Wednesday, February 24, 2010

J'aime Gaufres avec Nutella

Every time I come back to Brussels, I crave the packaged waffles that sell for less than a Euro. Warmed slightly with nutella on top, they melt in my mouth. Finishing a day of waffles and nutella with delicious Belgian beer, some frites with mayonnaise and a kebab is pretty much heavenly. Thankfully I also walk everywhere or would have to bring muumuus to wear by the end of the visit.

The purpose of my current visit is actually not to eat. I'm here to train Francois to replace me as President of WYA. It feels so weird attempting to pass on all that I've learned, and also respecting his own opinions and plans for what he will do as President. He's also still running the WYA Europe office which doesn't leave him a lot of time to sit with me and discuss future plans.

I'm pleased with this trip though, I've been able to spend time with Francois and shout out ideas across the office. Even if we've struggled to sit together each day and work our way through all the items on our lists, we've still managed to prioritise, brainstorm and slowly accomplish all we need to. We're down to an evening and a day at this point. We certainly won't finish everything, but have progressed enough that lots more can be done via skype and email.

In the process of transitioning I'm also getting a sense of how hard it is to let go. I'm so used to planning out WYA's activities and schedules months in advance. I know what the schedule will be for staff meetings, I prepare how the regional meetings will go and I know I'll be exhausted by the end and what can and can't happen.

Instead, I have only one month left as President, the countdown is on! I'll certainly spend the first few weeks of "unemployment" finishing cleaning my files, being an ear for Francois and likely helping around the house with laundry :) I haven't woken up in the morning without something pressing for me to do for years, I'm not sure how I'll cope!

Oh well, in the meantime, I've enjoyed every minute of my stay in Brussels. I arrived to see snow in Brussels for the first time ever! Last Saturday I visited Antwerp, the diamond capital of the world, and visited the diamond museum - always good to visit my best friends :) Diamonds are a girl's best friend, right?

Tonight we have a movie night at the intern's flat with a number of WYA friends present. Tomorrow I'll meet up with a friend for supper, and possibly go for one last beer with the staff prior to that.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Safety overkill?

Last night we called the fire department. 5 minutes later we heard sirens down the street and a firetruck, two ambulances and cop car pulled up outside the Brussels interns flat. Within moments firefighters in full combat gear trooped up the stairs and into the flat. We stood awkwardly by.

Shortly afterwards, our potentially hazardous gas leak, which we were concerned might ignite the entire building due to the incredibly pungent smell was nothing more than the overpowering smell of waste seeping up through the pipes and into the flat through the boiler opening.

They smirked and joked as they left.

There are things that are simply taken for granted. That should we smell something strong in our flat and have any concern of its being dangerous we can summon the fire department to investigate. They came promptly in full gear, ready for any emergency. The policemen confirmed that we did the right thing, better to be safe than sorry. And of course, the entire operation is subsidized by the Belgian government to keep the citizens of Belgium safe.

Am I the only one shocked at how incredible that is?

Of course, being from Canada, I also assume that is how such institutions should function. I felt comfortable using it to assuage my mind.

I have also traveled enough to know that to get a government, country and citizens to function, expect and use such a system to the point where all aspects are simply taken for granted is, in fact, a huge achievement.

It is easy to complain about taxes, bureaucracy and the inefficiency of a socialised system. It is also incredibly difficult to take a country from an inefficient, corrupt bureaucracy and lack of any such systems to even a minor improvement.

Enough said, either you are from, have lived in, or traveled to any developing nation or country suffering from corruption and know how difficult the lack of such systems makes everything. From going from one side of a city to another, to planning an event, to seeking information. It would be great if every person in the world could enjoy the comfort of trusting and relying on such systems. Yet, if I had never been without I would never have enjoyed the entire experience so much last night.

Modernity certainly has its pitfalls, it absolutely comes with incredible gifts and perks simply unimaginable until they came to be expected!