A few words on my week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

On the first day I felt as though I had landed in paradise, and that feeling has not lessened in the few days I’ve been in Addis Ababa! Of course everything is relative, and most of the people I’ve met here have grumbled and complained about life here, but as I’m coming from Liberia, this is relatively close to paradise! It helps immensely that I’m being hosted by my friend in her cosy house with wonderful garden. She’s introduced me to all manner of interesting people and we’ve eaten at several lovely restaurants. Aside from the intimidating government (they just banned Skype) and the lack of big modern shopping centres with well stocked shops, I can’t think of anything to complain about! Addis does not feel like a city of 5-7 million people and the parts I’ve seen of it have been easy to move around. I admit I’m moving in the expat world, but I move in the expat world in Liberia too and I know which of the two I would prefer! This is not Nairobi, or Dakar, or Joburg, but there’s a lot going on because it has the African Union HQ and there’s a big presence of UN and international organisations. There is potential for things to move ahead and in the meantime, its definitely possible to have a comfortable and interesting professional life in Addis. I will continue to explore the options!!

Hopefully these few photos can be uploaded….

I don’t know how many people have heard of InterNations, but I had the chance to go to the 5th InterNations event in Addis and it was so cool! For people who move to a new country to live, InterNations helps to connect people to the expat network so that they can find their way around the new location as well as meet like-minded interesting people. The whole objective is to ‘bring global minds together’! It worked so well in the last event, a dinner at Top View restaurant in Addis (my photos are on the IN Addis website). I’m a member in Liberia’s InterNations network, but I don’t think they’ve ever had an event in Monrovia. I will be curious to see what potential there is to activate such a network in Liberia.

It’s been a fruitful and amazing holiday in Addis. I will come again! When I return tomorrow I will fly with a head full of ideas and plans which should sustain me for the next period in Liberia and also help me to do something to rescue my pathetic career! Cheers for now!

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Another birthday, another chance to reset my direction

I’m in a reflective mood brought on by the fact that its my birthday! So allow me to ramble a little as I sit in Addis Ababa looking out over a green flowery garden, listening to the birds twitter. This is paradise for me at the moment, because it is beautiful and because it is not Monrovia. I have to admit that my main objective seems to be to ensure that the 19th June is not spent in Liberia! My first birthday since working in Liberia (2009) I flew back to Australia to escape, in 2010 I went to Senegal, 2011 to Durban RSA, and this year to Ethiopia! That’s a fun way to remember my birthdays! I wonder where I’ll celebrate next year! But, beyond the surface, I really like to get out of Liberia so that I can reset my thinking and direction.

I think when milestones come along, they should be celebrated – marked in a special way.  The birthday date serves as a marker and a milestone. Another year has passed by and what have I done with it? What do I want to see happen for the coming 12 months? At the moment, a big part of me would love to settle into a comfortable life in Liberia with good friends, a comfy house, and some semblance of normalcy – that is very attractive! It could almost be possible. Another part of me wants to see how far I can stretch the limits of my abilities and how much I can contribute to this planet. Its a dilemma to balance these two conflicting desires because I don’t know how to blend them together. I hope it is possible to push ahead with the career motivations but within a network of loving, supportive friends who encourage and give you the courage to give your best. I doubt that this international life will ever be normal, but I can see from my friend in Addis, that there are ways to create a loving, exciting, and challenging lifestyle within the constraints of the abnormal settings where we are temporarily located. That may not make sense to many readers, but its very real to me! I want to shake up my pathetic career and I want to live a more connected and real life with loving friends. It will be interesting to see how far I’ve moved towards that by June 19th, 2013!

Love ya!

I am alive, but silenced again by technical challenges!

It has been a long, long silence – far longer than intended. This time I will blame WordPress because the changes they seem to have made to their system have overwhelmed the Liberian internet service provider! I have been unable to log into my account and unable to access my dashboard. It maybe that the changes are good for the world of fast ISPs but it is not wise to assume that everyone enjoys such luxury!

During this dark period of silence, I have in fact been very busy! Work was more interesting and varied – I like that! Then I had a 3 night visit to Buchanan which also varied the pace a little. Now I am about to head off on a well-earned holiday – to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the first time. That will make my 14th country on the African continent which is not bad for my time here, especially when you consider that I’ve been to many places more than once.

Hmmm, I am not able to attach a photo due to the ISP incapacity. Sorry! But at least these few words let you know I’m still alive. One can hope that the ISPs will be faster in East Africa! Love & laughter!

 

 

I’m back in Monrovia

I’m back in Monrovia. Back in the green and brown land. Back to slow and frustrating internet service. Back to food that always disappoints. Back to distrust and having to stay on constant alert. Back to tedious superficial work. Sigh. I want to be positive, but its difficult to move beyond a sort of relative positivism derived from knowing that “there are worse places to be”. That always sustained me through difficult times in Albania “well you could be back in the classroom facing 35 rampant 13 year olds…hmmm…better to be here afterall!” Now that thoughtline is replaced with “well you could be in Afghanistan, or Dafur, or Iraq…hmmm….better to be here afterall.” But it does kind of wear thin. Mainly because my subconscious is also starting to raise a counter argument to that…”well you could also be in Australia, or Croatia, Cambodia or Uganda…hmm…so you don’t actually have to stay here!” Aahhh the human mind is pretty amazing and tricky in how it reveals what’s really going on as a sort of sudden surprising revelation. I’m not about to make any changes, and I plan to stay in Liberia for as long as it makes sense to, but that’s not to say that there are some days when its nice to dream of escape and a more enjoyable and constructive way to pass my time.

These negative thoughts are somehow indicative that I had a fine holiday these last 5 weeks…great holiday equals difficult re-entry! The long flight back gave me time to think through the type of life I want here. As I can’t do much to change the work scenario, I need to sort out a few things related to my living situation – deal with the house-cleaner who is cheating me, find a new fitness routine to replace taekwondo, resign from all responsibilities outside of work, and expand my social network. All the usual things that we typically think through at the start of a new year hey…but good things that will help me to be happier for as long as I’m in Monrovia. I spent a few evenings sitting by the beach with an evening drink. The sunset by the beach is the best time of the day in Monrovia!

Even with the weeks of silence on the blog, there has been a steady stream of readers – noice! I need to find the time to post more and snazzy things up a little…if only the internet was a tad faster!!!

Here’s a photo to capture the mood of this post…sunset at the beach taken New Year 2012. Til next time, let’s keep smiling 🙂

Christmas in Liberia

“My Christmas is on you!” is the greeting I heard most often during the Season in Liberia! At first I was confused. What has your Christmas got to do with me? ‘People, we have to take care of our own Christmases’, I thought. And after four Christmas seasons spent as an expat in Liberia I think I eventually ‘got it’ in the end.

Christmas is a very important celebration.

The majority of Liberians claim to be Christians (about 80%). Church attendance is a priority and after the mass or Sunday service people spill out onto the roads in their Sunday finery, greeting friends, blessing each other, and searching for a ride home. Christmas Day is spent with the family and people go all out to enjoy a nice meal and share some small gifts for the children.

Family time is very important and after sharing the special meal families will go to the beach or somewhere special to visit and pass the time together. Interestingly, Christmas is not always celebrated on the 25th December. If, like this year (2011), the 25th happens to fall on a Sunday then Liberians will celebrate Christmas on the public holiday.

Christmas shopping is stressful all over the world!

The RedLight market area in Monrovia may not be Woolworths or Marks and Spencer, but the stress for the shopper on the hunt for a bargain is the same the world round, and more so at Christmas! (The photos tell the story!)

Now you cannot compare the Christmas consumerism of a typical Australian with that of Liberians because the two are quite different contexts. However speaking only from my observations, many Liberians seem to face more pressure than most Aussies would experience during this time of the year. In Liberia, where 85% of the population do not have regular jobs or salaries, the urgency to hustle and beg is an incredible burden for many. I can’t really imagine how it feels.

“My Christmas is on you!”

So here’s where the saying “My Christmas is on you” starts to make sense. The security guards say it, the office cleaning ladies, the parking attendant at the shops, government interlocutors, and even my colleagues at work! Everyone looks to their connections, no matter how thin, to ask for money.

Of course, expats are a natural target as everyone assumes we have money to give away to anyone who asks. But the Liberians with a stable job and salary are constantly chased by the unemployed family members, long-lost cousin ten times removed, and neighbours who they barely meet throughout the year. Imagine how much pressure that is!

While the hustlers might accept a negative response from an expat, they do not let up with their Liberian brothers and sisters. They will hustle until the family member gives them some money, and they will shame them if the amount they give is not enough. (I’m not sure that this makes any sense until you have lived in Liberia.)

 

How to respond 

At first when people greeted me with “My Christmas is on you” I used to smile and say “Bless you”. I felt that if I gave to one person I would need to give to everyone. And so the well reasoned mantra, ‘I can’t help everyone, so I won’t help anyone’ justified my inaction on too many occasions. (Thankfully, not on all occasions)

Once I understood the Season greeting would come every December, I thought about who was important to me and what they might need. I planned ahead so that for some people I could give more than a ‘bless you’.

The spirit of Christmas in Liberia

I eventually  realised that the consumerism and pressure people faced at Christmas time in Liberia came from the same source as everywhere Christmas is celebrated – a desire to celebrate a special occasion and have time with family.

That is the same heart and motivation many people have across the world. It is the spirit of Christmas!

So when Liberians greeted me with ‘My Christmas is on you’ they were actually voicing in a unique way, their desire to celebrate and their need for help. I would rather hear that greeting than “Hey big mama! You got money for me!” Yes, I did hear that statement in Liberia too, but never at Christmas time!

I hope that my comments as an expat have captured some of the reality of the challenges that come with celebrating Christmas in Liberia. And I hope also that when someone greets you saying, ‘My Christmas is on you’, you can feel the heart and need behind the expression.

I wish I had caught on to that heartbeat much sooner!

MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone and richest blessings for the year to come!

 

Top 20 places to visit in sub-saharan Africa – revisited

At the beginning of 2011, I created my list of ‘Top Ten places I want to explore in Africa’ and it evolved into my list of top 20 places to visit in sub-saharan Africa. It includes the best safari destinations, world heritage sites, and the best beach locations, but of course there’s heaps more to see on his vast continent than can be contained in this list. The challenge I set myself was to see how much of the list I could experience by 31 Dec 2011, and after my recent holiday I thought it would be a good time to revisit the list.

My list of top 20 places to visit in sub-saharan Africa (in no particular order) – reviewed October 2011

  1. Kenya – Masai Mara, Samburu, Amboselli, and East & West Tsavo National Parks [DONE] + Mara North Conservancy
  2. Botswana – Okavango Delta, [DONE] Chobe National Park
  3. Namibia – Skeleton Coast, Namib desert, Etosha National Park
  4. Tanzania – Serengeti National Park and Ngorongo Crater [DONE]
  5. Uganda – Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and mountain gorillas [DONE] See my Uganda’s mountain gorilla page!
  6. Tanzania – Zanzibar [DONE TWICE]
  7. South Africa – Cape of Good Hope, Rodden Island, Table Mountain [DONE]
  8. Kenya – Lamu Island [DONE]
  9. Zambia and Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls [DONE]
  10. Ghana – Kakum National Park and Cape Coast fort [DONE]  See my Ghana page
  11. South Africa – Krueger National Park [DONE]
  12. Senegal – Goree Island, St Louis Island [DONE]
  13. Tanzania – Mt Kiliminjaro [SEEN IT but never climbed it]
  14. Rwanda – Virguna mountains and the mountain gorillas [DONE]
  15. Zambia – South Luanga National Park [DONE]
  16. Kenya/Tanzania – the great migration [1/2 DONE] We were there but the wilderbeest didn’t cooperate.
  17. Gabon – national park
  18. Malawi – Lake Malawi
  19. Mozambique
  20. Namibia – Fish River Canyon

So, where am I at with all this now? I guess that my last 2011 holiday will be to Ethiopia, so nothing more from the Top 20 list will be conquered this year, unless I change the list! In 2012 I might aim to get to Namibia and Malawi or Mozimbique, but that depends largely on what job opportunities emerge.

The remaining challenge is to document each place with photos and commentary. I have 10,000s of photos from all my travels and safaris; I just need bandwidth and time to post the best of them. The original purpose of the pages at the top of the blog was to write about these destinations and experiences. I have not achieved that and I’m a bit overwhelmed by the task because I would need to re-jig the blog and commit a load of time to it (but I will persist as it is a worthwhile project).

Africa is a brilliantly beautiful continent and yet also tragically difficult place to live in. I hope I’ll get to share my experiences and thoughts but I also love to hear from others who have travelled the same roads and enjoyed the same locations.

On safari

I have just returned from a month on safari!! The recent posts of life in Liberia were prepared before I left Monrovia and have been posted from east Africa thanks to the luxury of fast internet service provision! I wanted to get something on the board for September.

Safari? Yes indeed. We enjoyed the beauty of the Okavango Delta in Botswana; Vic Falls and South Luanga Park in Zambia; Serian Camp in the Mara North Conservancy, Kenya; the mountain gorillas in Rwanda; and then chilled out on the beach in Zanzibar, Tanzania. If you include the 1 day in Zimbabwe then we covered 6 countries in 30 days of wonderful safari bliss seeing the best of African nature and wildlife. What a privilege!

If you have never had the opportunity to go on safari then its very hard to explain the experience, but it is a unique way to spend a holiday. You quickly get into a routine of 5am wake-up calls, early morning game drives, cups of tea sipped in the savannah, afternoon naps, afternoon game drives, sun-downers under the savannah sunset, shared dinners and excited conversations before collapsing in bed thrilled and anticipating more of the same the next day. In the midst of the tea breaks, there is always a sense of anticipation when on a game drive. You never know what you will find around the next corner – wildlife viewing is fascinating and unpredictable. Even in the moments when there are no animals to be seen, there is no boredom because you can breathe in the fresh air, absorb the beautiful landscape and the vastness of the open spaces and blue skies. On top of that, if you love photography you will be in heaven as a safari gives so many photo opportunities. I took close to 16,000 photos in 30 days, so now I’m set to constructively pass my spare time for the next months!

My main mental challenge now is to manage the post-safari blues that have hit me since my return to Monrovia. 😦   I will do that by concentrating on photo editing! Rather than get sucked into commenting on the election dramas underway in Liberia (Tuesday is the day for ‘da voting business’) I can write about ‘my brilliant safari’ and share the best photos in future blogs (ISP gods allowing).

By the way, I passed another milestone recently. 28 September marked my 3 years in Liberia! The only thing I’ll say about that is that it feels like its time to make a ‘go forward’ plan.

Liberian Flag Day

Today is the 164th celebration of Liberian Flag Day, the National holiday to celebrate the significance and symbolism of the Liberian flag. In honour of the day there is usually a parade before the President and other events, but for most it is just a holiday. My security guard did pronounce that “today is da proud day for the Liberian Flag”, although he could not tell me what made it a proud day. I was probably asking too much.

The Liberian flag, in case you haven’t noticed is very similar to the flag of the USA, but with only a single star, otherwise known as the ‘lone star’. I wonder what the average Liberian has to celebrate about the current flag and all the national symbols? They are celebrating the birth of the nation by freed slaves sent from the USA courtesy of the American Colonisation Society and their close national links with the States. Perhaps for most people that is no longer relevant or a point worthy of celebration. It might be time to design a new flag that captures a fresh and modern symbolism for the identity of this nation…and before you ask, I have no idea what that might be!

Until things change, I attach 2 photos:

(1) the President of the Republic of liberia seated on her gold chair with the flag on the gold table in front of her; and,

(2) the flag on a pole outside the Administration building in Harper, Maryland County.

And since we speak of flags, Liberia is also a flag of convenience country which allows shipping companies to register ships and sail under the Liberian flag without ever sailing into the Liberian port. I think I have an amusing photo for this situation – a boat flying the Liberian flag in Lamu Island, Kenya. 🙂

A day exploring iSimangaliso Wetland Park, RSA

Gallery

This gallery contains 23 photos.

I spent a day exploring South Africa’s oldest World Heritage Site- established in Dec 1999. iSimangaliso Wetland Park is quite beautiful but I think you need a 4×4 and a few days to explore the areas further from St Lucia. I … Continue reading