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

*********************************************************

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

What Moved Me ...

This is a story about a guy who rides a camel through drive-throughs and does a happy dance with a mop ...

I didn't think I'd write here for a long, long while.

I didn't see the point; I felt disheartened, disillusioned, broken.  I had NOTHING positive to write about.

And I knew there was no good to be had in spreading the negativity.  The world has enough of that already.

I completely stepped away from all forms of social media for about two weeks.  While that might not seem long to some, or so very long to others, for me the lapse was what you'd call a 'significant' break.

I'm not a huge 'twitterer'.  

But I check out Facebook at least once a day.  

I visit my blog every day.  

I'll occasionally sign in to LinkedIn.  

I check my hotmail every few hours without fail.  

I scan Mail OnLine because I secretly enjoy the trash.  

I lurk on my favorite blogs for sheer entertainment and because I've actually become 'friends' with their authors ... these strange, hilarious, sad, engaging, amazing kindred writer souls.  

I read Doha News religiously, because the reporters there always seem to know what's happening here before anyone else...

But for the last two weeks, I just stepped away.  

Completely.

And it actually felt good/great.

It felt like I was a newborn, rediscovering my thoughts; actually having to sort them out before spewing them out.

You see, I'm a thinker, then a writer.  But I'm not much of a vocalizer.  So for the last two weeks, I've actually had to run things through my brain and work through them ... without blogging or talking.  Just thinking.

And since there was (virtually) no social media input, all I had to think about was me and my life and all that's in it. 

There's something to be said about that.

But a few days ago, like every good addict, I decided I wanted a little bit 'in'.  My fast was over.

I checked out one blogger friend in France, and found she'd suffered a great loss.  One as great as mine, perhaps more.  Perhaps unexpected.  I realized I hadn't been around to ask.

I checked out my blog comments and found that another blogger buddy understood what 'ME fatigue' is all about.  (anyone living in the Middle East will understand the inexplicable 'tiredness')  But more than that, he really 'gets' living in the ME as an expat.  The whole 'love-hate' relationship.  Not everyone does.

My best blogging buddy (3B) who's followed me since I was a 'baby blogger' has been dealing with an injured spouse while celebrating a newfound calling.  Empathy and congratulations were in order.

My best friend in the world, the one who was my roommate for four years in university, the one who consoled the inconsolable when I got separated, the one who always assured me it would "be all right", the one who drove hours to see me when I was visiting my dying father, the one I love to the ends of the earth and beyond ... well, she just found out her mom has cancer.  I need to be available ... just in case she needs me.

Smilin' Vic's step-mom is undergoing chemotherapy ... it's not looking great.  I realized that when I opened my e-mail three days ago.  

My brother-in-law wants to make me laugh so he sends funny fart jokes and the occasional positive social interest piece on Qatar.  He e-mails.

My sister, my mentor, sent me a few messages.  I opened them today.  They were sent a week ago.  On WhatsApp.

Forgive me for my weakness, but I have quickly realized that an expat in Doha fares far worse without social media.  Unfortunately, my addiction to fibre-optic connectivity is a lifeline to what moves me.  It is a lifeline to what matters.

The key most likely resides in balance.  Balancing the NEED to communicate and the DESIRE to be heard.  There's no need to be in constant contact.  But there is a need as an expat to be 'reachable'.  There is a need as an expat to 'reach out'.

This blog is no place for negativity.  For reflection, yes.  For appreciation, yes.  For a good laugh, yes.  For a healthy rant, yes.  But not for negativity.  And so I've resolved to respect it for the healthy outlet it's meant to be.

Tonight I broke completely, like the true addict that I am, and was rewarded with a satisfying rush - a good news story, about Qatar to boot!  A story of one (caveat:  not the 'only' one) Qatari making a difference.  Changing the world, one gesture at a time.  That one Qatari made a difference.  That one Qatari moved me.

 

I was moved.  Truly moved.  Moved to the point of wanting to write about something positive again.  Despite the disparaging comments questioning the authenticity of the intent.  Despite the naysayers insisting that it's all a publicity stunt.  

I insist ... actually I KNOW, that there is inherent good in every society.  My previous rants, my disparaging comments about dissatisfaction in this country ... they're justified.  Through the eyes of a North American expat, they're justified.  But they're not fair.  They're my perception of a society, a Nation, trying to come to grips with Westernization.  And who am I to say the Western way is THE way?

All I can say in my defense is that I struggle with what is unfamiliar to me.  Even after eight years, I struggle.   

Which gives all the more credence to my hosts, who struggle every day to adapt to the expat population that engulfs them by approximately 85%.  

I can at least plead the frustration of a 'foreigner in a foreign land'.  

But imagine being a minority and a foreigner in your homeland.  Imagine.  This is your HOME.  And the world, the worldwide scrutiny, the wealth, and the media have taken over.  You have no place.  The world has tried you; you are wrong, you have done wrong, everything you believe in is wrong.  What do you do?  

Kudos to individuals like Hamad Al-Amari and Fatima Al-Dosari for trying to merge those worlds.  What did they do?  A little something.  A little something to make you 'Happy'.

I work with some very cool dudes.  Some Nationals who hang out with me and love a good laugh and song.  Some very respectful, respected, respectable individuals who actually want to see the WORLD, not just Qatar, be a better place.  Like the guy I know who went back to the Philippines last year to visit his childhood nanny, because he missed her, but also to see how he could help her and family.  

Living here is not easy.  I don't always 'get' it.  Often I want to go home.  But that's my thing.  

On the flip side, I admit to feeling personally offended when I read or hear of outsiders or newcomers trashing this country.

Everyone has some good in them.  They just don't always 'get' it.  Forty years ago, North Americans were driving 140 miles an hour down the highway with a kid bouncing around in the front seat and a case of beer at their feet.  We've evolved ... most of us ... to an extent.

Give Qatar time.  

Not eternity.  

Time.  

You got it.  

Qatar will too.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Jones Rocked Doha ...

This is wayyyyyy past due.  But I thought it was worth posting.  Just in case there are any "true blue", "tie-dyed" Tom Jones fans out there. 

Here is a pic from the evening in Doha from Yours Truly ... 

 

 Waiting in line ... proper polite British cue ... no shoving!

Waiting in line ... proper polite British cue ... no shoving!

Unfortunately I couldn't upload my clips because they are incompatible and too big for SquareSpace and I'm too un-tech savvy to fix the problem.  

But here's the YouTube link to "Tower of Soul" ... which is just one song that makes this man the legend that he is.

All I can tell you is that it was more amazing live....

The man stood on a sweltering beach stage in a turtleneck and blazer belting it out like a teenager.  He was ... 

AMAZING! 

 (And yes, women DID throw their undies at him in the ME!!!!)


 

Sign Me Up for that Reverse Culture Shock Workshop ...

Sting's "Englishman in New York" played on a constant loop in my head for the first few days after I landed in Canada this past June ...

So many things about this "home and native land"* always seem so foreign and/or striking upon returning to my homeland after months in the ME.  

"I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an expat in Canada." 

There are the obvious differences:  

  • the clash of an abaya-clad lady standing shoulder to shoulder with a granny in a fake tan, stilettos, leggings and a tube top in the Customs line.  
  • the welcome being broadcast over the airport PA system in French and English - "Welcome to Montreal", "Bienvenue a Montreal".  Not a single "Marhaba".  
  • the absence of 300 listless laborers disembarking a single flight from Sri Lanka with nothing but a plastic grocery bag as a carry-on.

Then there are the more subtle things.

Still no fast-pass for me

One thing that surprised me is that there is now a "National queue" for Canadians at passport control/customs.  In the past, Canada has likely prided itself on political correctness by excluding everyone from fast-tracking customs.  Nonetheless, Pierre-Elliott Trudeau Airport now boasts a "Canadian Residents" line.  

Fat lot of good that does me.  I am a citizen, yes.  A resident, no.  My chances at ever making it into one of those fast-track lanes seem to have been foiled again.  I WANT a fast-pass lane!!!!!!

I wind my way slowly through arrivals with an army of in-transit passengers, vacationers, business travelers and newly landed immigrants.  I show my passport to the customs officer ... He asks me what the purpose of my visit is; I explain that I needed a breath of fresh air, a reconnection with family, a proper fix of Tim Horton's.  Judging by his flat expression and blank stare, my attempt at levity has gotten me exactly nowhere ... some things are actually quite similar no matter where you're traveling to.  

"I'm on vacation", I retract ...  He writes a code on my immigration card.  I can never remember which code will get me directly through the arrivals gate and which will get me frisked.  I find out soon enough that today's code is a pass.  I am off to meet my family!

Porters  ... a thing of the past

But first I must collect my bags ... not a porter in sight. Unlike Doha where there are dozens of porters standing by the luggage belts actually anticipating carrying your luggage with glee.  I WANT a porter!!!!!!

I wait 45 minutes for my bags to come around on the carrousel.  It is about 1.5 hours after landing that I finally get to hug my sister and gulp in as much fresh Canadian air as I can before stepping into the car for the ride downtown.

Pedestrians on sidewalks ... 

I'm coming from a country where sidewalks are for parking and cycling (not the leisurely kind of cycling; the laborer on a banana bike type).  Nary a pedestrian to be seen.  People just don't 'walk' to get around in Doha.  

In downtown Montreal, the sidewalks are teeming with folk of all ages, all walks of life.  Here a teenager jogging in short shorts and a t-shirt; there an elderly couple taking a leisurely stroll; across the street a few smart-dressed professionals having a smoke the obligatory 10m away from the front of an office building.  The bustling, the vivacity, the eclecticism of it all is enough to give me a feeling not that unlike brain-freeze.  It is truly, truly invigorating.

A clear head ... 

You'd think I'd be used to the dust, the stuffy sinuses and the mild yet ever-present cough after seven years in the Land of Sand.  I guess in a way I have become acclimatized to a degree, because as I head out to pound the pavement that first afternoon, the fresh air is like an assault on my system.  I swear, it's almost like I can think more clearly, despite coming off a 13-hour sleepless flight and having been awake for close to twenty hours.  The rush of oxygen to my brain those first few days seems to ward off the jet lag remarkably fast.

Where are all the beads and sequins? 

Even though the national dress in Qatar is the abaya (traditional long black gown worn by women over their clothing when going out in public), many of these are festooned with beads, pearls, embroidery and sequins.  Women who don't wear the abaya tend to wear bright colors, sparkly tops, leopard print skirts and the like.  Montreal, while extremely cosmopolitan, is a much more 'muted eclectic' on the fashion front.  Note that this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Is wearing shoulder blades, bare knees and pierced navels in public actually legal? 

You just can't help it.  No matter how overtly liberal you may consider yourself in the ME, no matter how emancipated and moderate the ME country you are living in may seem compared to others in the region, after a few years as a ME expat you will become overly sensitive to the sight of exposed flesh striding down the street in broad daylight.  Crop tops, tank tops, tube tops, hot pants, barely there skirts and crack-baring jeans are a visual onslaught.  The desensitization only takes a few days, but it the meantime it can be highly disruptive when driving or trying to hold down a conversation.  

Did I actually just pay taxes on picking my nose? 

EVERYTHING is taxed in Canada.  Sometimes the tax is built-in (e.g. for gas), but sometimes it comes as a big fat surprise.  (I know, I know, it's not like I've never lived here before, but it still comes as a shock when you've been away for so long.)  You will be charged a provincial and a federal tax on pretty much everything you purchase, from that takeaway pizza to that early-morning coffee to that trip to the salon.   

I could go on forever:  the assault of green on your senses when you've become acclimatized to beige, the thrill of rain drops replacing dust particles, the sound of church bells ringing in the distance, the surprise and slight discomfort at understanding every single conversation going on around you, etc.  The But my point is simply that cultural adjustment is not a one-way trip.   Just when you think you've got the expat acclimatization halfway sorted out, you realize you will likely one day have to make the return journey and start all over again.

Reverse culture shock 101.  Sign me up now ... 

Below are a few images of some other differences spotted while on our last trip.  Hope you enjoy. 

 *Reference to "Oh, Canada", the Canadian National Anthem. 

 Rainbow over Montreal after a downpour.

Rainbow over Montreal after a downpour.

 Blue skies over Qatar.  The sky is usually more beige than blue. 

Blue skies over Qatar.  The sky is usually more beige than blue. 

 Decidedly unhealthy "poutine" in Quebec.  (poutine = french fries, gravy and curd cheese).

Decidedly unhealthy "poutine" in Quebec.  (poutine = french fries, gravy and curd cheese).

 Getting fish ready for a healthy meal in Doha.

Getting fish ready for a healthy meal in Doha.

 A bottle of water costs about 0.33$ in Qatar.  In Canada it costs as much as a coffee ($1.40 + tax).  You'd never think Canada is listed 3rd on the world's renewable fresh water reserves list.

A bottle of water costs about 0.33$ in Qatar.  In Canada it costs as much as a coffee ($1.40 + tax).  You'd never think Canada is listed 3rd on the world's renewable fresh water reserves list.

 Stop sign in English and Iroquoi (on the Kahnawake reserve).

Stop sign in English and Iroquoi (on the Kahnawake reserve).

 Stop sign in French only in Quebec.

Stop sign in French only in Quebec.

 Stop sign in Arabic and English in Doha.

Stop sign in Arabic and English in Doha.

 Maple Bacon in Canada.  Words truly fail me (this stuff is sinfully delicious).

Maple Bacon in Canada.  Words truly fail me (this stuff is sinfully delicious).

 Bacon in Qatar (yes, we can actually get pork products now, but once this stuff is done it basically just tastes like fried salt).

Bacon in Qatar (yes, we can actually get pork products now, but once this stuff is done it basically just tastes like fried salt).

 Cycling in Canada ... (teehee!) 

Cycling in Canada ... (teehee!) 

 Cycling in Doha ...

Cycling in Doha ...

 Cost of filling up an RV (3/4) in Canada.  Yikes!!!!!  (gas is about 0.30$/liter in Qatar, it would work out to about 45$ Canadian here.) 

Cost of filling up an RV (3/4) in Canada.  Yikes!!!!!  (gas is about 0.30$/liter in Qatar, it would work out to about 45$ Canadian here.) 

 Church steeples in Canada.

Church steeples in Canada.

 Mosque in Doha

Mosque in Doha

 Road in the Cape Breton Highlands (Nova Scotia, Canada) 

Road in the Cape Breton Highlands (Nova Scotia, Canada) 

 Road leading from Dukhan to Doha.

Road leading from Dukhan to Doha.

 Rugged Cabot Trail coastline.  (Nova Scotia, Canada)

Rugged Cabot Trail coastline.  (Nova Scotia, Canada)

 Fuwairit coastline.

Fuwairit coastline.

 Warming up to a roaring Canadian campfire!

Warming up to a roaring Canadian campfire!

 Chillaxin' by the pool at St. Regis Hotel, Doha

Chillaxin' by the pool at St. Regis Hotel, Doha

 And last, but not least, Canadian Tire money!!!!!  

And last, but not least, Canadian Tire money!!!!!