To go, or not to go ... Volunteering in Togo ...

The following post is re-blogged from my little cousin's blog. What you won't read in the post is the fact that she's given up all her worldly possessions to pursue her passion for adventure, her need to be free, and her resolve to make a difference.

Those are my words, not hers. I haven't seen my little cousin Katie in over 13 years; anything I say about her is based on nothing more than our occasional Facebook exchanges, sporadic emails, and innate familial gut-feel. 

This girl isn't a back-seat driver. She needs to be at the wheel. She needs to DO. Sitting back and wondering ''What if ...'' isn't what she does.

What she does is runs straight into the fire and shouts ''IMAGINE if I HADN'T!!!!''

You can read more about her adventures here

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Volunteering in Togo

Posted on December 9, 2016 by katie1519

We couldn’t wait for the time to come and finally it’s here.  We had a quick stop over in Morocco exploring markets, crowded streets and what I can only describe as purely beautiful exotic chaos.  The owners of the apartment we rented onlyspoke Arabic which made for some interesting conversations using our hands, bodies and any prop we could get our hands on.  A genuinely caring older couple with loads to tell us.

Our stay was short in Casablanca and are arrival in Lomé felt overdue.  The 4am arrival wasn’t overly welcomed, but it’s all part of the travels.  We slept through our first day, but haven’t wasted a second since. The streets are dusty, except for when it rains of course in which case they just turn muddy – not sure which I dislike the least yet… Pretty much everywhere we go, I feel like I always encounter at least one person (if not much much more) who seemed stunned when they see me.  Some shout “yovo” an apparently non-offensive slang which translates to “white man”, kids usually get quite excited and love giving high-fives, and then there was that one toddler who have just looked and me and cried instantly.  I tried not to take it personally, but could I really be soo ugly as to scare a child??   Which also brings me to the numerous marriage proposals I’ve received in my very first week, and endless request to “be my friend”, or have my number – so take that you scaredy-cat kid, can’t be that ugly after all!

No but really, Lomé is nice.  The Togolese are generally very kind, shy and a little reserved, but once they get more comfortable they can also be quite curious.  Our current accommodation is basic, although very comfortable.  Honestly, as 2 volunteers, I think we are very welltreated and looked after and in comparison to some local accommodation, ours is really nothing to complain about.

We were lucky to find a great little organization called PDH.  They’ve been around a while (17 years now) and seem to have their hand anywhere they can help.  In just our first week we have completed hospital visits, personal home visits, work visits for a young girl trying to start a small business to support her mother dying of AIDS,  several school visits and endless projects and activities here at the center.  We are busy, the work can be very emotionally draining, but the rewards of laughter and joy make it all worth it.  It is mindboggling to see how many people in this country struggle with basic human requirements.  Mothers unable to support their young with just basic needs like food and water, forget schooling.  Children without mothers or fathers, who seem to just be raised by their surrounding communities and extended families. 

At PDH we have regular evenings where we cook food for the kids, I’ve never seen little ones so keen to get their hands on food, but not only does this little gesture make them so happy, they seem to never want to eat it at the centre, for all of them, their number one priority is taking the small bag of food home so they can share with their family.  Take a moment please, allow that to sink in….

PDH functions solely on donations, volunteers and the generosity of others.   It is why we helped them with the creation of a fundraising page for their upcoming Christmas event with the kids and the completion of the roof required on two of their classrooms at the centre.  I am taking this opportunity to reach out to anyone who follows my blog, in hopes that you may make a donation – no matter how big or small – even $5.00 can go a long way here.  Even simply sharing this information with friends and family helps PDH in unimaginable ways.  If you are keen to find out more about them their information is below.

WEB: http://www.pdh-togo.org
FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/PDHTogo
DONATIONS:
Fundraising Page:  http://www.gofundme.com/together-we-can-for-pdh-togo

Gypsy in the ME goes social with her first BloggingMEetup ...

Today was a small step for me, a giant leap for GypsyInTheME.  

''I'', ''me'', aka ''Gypsy the antisocial blogger'',  attended a BloggingMEetup, hosted by the incredible Kirsty Rice and Sarah Derrig at Blogging ME.  If you haven't heard of these two ladies, chances are:

  1. you're missing out because you haven't yet checked out 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle
  2. you're missing out because you haven't yet checked out Lady Sadie's Emporium
  3. you haven't been checking out the New & Newsworthy section on iTunes or you would have seen that Two Fat Expats is rockin' the charts
  4. you're missing out!  Click on those links peeps!

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand.  You see, I'm not a social butterfly; not in realtime, not virtually.  I am the epitome of the kid playing ''the tree'' in the school play; swaying in the wind in the background, happy to be a witness to the action, but perfectly content to be a part of the backdrop.  

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Much like that tree in a play, I like to think I'm a part of the bigger Qatar blogging community, an element that contributes to the star quality that is out there, that brings a bit of colour and movement to the set, but that wouldn't be sorely missed if ever the show had to carry on without it.

I revel in my semi-anonymity; it brings me great comfort to write, and that's really more than I'd ever hoped to achieve from starting up this blog.  As I told one lady I met today, my blog has actually pushed me to delve deep, deep, deep into the good and the bad of living in Qatar as a Western expat female, and it's shown me that if I delve deep enough, I'll always find something good.  If someone finds my blog and they like it, bonus.  If no one ever reads it again but it continues to provide release, good enough.

I'm afraid to be discovered.  Not like I think I'll be ''discovered'' like some hidden miracle writing talent; ''discovered'' as in ''found out'' for the really amateurish, elementary, and ''not-a-clue-what-she's-doing'' blogger I am.  

The reason I went to the meet up was partly to get to meet my fellow Doha bloggers, but mostly to support Kirsty, who I know socially, and Sarah in their incredible initiative to connect Middle East bloggers.

I was terrified to even share the name of my blog when I arrived at the meet up venue this afternoon.  I sat there with the likes of A Girl and Her Passport, and Only in Doha, who write with such relevance and are so connected to what people actually want to read.  There were numerous other ladies who are in the developmental stages of their blogs.  The latter are hard at work developing very professional pages that are tailored to their audiences and have a theme, a niche, a following.  All these talented bloggers have put such care and thought into colour schemes, backgrounds, borders.  They've got logos. Most if not all have very active Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages associated to their blogs.  

And then there's me.  I'm the one who went with Squarespace ... because it was easy and I didn't have to worry too much about the look and feel.  I just had to write and post photos displaying my piss-poor photography skills.  I rarely, if ever, think about whether I'll be pleasing an audience.  If the code for superscript is too much of a headache, I just go with italics.  I don't have a niche because my theme (living, breathing, working, driving in Qatar) is so broad as to include the 2.5 million people living in Qatar, yet boring and overdone enough so as to attract only about 4 of the total population (and that would include Smilin' Vic).

But you know what?  This awesome group of talented ladies made me feel so incredibly welcome in their midst, and as I listened to the lady from Texas tell me about her 80-year-old mom setting up to record a podcast I couldn't help but feel inspired.  

After all those gathered on how great her fashion images were, another blogger talked about the humiliation she sometimes has to put herself through to get the perfect shot or selfie.  

As I listened to them talk about what motivated them to always get better at their craft, I was motivated to try a little harder.

It was so nice to put real-time faces to the blogs.  One of the girls told me she had pictured me in her mind and was happy to finally put a face to the blog.  When I asked her if I was what she'd pictured, she told me she'd imagined someone a bit more relaxed.  Yup, I am THAT awkward in social situations! 

So for her, and for the lady who stands in her front yard taking selfies where the light hits 'just right' so she can get ''the perfect shot'', I took this selfie with Kiddo tonight ... to prove to them and myself that I CAN take a selfie, and I can be relaxed when the mood is right and I'm home alone in my onesie!

Thank you BloggingME, for infusing the social into the gypsy, and for inspiring me to go just a tad beyond my limits :-)

We All Bleed Red ...

Some days it's really just too much to turn on the news.  The atrocities committed by humanity are of seemingly apocalyptic proportions, and I can't help but wonder if the alien invasion portrayed in so many a science fiction film is actually upon us, with the alien having taken on the form of unfettered indulgence and hate. 

On days like these, I wonder at the futility and banality of my blog.  I feel guilt at my self-interest, at writing about how I'm striving and sometimes struggling to be happy and healthy.  I try to imagine what others in dire straights might think if they happen across my silly musings.  And I begin to fill up with shame; shame for my blessed life, shame at being born with a passport that allows me to travel freely, shame at having a healthy family, shame at living in a lovely house, shame at the ability to express myself openly, shame at my intact limbs, shame at my relatively scar-free spirit.

These are the days where I almost decide to chuck it all in for the worthless exercise it would appear to be.  And these are the days I reel myself back in and tell myself to smarten up.  These are the days when I tell myself that a little introspection, self-questioning, self-doubt, self-awareness and self-appreciation may be in short supply.  These are the days I tell myself that little blogs like mine might be helping the author, maybe even the readers, reflect a little more and make slightly more positive choices as a result.

These are the days where I try to remind myself it's important to take control of what we can take control of; that every little bit does make a difference; that if all we focus on is the ugly of the sensational, we'll lose sight of the beauty that often shines from the ordinary.

It's like the scene outside your living room window; will you stop looking out forever if a hurricane passes by?  Probably not.  For a while you'll look out and focus on the destruction, on what's been lost, but chances are you'll eventually start to see little changes in the landscape, little blossoms appearing where the earth had been so violently turned over.  And then, hopefully, you'll look out and see the ordinary landscape transformed by an amazing sunset.  All of a sudden, that seemingly bleak terrain outside your front door will morph into a majestic view, magically filling you with hope.

I can't hide from the sensational events that feed the newswires these days, but I can choose to focus my sights on the glorious ordinary.  There have been many such ordinary moments these days, starting with a recent community ALS Ice Challenge that Kiddo and I attended a week back.  

About 100 ordinary expats and locals, on an ordinary beach, wearing ordinary clothes on an ordinary morning.  Filipinos, Qataris, Canadians, New Zealanders, Brits, Indians, Dutch, Scots, Lebanese, Russians, and more.  All sweating, all waiting, all donating, all finally drenching ourselves with sea water and ice, all shouting in unison, and all laughing and coming together in one small moment of solidarity, in one small gesture that allowed us to make a small difference in someone's world.  Glorious ordinary.

Photo credit: www.iloveqatar.net

I got a chance to talk to some labourers at their worksite this week.  Men of all ages hailing mostly from the Subcontinent, toiling for long hours in the heat to earn the wages that will support their families back home.  I got to listen to some of their concerns (through an interpreter).  Some blinked back tears as they shared a few stories about 'back home'.  We even got to share a few laughs.  Glorious ordinary.

My ordinary days have continued on these past few weeks just as ordinarily as they have all summer.  Working out, eating healthy, consciously stopping myself from shouting obscenities at the reckless driver who cuts me off blindly in traffic.  I've started wearing my Fitbit Flex again over the last five days, and it's motivating me to take the stairs, get up from my desk and walk around the office a bit more, stopping to talk to colleagues and ask how their day's going so I don't feel like I'm wandering aimlessly.  The Fitbit has started clocking in 5,000 steps daily in addition to morning walks and workouts, and it sends me little messages of encouragement and congratulations on my efforts.  Glorious ordinary.

We organised a blood drive at work the other day.  For the first time in my 44 years, I decided to stare my fear of needles in the eye and step up to the plate.  I am now officially a blood donor.  I stood in line to register with Europeans, Eastern Europeans, Asians, North Americans, Africans, Arabs, South Americans, Australasians.  I lay in the mobile blood donation unit, my blood flowing out of me next to that of a tea boy and a chief executive.  People like me, of different classes, sexes, races, cultures and religions, vied anxiously for the chance to better or save a life other than our own.  Perhaps in some cases that was the only thing we had in common: our desire to make some minuscule difference.  That, and the fact that we all bleed red.  Glorious ordinary.

This is my blog.  No sensationalism, no real excitement, no penchant for drama; no beheadings, no downing of planes, no civil war, no random shootings.  Only the view from my living room window, sometimes on the inside looking out, sometimes on the outside looking in.  Letting the little moments of majestic sunshine cast a shadow on the ugly so the glorious ordinary can shine bright.  

Glorious ordinary, where we all bleed red.

Well, Shucks, Y'all!

This week, I had the honour of being featured on Internations.org , a really cool website for people who live and work abroad.  I am so chuffed!

 Trying to depict some of the many contrasts of being a Canadian woman working in the Middle East ... savoury and sweet, black and white, the iconic Canadian little rebel (Anne of Green Gables) and the Ideal Muslimah.  

Trying to depict some of the many contrasts of being a Canadian woman working in the Middle East ... savoury and sweet, black and white, the iconic Canadian little rebel (Anne of Green Gables) and the Ideal Muslimah.  

Internations is a great place to interact with like-minded expats, particularly when you're new in town and not quite sure where to start.  Local forums include Q&A, jobs and marketplace sections that allow new arrivals to find out more about their host country; likewise, they allow seasoned veterans to share their lessons learned. 

I was first contacted by their friendly team last January for an interview to be featured in their 'Recommended Expat Blogs' section.  But what with death in the family, multiple long-haul flights to Canada, a bout of grieving/depression, work, vacation and life in general, I never got around to completing their interview.  Since this summer has brought with it some renewed enthusiasm about my expat life, it felt like the time might be right to share a bit about me and my blog.

So click here if you'd like to read a bit more about the gypsy behind the blog ...

And let me say thanks to the team at Internations for their interest and to all of you who've dropped by and/or followed me over the last year and a half.  It means a lot!