back to the train station to pick up all the luggage while the staff walked. The house is great, 8 of us are staying in one place and four at another so they drive over every evening and come back to join for staff meetings.

We've all entered heaven. Tuesday we arrived and after a quick lunch we drove to the beach at the bottom of the road. I made 3 trips, and by the time I finally got out of the car I was so excited to go swimming. The waves were huge and crashing on the shore with enough spray to knock you down and chuck you meters further up the beach. All the staff were sitting calmly on their towels, chatting. I slowed down enough to throw my towel and shirt on the sand and sprinted directly into the waves. Francois followed quickly afterwards, and then Carlos. We dove right into the waves and although the initial shock of the cold was quite intense, the joy of swimming in the ocean more than made up for it. Carlos managed to stay in about 2 minutes before his Paraguayan body refused to deal with the chill anymore.

After a few minutes of swimming we moved on to body surfing. By this time, a number of the other staff had at least moved far enough down the beach to dip their toes in the surf. Shannon eventually joined and once we were out beyond the breaking waves confessed she wasn't such a confident swimmer. We stayed out there till we had some waves small enough I thought she might enjoy the ride. We missed the first wave, caught the second and while I got out of the surf Shannon didn't move quickly enough and got swamped by a big one. After that experience she was quite shaken up, perhaps still is, and stayed out of the ocean for the rest of the day.

Carlos and I threw a frisbee around for a little while as everyone else relaxed and chatted. Thunderclouds started to roll up and the sky got quite dark after a little over an hour so we had to leave.

After supper while Francois, Becky, Carlos and Des drove over to their home the rest of us settled into the attic to watch some, what Carlos would call, chicken flicks. Our goal was to watch the most ridiculous, brainless, girliest movie we could find. Sadly, all those movies had already been watched to death. We did find one that was still functional, The Prince and Me, Part 2. Which we followed with A Girl in the Cafe, a love story which takes place around the UN and Millenium Development Goals. I absolutely loved A Girl in the Cafe, it is one of the most awkward love stories ever. Both protagonists were such socially inept, awkward conversationalists, that watching their interactions and flirting was so painful. I think part of its charm is I could remember conversations I've had with people like that, and I'd always wondered how they got to know people or fell in love, now I know!

Today we began our day with a game called SPUD, in which the person who is "it" counts to 3 while everyone else runs as far as they can. Then the "it" person has 3 steps to take in any direction to hit someone with a sock. Each time someone is hit by a sock they receive a letter and upon completing SPUD, they are eliminated. I've been playing games with the staff each morning to introduce them to all sorts of icebreakers they can use in their own work. Becky, especially, intensely dislikes these exercises and upon hearing of this morning's game was especially disappointed. So we decided the game could also be called MARY, the important thing being that it remains a four letter word :)

During lunch today, I went to the beach again for a quick swim (of course also attempting to tan somewhat). This evening we had a BBQ out in the backyard. Basically, it's been a little slice of heaven for all of us here. Only two more days, they will pass us by much too quickly.

Chowdafest Tournament

Two weekends after I returned home from travels, after only one Ultimate practice, I went to the Chowdafest Tournament in Massachussetts. It is one of the more important tournaments as it is the last tournament before all the teams in the NorthEast Region compete to qualify to attend Nationals. The rankings assigned to the teams based on how they play there, affects their rankings at Sectionals which occurs a few weeks later.

After basically 2 months of not playing Ultimate, I was exceedingly nervous that I would play one game be completely out of shape and be dead for the rest of the tournament. What happenned was not far off, but willpower carried me much further. Even in the warmups I was nervous that my teammates would realise how out of shape I was and really worked hard to appear fit.

First game, I went all out and managed to have some nice catches, throws and even a couple goals scored! We won our first game against a relatively easy team. Second game was also against a relatively easy team and we won that also. Third game was against one of the top ranked teams in the country and while we expected to lose we did put up quite a bit of a fight, scoring the most points against them of any team they had played until then. Fourth game was against a team which went on to beat that team for first place in the tournament. We lost by one point and while we were happy to have played a good game, all felt that with a little more time we could have potentially beat them.

Saturday evening I was dead. My calves were sore, my abs hurt, my back hurt, I didn't think I'd be able to play at all on Sunday. Thankfully after a little swim, some beer, and a couple go-kart races I felt much better :)

Sunday we had a relatively easy team for our first game and won. It was a great game for me to warm up my muscles little by little. Second game was against our NY rival team. Most of the time they're seeded higher than we are, but we had already beat them once this summer and were determined to again, and did. Third game was again against the Nationals level team, this time they absolutely destroyed us and we didn't even put up a fight. Our goal had been to beat Crafty, our rival team, and we had spent all our energy in doing so. Final game of the day, for third place at the tournament was a hard-fought game. By that point many of our guys were injured or too sore to continue playing. I had only enough endurance to play one point at a time and don't think I contributed too much... we lost by two points in the end, but it was a close game point for point.

Sunday evening I could not walk at all, I was so sore for a few days and basically just lazed around doing nothing. I decided on Thursday to do sprints and warm up my muscles again. I did sprints with Ben and by the time we'd warmed up, completed our 40m sprints and gone on to the 100m sprints, my left quad was already hurting. I kept on and tried not to push it too hard. After doing a couple 200m sprints, I stopped by the bleachers where my backpack was, or should have been. It had been there less than 60seconds before as we went around the track. I quickly checked the garbage cans, then ran to check all the exits. I couldn't find it anywhere. We didn't do anymore sprints after that. We checked the whole track, the bleachers, all the garbage cans, my backpack was definitely stolen. The saddest part is that in there were my jerseys from the Dominican Republic team at World's and also my New Zealand jersey, along with my water bottle from World's and my favourite skirt which I'd been planning to go out in afterwards.

So, if anyone sees my jerseys, get them back! It's so sad being robbed, someone stole my cellphone, driver's license, bank card, backpack, flipflops, $$, etc. They didn't even get that much money and nothing in there was of any use to anyone but me. Even my driver's license won't do anyone any good since no bouncers in NYC believe that New Brunswick even exists, they all think it's a fake! When it actually is a fake, they won't even have the indignation of nobody believing the province the card is from actually exists.

Monday, August 11, 2008

World Ultimate and Guts Championship

Wednesday was my first shift as a volunteer for World's Ultimate. Volunteering was great, we were treated so well, given cool T-shirts and free food. My first game one of the Columbian girls had a neck injury but didn't have to go to the hospital. I scorekept for a few more games and then wandered off to find the Domino's (from the Dominican Republic) and watch their game.

It's so much fun to be at an Ultimate Tournament and the first one ever that I have not played in. It was especially hard as the second game I scorekept for was Mexico vs Australia and I knew half the women on the Mexican team. I'd played with them all when I was in Mexico, the worst part was, when they saw me they also wished they'd known I would be there so I could have been on the team! Instead, I taught them a few new drills and will hopefully play for them next World's.

Thursday I also had a neck injury my first game, one of the Venezuelan Master's but thankfully he also didn't have to ride in the ambulance. After their game they got in a big circle with drums and all the French and Venezuelans danced, they even pulled me into the center for a little while, so embarrassing but tons of fun. Thursday afternoon I watched the Domino's warmup before ditching to see if I could play for Mexico in their game against Ireland. Ireland said no, which in hindsight was likely for the best since if I had played Mexico might have won. Ireland wasn't such a strong team and basically won the game on their height and longer strides, without that advantage the game would have been quite different. Instead I coached the girls throughout the game, it was great fun and they played very well. Their first game against Ireland they lost 17-3, this game they lost 17-9 which showed great improvement on their part.

Afterwards we watched part of the showcase games which was in the beer garden and had hot tubs on one corner of the field. The water was so hot it took me 5 minutes to get in up to my knees, the Mexicans thought I was a total wuss. I don't feel so bad though, as the day before I jumped into the Pacific ocean with a few of the Dominos when most of them thought it was much too cold...

Friday was my final volunteer day and I managed to be scorekeeper for the game of the Dominos vs Mexico! Loved it, I knew all the Dominos and most of the Mexicans so it was a great game to watch. It was also the second time the two teams played each other and Mexico had lost previously and was determined to redeem themselves. The Dominos won once more, in a much closer game and then spent nearly 45 minutes taking turns to give pep talks about their play during Worlds. Most of the players were quite new to Ultimate and it was their first competitive tournament, so they had really come in seeded last in rankings and hoping to win just one game. To win three, and twice against Mexico was very exciting.

This blog is totally long overdue, but I just have to write it down. The final game was Canada vs. USA Open division. It was a great game to watch, and especially fun as one of the volunteers I'd become friends with was American, so we heckled each other as Canada, USA traded points. It also turns out that one of the guys on the Domino's team is arch-nemesis with my favourite player on Team Canada. Of course I was so happy every time John Hassel was on the field and had a great play, and he was cringing or upset every time. So much fun!

The flight home was terrible, after a month of being in clean cities or places, trees, blue sky, fresh air, beautiful views and skylines, I returned to NY exited JFK Airport to cars honking, concrete a grey sky, polluted air and just wanted to leave again immediately. Since returning to NY it's been good to see friends again, and get back into Ultimate shape (such a joke! I'm so out of shape!!!) but oh, how I miss travelling. I now also define my life BSD and ASD, before scuba diving and after scuba diving. It was such an incredible experience and "trippin' on acid changed my whole perspective on shit." Need I say more?

Vancouver, BC

Time warps are pretty sweet. I left Australia at 1pm on Monday, arrived to Los Angeles at 930am on Monday went for lunch with my brother and his wife and baby, left Los Angeles at 130pm on Monday and arrived to Vancouver at 4pm on Monday, after over 20 hours of travelling only 3 hours in my life had actually passed me by.

Trev met me at the airport, and it is so exciting to be met at the airport. I travel so frequently that I am fully accustomed to arriving at a strange airport and finding my way to where ever I need to get. Being picked up and driven to where we had to get, not worrying about having the proper currency, following the correct route or anything else was heavenly. We went first to UBC where the World Championship of Ultimate was taking place and met up with the team from the Dominican Republic who I stayed with. Being phenomenally jetlagged we then decided it was in my best interests to wander around the beautiful downtown waterfront before supper and putting me to bed.

Tuesday morning I went with Trev to the Capilano Suspension bridge a little north of Vancouver. The suspension bridge was first built approximately 200 years ago across a deep ravine and it is quite impressive whoever thought to build a large, rickety, wooden suspension bridge to leap from mountain to mountain rather than fording the stream beneath.

There is an entire tourist industry built around the suspension bridge showing off the beauty of BC's forests and vistas along with some Native American totem poles, etc. Despite that, they've kept the area in a remarkably pristine condition and the splendour of the valley and bridge are not destroyed at all.

We then wandered around Granville Island's market under the bridge and ate lunch out on the docks. It is so beautiful to see a city on the water which has made efforts to keep the water and shoreline beautiful. Living in NY, some of the ugliest parts of the city are right along the waterfront, and sitting on a plaza swinging my legs over the water with seagulls circling overhead, ships and tugboats travelling back and forth under a beautiful sunny sky is such a treat and just not possible in NY. There was a musician playing there who needed a serious dose of endorphins, he was the most depressed street musician I have ever heard play and the only downside to my lunch.

In the afternoon we travelled to white rock, where there is a gigantic white rock in the middle of the beach which was deposited centuries ago by retreating glaciers. I am sure this rock is, in fact, white. To ensure the tourists know exactly which rock it is (the only large rock around for kilometres) they have painted it with the whitest white paint possible... I don't understand at all. White rock is a beautiful beach, we wandered out onto the wharf where kids were jumping off into the water 20 feet below and a few guys were hauling crates of crabs onto the wharf and letting the kids throw the crabs back into the water which were too small to sell.

We waded through the water for a little while and my coral burns stung intensely, we also saw tons of little mudskippers which was pretty cool. I tried to corner a few but failed miserably. The day ended early for me as Trev flew back to Calgary and I happily passed out in my sleeping bag on the floor :)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Just another day in Paradise...

On Friday I decided I could not bear to leave Cairns and changed my flight to the last possible time I could return to Sydney and still make my flight back to Vancouver. Cairns is such a beautiful place. I arrived and wondered what I would possibly do there when I wasn't scuba diving as there is not that much to do, it is a small city.

Wandering around I was enthralled by all the beautiful plants growing everywhere, tropical plants which I studied and have always wanted to see. There are large fruitbats (bats which eat fruit and are the same size as crows, even a bit bigger especially with wingspan), cockatoos, all sorts of birds with funky featherings and colourings.

I spent one evening watching the sunset over Cairns harbour. The setting sun across the ocean, with a backdrop of mountains covered in the oldest rainforest on earth, home to numerous animals that exist nowhere else. Watching the tide come in, slowly covering the mudflats which are home to crocodiles (danger, no swimming!) turning red, orange and golden in the setting sun. Watching fish jumping out of the water to escape predators in the midst of all this. I went to watch the sunset the following evening and took my jacket so I could also stargaze.

None of these sights compared to on the boat. Watching sunrise and sunset in the middle of the ocean, where the horizon truly does drop away into sky, nothing interferes with the glimmer of the sky and sun on the waters except for the motion of the waters moving is a magnificent experience. At night, stargazing can suck you in for hours, as you lay on a rocking boat with only the sound of water and a soft engine peering up at sky so filled with stars no other light is needed. As I lay gazing at the stars and my eyes became accustomed I was able to make out the milky way, see upwards of 20 shooting stars, some with tails which lit up in their wake. On shore, it took me quite some time to refind the manta ray constellation, and when I did only half the stars were visible.

My last day in Cairns, Taka, one of the scuba instructors from Japan (this guy is one of the coolest people I have ever met, in every sense of the word, he's like a Japanese god) invited me to go wakeboarding with a bunch of the other scuba instructors. I was told the only downside is that I would feel as though I were hit by a truck the next day. Never having wakeboarded I assumed it would be similar to waterskiing, its not, its similar to snowboarding. And I do feel as though I've been hit by a truck now...

Took me numerous tries to get up, finally I was switched to a board which was the right size for me and that helped immensely. My first time out of the water I headed straight for the first jump, couldn't figure out how to get around it in time and had to let go... Finally got the hang of getting up, headed around the lake, made it past the first turn went wide of the second turn and went flying headfirst into the water. Second time around, same spot, same fall, this time I was so determined to hold on tight that I felt myself lifted out of the water, lost my board behind me and finally released the cable to a phenomenal splash. Third time around, Nick offered me insructions on turning left. As I am weird, I am a left-footed, right-hander, which means I wakeboard backwards and had difficulty on what should have been the easy turns. Made it around the first turn, made it around the second turn, went wide of the third turn, I was going so fast I dove through the air some distance into the water. Nick said afterwards he was watching and thought I would head straight into the pole by the bank I was going so fast.

Afterwards, I had two hours till I had to catch my flight and I hung out with them till Ralph drove me to the airport, we cut it to the last second, I checked in 30 minutes before my flight took off and we were all hoping that I would get lucky and miss it, no such luck...

I arrived back to Sydney last night, hung out a bit with Jenny and her sister and hopefully have convinced Jenny's sister to now go scuba diving! This morning had a lovely chat with Jenny on her way to work and now must go to pack and head off to the airport to fly to Vancouver.

When I told Nick about how excited I had been to see a shark, and my attempts to sneak up on it, after I thought I would be so terrified, he gave me a shark's tooth which he had. As silly as it may sound, that tooth may be the one thing to keep me from crying as I board my flight back into the western hemisphere...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tales from the Great Barrier Reef

As I've written the past few blogs all in one go, I've kept realising so many stories and amazing experiences which didn't make it into the blogs. Rather than go back, I'll simply blog a mess of memories as they come to me.

I mentioned the dinosaur egg Mereta and I purchased. Upon waking up day 2, we checked to see if our egg was hatching, and discovered someone had written on the side of the bucket "Godzilla eats liveaboard boat on Great Barrier Reef - No survivors" Turns out the skipper of the boat had discovered our egg and got a big kick out of it. Denvis became the hit of the boat, numerous times throughout the day all the instructors, crew and passengers would check up on Denvis' hatching progress and excitedly tell me as new progress was made. Denvis is currently halfway out of his shell and continues to grow. Obviously, Denvis remains on the boat, he is at home there on the GBR and has many loving persons watching out for him and his development!

There are so many beautiful sea creatures which I have seen and haven't been able to mention in the previous blogs. During the 8am dive that I couldn't participate in I watched a group of trumpet fish and flute fish near the boat. The last night dive, just as I was about to jump in, a sea snake swam past. The next morning as I was about to jump in a puffer fish swam past. I saw on one of my morning dives three sting rays beneath me, one even swam into a nearby patch of sand and dug himself in, then a fish came and bothered him so he swam off. I saw and held numerous sea cucumers. During my night dive with Scott I saw 3 foot long black and white sea snake beneath me - I discovered later it is extremely venomous and am glad I didn't know that at the time. I saw many different coloured Nemo's but not the Nemo from the movie. I saw angelfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, moorish idol's, barracuda's, so many fish. I stuck my hand in numerous clams for the joy of watching them shut and try to eat me. I scratched the back of a sea turtle. In the dive with Taka I saw a nudibranch.

I saw dolphins from the sundeck one day, and also a whale breaching in the distance. On the day boat on the way home I saw 3 whales breaching.

After every dive we would all compare what we saw, and I was one of the luckiest divers. A few of the things others saw out there that I didn't was the Nemo from the movie, a squid, and a black tipped shark.

I have a few physical reminders of my adventures. My legs are quite tight from all the swimming and I can feel my abs tightening :) I also have blisters on my feet from the fins, and scrapes all over my legs from the coral. I've been disinfecting my scrapes regularly as there are many bacteria in the ocean and it could easily become infected. Apparently coral scrapes take forever to heal, and are quite painful and itchy in the process, from the white dots surrounding a few of the scrapes I definitely bumped into some poisonous coral species.

And yet, what I wouldn't give to be out there diving right now! I shall return, and in the meantime I will live off the high from the last few days and the incredible adventure and experience it has been.

Great Barrier Reef: Last day :(

6am wake up call on Wednesday was my last day of diving. I dove with Owen and Anders who were the volunteers on the boat. Daniel gave me another camera as mine had died previously and I attempted to take some pictures. I haven't seen them yet, they're likely quite awful, but it made me realise which skills I still really needed to work on. Specifically maintaining buoyancy and rapid turns. I also for the first time inspected the sand for myself, for venomous creatures, before kneeling or standing to take certain shots. I chased one parrot fish around for a number of minutes before I realised both my buddies were quite a ways in front of me and caught up to them.

8am dive was also a fun dive, I buddied up with two older guys named Fernando and Robert. Fernando was a solid diver but Robert was much older and all over the place. I ran out of air so quickly on that dive as I couldn't stop laughing the whole time. Fernando would be hauling Robert down as he bobbed to the surface, or holding onto his first stage to make him swim in one direction or another, or just manhandling this dude to generally get him to go in any sort of reasonable direction. Most entertaining dive ever! I tried to take a number of pictures of fish and coral but had to keep catching up to Robert and Fernando as they bobbed and weaved all over the place.

11am dive was my last dive! It was also the dive I'd chosen to do a boat drop for my last skill to complete my advanced adventure course. I needed a buddy for this dive and asked Dana, a girl I'd met on the boat who had just become certified if she would go with me. She agreed, then Owen and Anders decided they also wanted to do a boat drop with us. Then another guy whose buddy was ditching him asked to join our group, then one of the instructors, whose last dive it also was volunteered to go with us. So our group of 6 set off in the boat for the boat drop. Dana and I both had large tanks still from our deep dives and they are SO heavy. We both had a great deal of difficulty balancing in the boat and our back and shoulders ached by the time we arrived to the Bommi we were going to dive at.

I was determined not to be the first one to run out of air on this dive, as I was the one who had instigated the whole deal. Daniel had told me to hum underwater as it forces air regulation to keep an even sound. I hummed from the first moment I entered the water and achieved my goal, I was not the first to run out of air, I surfaced at 80 bar! Dana asked afterwards if I had heard the whales singing, I had to burst her bubble and tell her it was me humming, sorry.

That final dive was the most incredible dive ever! Even Taka, the instructor, was on a high afterwards it was so great. We went down and swam around the bottom of the bommi for a little while, then we went through numerous tunnels through the coral reef from one side to the other. It is so difficult as the spaces are typically quite small and you can barely fit through with all the scuba gear. You're also not supposed to stir up the sand so the one behind you can still see, and also not to touch the coral as you can damage it, and it can be poisonous.

I hadn't seen a moray eel, and the whole time swimming through I was peering into every hole hoping to see one, still haven't seen one and so have extra incentive to dive again! A number of times I got stuck swimming through the tunnels. I bumped my head once, and my scuba tank kept getting stuck on coral overhangs. At one point my regulator cord was also stuck and I had to swim backwards and upwards slightly to unhook myself. I definitely scraped myself a great deal on my legs swimming through the tunnels and each time I emerged I checked to see if I was bleeding to ensure I wouldn't attract any sharks. Thankfully the water pressure also keeps the blood inside your body so I didn't bleed until I climbed out of the water.

Swimming through tunnel after tunnel and around the Bommi was the most incredible dive, I finally realised that I could in fact dive and had acquired so much control and confidence in the water. Plus, if I had done that dive on my own I would never have swum through the tunnels as you never know if they will emerge on the other side. Having Taka down there with us showed us so much more of the reef than any of us had discovered before.

We surfaced, swam back to the boat, took some pictures and put away all our gear. I then went up onto the sundeck for my last hour of sunbathing before we left the boat for the day boat to go back to shore.

Going onto the dayboat was such a sad moment, I felt like crying as we pulled away from the reefs and scuba gear. I am completely addicted and would love to return for a number of months to become dive master or just to continue diving.

Arriving to shore, Dana and I realised we had acquired sealegs, we kept tilting from side to side on the dock and it took me a good hour before I could walk steadily on land. The instructors threw a party for us last night and after a quick shower we all met up again and hung out. So much fun! I'll be meeting up with many of them again this evening :)

I still am not used to shore. Every time I shut my eyes I feel the rocking of the boat, and laying in bed last night I felt as though my bed were still swaying from side to side. I also woke up in the middle of the night convinced I had mask squeeze and had to feel my face to ensure that I was not underwater wearing my mask.

I don't want to become accustomed to shore, I slept in this morning to 11 after so many early morning wakeups and dives and when I awoke the first thing I thought of was that I should be in the water right now for my third dive of the day, or relaxing after having already completed two dives.

Cairns is still beautiful and warm, I miss the ocean and all the beautiful fish and corals and amazing creatures there to see and admire - and touch :)

Great Barrier Reef: Day 3

6am wake up call, no less painful than the day previously! This 6am dive was my first deep dive, which would qualify me to dive to 30 meters rather than 18. At 30 meters, the nitrogen in the tanks dissolves into the blood at such a high rate, that it is possible to suffer from nitrogen narcosis. It is also possible to get "the bends" if one surfaces too quickly, which can cause paralysis, brain damage, and even death, depending on the severity of it.

As we began our descent, I again had difficulty equalising my ears, I swam along on top of Rhi at a level I was able to equalise however, and little by little was able to descend - I had learned from my difficulties the day before :) We touched down at 29.5 meters. Rhi had brought along a couple eggs, she cracked one to demonstrate the pressure of the water as the egg remained intact as though it were still in it's shell. I played with it for a little while as some fish were circling around us until one darted directly at me and ate the egg. I jumped backwards and Rhi laughed. She then cracked another egg to give it to the other diver, who had accompanied us, to play with. He had apparently learned nothing from watching me as he also played with the fish, and we had to warn him to move his hand while another fish went in for the kill. We also looked at a red colour which appeared much browner at that depth since colours begin to fade underwater with the rays unable to penetrate that deeply. She then had me touch the numbers 1 through 12 in order while touching my nose between each number. This measured my reaction time and also indicated that I did not suffer from nitrogen narcosis so that I can safely descend to that depth in the future :)

We ascended slowly and at our 5 meter safety stop (5 meters underwater for 3 minutes to enable the nitrogen to slowly emerge from the blood at a lower pressure to decrease risk of getting the bends), I was running low on air and used Rhi's occy (second regulator called the octopus as it is yet another rope to carry around) so I wouldn't run out before emerging onto the surface.

Second dive of the day was the Navigational Dive. During this dive I had to navigate underwater first using a compass, to find my way away from and back to Rhi. Then she got us lost, and I had to lead us back to the boat. Didn't see to much that dive as I was very much focused on the compass and then on remembering the route we were taking. We did see a shark that dive, my first white tip shark. The goal for every diver is to sneak up on the shark and grab him around his body before he swims away. I remained behind Rhi and calmed my breathing to not disturb the shark, while we both inched along the ground. We got to about 15 feet away before he swam off. We then returned to the boat. Again, I ran low on air while returning to the boat and shared Rhi's occy for the last couple minutes of the swim back. It actually was good for me, swimming next to Rhi I attempted to match her breathing and became aware of why I was using so much more air than she was.

Third dive of the day was my photography dive. I took a camera underwater with me, which subsequently died about 30 seconds into the dive. Instead I swam around and practiced breathing slowly and maintaining neutral buoyancy. That was my first dive without an instructor. My buddy was a guy named Daren, and he followed me around underwater. We saw a white tip shark! I immediately slowed my breathing and attempted to sneak up on the shark. He first swam away then returned to a spot in front of me and lay in the sand, I got to about 10 feet away before he swam off!

Fourth dive of the day was my second night dive. I went with a guy named Scott who is working to become a dive master. I followed him around and we didn't see much, we did blackout our flashlights at one point and wave our hands in front of our face to see the bioluminescent algae. As you wave your hands around, it kills them and they fluoresce as they die, it's a beautiful sight and actually lights up the water quite a bit. We had a quick dive as Scott was freezing. When you want someone to see something, you shake your flashlight's beam close to theirs and then direct your flashlight to where you want them to look. For a few minutes I was peering closely at different corals trying to figure out what I was missing until I realised he just couldn't hold his flashlight still he was so cold. So we surfaced and were too cold to even stargaze that night.

Great Barrier Reef: Day 2

We were woken Sunday morning at 5:50 to prepare for our 6 oclock dive! The videographer was also up filming us as we woke up and joined everyone in the saloon for hot tea before we got into our COLD, WET wetsuits.

We geared up, jumped into the water and headed out to explore the reef. Around 8meters under, I had difficulty equalizing my ears, my left ear was in a great deal of pain. I swam upwards slightly and kept trying to equalize. After a few minutes, it wasn't fair for me to hold up both Rhi's and Merete's dive simply because I couldn't equalize my ears so I returned to the boat while they continued their dive. Upon returning to the boat I couldn't bear the thought of getting out of the water. I asked the guy on watch if I could just dive a little around the boat and he could watch out for me. He said yes, assuming I would be snorkelling, I dove around for a little while and then surfaced. I realise now, with a little more experience, that what I did was stupid and I'm lucky I remained shallow and close to the boat, and that nothing went wrong.

8am, our second dive of the day - my ears still hadn't equalised from the 6am dive and I remained on the surface, boo! The videographer agreed to film us at our 11am dive so both Mereta and I could do our skits and skills together.

11am, my ears had equalised! I jumped into the water so happy to finally be back in. We went underwater and performed the skills. The videographer, Daniel, had brought down an empty beer can so as we took the regulator out of our mouth we could pretend to drink beer underwater. He'd also brought down a pair of sunglasses, sunnies, so as we took our masks off we could put them on and pose underwater. Had a lot of fun with the beer, but again got nervous to remove my mask and didn't. We had bought some props for our skit. I won't tell you about it, as I purchased the video and hope to be able to post it in a few weeks once I'm back in NY, you need to see the corals, the fishies, its too incredible to describe even though I am trying...

Once out of the water, as I had chickened out, I had one last dive to complete my certification and also had to remove my mask 3 times in that last dive to become comfortable with the procedure. I joined the new group of open water divers for the 4pm dive and realised I had actually progressed in my comfort level, watching them perform the skills made me realise I had already improved quite a bit! It also made me confident enough to remove my mask and clear it three times, whew, done!

Then, I did my first night dive! It also counted as my first dive towards becoming an advanced adventure diver. Completing diver certification, mostly makes you realise how much you still need to learn to become a confident diver. How to remain calm underwater should anything go wrong, how to learn what can and cannot be touched, how to maintain neutral buoyancy, how to breathe slowly to maximize your air, etc. I didn't feel at all ready to become qualified as an advanced adventure diver.

My first night dive was guided and I didn't see too much, no sharks, no crustaceans. I did see many red sea bass who use the light from our torches to hunt small fish. It's so much fun to find a small ugly fish, so as not to kill the pretty ones, and keep your torch on it and watch the red sea bass trying to eat them! I did see a sting ray buried in the sand beneath me at one point. I really wanted to disturb the sand and watch it swim away, but I remembered Steve Erwin and resisted.

Day 2 ended with me as a certified scuba diver and ready for bed by 10pm. The stars out on the ocean, on the boat are so beautiful, so bright that a few of us went onto the bow of the boat and stargazed for an hour. I've never in my life seen stars like this, in under an hour we saw easily 20 shooting stars, a few of them were like fireworks, you could see the tail blazing as they burned up in the atmosphere! The milky way was so visible, and as none of us were astronomers we invented our own shapes for the stars, like the manta ray :)


Last Thursday I began instruction for scuba diving. The day began around 730 and I was nervous! Somehow in planning this trip I had been focusing on how much I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef and all it's wonders and beauties and it didn't occur to me until scuba instruction began that this is, in fact, a rather technical, and potentially dangerous activity! My instructor was named Rhiannon, Rhi, and there were 6 other girls in the class. Apparently it was the first class ever to be all girls. Beginning the process of learning about and assembling equipment it all seemed so complicated and overwhelming so much to remember, and if anything goes wrong underwater there are so many complications and hazards in which the best decision needs to be made for safety.

We first did a number of laps around the pool and treaded water to be sure we could all swim sufficiently well, no problems there. Then we put on fins and snorkels and practiced duck diving and comfort with breathing. Then we put on scuba gear... it is SO heavy, and also quite buoyant in water which means on top of all the equipment you also wear a weight belt to ensure when you want to sink deeper, you can. On to the underwater skills, we needed to practice removing our regulators (what the air comes out of) and finding them again underwater so in case they fall out or get yanked out underwater we can put them back in safely. We also practiced removing and clearing our masks, this was the one skill I had great difficulty with. I always seemed to breathe in through my nose once the mask was removed and consequently would swallow a great deal of water which doesn't help with performing the skill or remaining calm throughout.

It turns out that I am an airpig... the first day as I had one final skill to perform, removing and clearing my mask and replacing it, I ran out of air. So, day two once we performed all our skills under 4 meters I ended up trying that skill for the first time. I did it, with a great deal of difficulty, and once our training was over for the day spent a while practicing it in shallower water.

Of the 7 of us in the course, two failed. We had a Chinese mother and daughter in the course and the mother spoke no English which made it quite difficult for her to understand the instructions or what she should do. Consequently she did almost everything wrong and held the whole class up in learning and practicing skills. On the second day as we were practicing removing our weight belts and replacing them underwater. She took off her weightbelt and let go, so started floating up to the surface butt first while vainly attempting to swim back down and grasp her weight belt. She looked so funny floating upwards butt first grasping around I started to laugh so hard. I could barely catch my breath and was crying so hard, afterwards I asked Rhi what I should do if I started laughing in the ocean and had difficulty catching my breath and discovered regulators are delightful, you can do anything into them; laugh, cough, spit, puke, whatever needs to be done underwater can be done into them, whew!

Day 3: first day on the boat, we left on the day boat to meet up with the boat which remains out on the ocean around 9am. The sea on the way out was perfect, aqua blue like in the postcards, glassy, calm, barely any wind, sunny, all the instructors said it was the most perfect weather and conditions they had ever seen :) We also saw 4 dolphins on the way out leaping in the boat's wake!

We arrived to the boat, had lunch and prepared to jump into the water for our first dive. It was so much fun to really dive! We went under and swam around for a bit, then found a patch of sandy bottom to practice our skills in the ocean to ensure we were comfortable enough to pass. I had no difficulties with any of them, but got extremely nervous to remove my mask at 10 meters under the ocean and refused. Had a lovely rest of the dive, we were told over and over again not to touch anything underwater as there are venomous fish, snakes, corals, all sorts of deadly creatures underwater and unless you know what you are doing should never touch. Rhi picked up what looked like a large piece of spiky, maroon, rectangular styrofoam and handed it to each of us to touch - sea cucumber. There are also plants which grow out of certain corals called Christmas Trees as they look like tiny red or blue Christmas trees. These plants, if you snap your fingers close to them or wave your hand, will jump back into their holes - so much fun! Upon surfacing, I was told that in the next dive I would have to remove and clear my mask three times!

Second dive at 4pm; this time I felt so much more comfortable jumping into the water, got down and practiced our skills. I removed my mask once, removed it a second time and nearly panicked, was about to swim up to the surface and then just reminded myself to breathe, remain calm and completed the clearing. Rhi took pity on me and we swam around for the rest of the dive until we needed to return to the surface at which point I cleared my mask for the third time. At the surface I was told that in the next dive as well, I would have to remove and clear my mask three times until I was comfortable doing so... Swallowing ocean water makes you quite gassy, I spent the rest of the dive burping into my regulator to clear my air passages. Upon climbing onto the boat, I had a little difficulty breathing until 5 burps later I was good to go!

I didn't dive again that day as for the night dive you either need to hire an instructor to take you, or be certified. The next day, during our 8am dive, Merete and I (the only two to spend overnight on the boat from our class) were going to be filmed by the ship's videographer performing our skills and had also been told to bring props for skits. One prop we had found was a dinosaur egg which hatches after 12 -24 hours in water. We forgot until the evening to put it in water, then stuck a large egg into a plastic bucket on the saloon bar. All the instructors and other divers thought it was hilarious and names were thrown around for the new ship's mascot. Clare, one of the hostesses started singing a song from some childhood tv program about "--- the last dinosaur" and couldn't remember his name - she was convinced that it was Denvis. Croccy and Peter were the other two front-runners. I relaxed on the boat and went to bed early.