PostAWeek2011 – what it meant for me

There are times when I think that attempting to blog in a country with minimal and erratic internet speed and service is just a recipe for frustration. I started this blog 3 years ago when I came to Liberia with the high ambition of having an avenue to share my impressions and images with my friends and anyone who might be interested. For the first 2 years I struggled! Either I was too busy or the internet was too slow to upload anything. So from its Sept 2008 birth, at the pathetic rate of about one post a month, I kept my blog alive but barely!

Then came the PostAWeek challenge and a faster ISP in Monrovia (I use LibTelCo). I remembered my original goal! My imagination was fired up again! There were possibilities and they could be achieved or so I believed!

Therefore I proudly declare that in 2011 I added 55 posts to my blog! I achieved my goal. Okay, I admit the December frenzy of (10) posts helped me get there, but I really wasn’t that far off my target even without that blitz. That makes an average of one post a week – a few ranks improved from pathetic!!

As for the readership, oddly enough the number of visits to the site in 2011 was double the total visits for the previous two years! Go figure! The more active you are, the more visits your site receives! The more your post, the more readers!  Thanks to the challenge, my blog is alive and healthy and getting closer to becoming the type of site I imagined from the beginning.

It is good to have an end of year review and recognise the milestones and achievements. I feel encouraged by what I have accomplished because I admit that it has not been easy especially under the ISP conditions I live with. But it is worth it. I have enjoyed reading other people’s blogs and have even started to subscribe to a few myself. I find myself drawn increasingly into the WordPress world.

So what is my blogging plan for 2012? More of the same, but with a few changes. I might remove some of the pages that I enthusiastically added in order to write about my safaris. With my constant time-crisis, I simply cannot work on them. I will also try to do the weekly photography challenge, just for fun. But mainly I will continue to share small snap-shots of life in Liberia as I experience it and I’ll write about my holidays when they happen. For as long as the internet gods bless me with sufficient internet speed, I will continue!  

Having said that, dear subscribers whose inboxes have suffered from my recent blogging blitz, I will now return to a more intermittent posting schedule because I am going on holidays! If you are lucky I won’t think or write about Liberia until sometime in February!! Happy New Year, happy holidays, and thanks for reading! 

 

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2011: Every holiday was a safari!

Well I must say that the true genius of 2011 was my holiday planning!! On that score the year rocked! If anyone questions my planning and organising skills, I’ll just point them to my awesomely planned holiday schedule!! Aside from my annual journey down-under, in 2011 every holiday was a safari!!

I won’t gloat too much, but 2011 allowed me to enjoy safaris in 3 national parks in South Africa, plus a sublime month-long safari which took us through Botswana, Zambia, Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania/Zanzibar!! I simply haven’t had time to edit the 15,000+ photos I took in that month!! What a blast that was…2011 was the ‘year of the safari!’

So, allow me to indulge in a few safari references to illustrate the year that was.

The 6 am rises for the morning game-drives quickly settle into the ‘safari rhythm’ and you start to appreciate the momentum of the morning dawn experienced while bumping across the savannah and the sundowners enjoyed to the fading light of the sunset. [2011 was my 3rd year in Liberia and life had developed a largely dull and unchallenging routine. I can’t say that I like it much, but I am grateful to be here and there are some enticing opportunities emerging on the horizon.]

The anticipation of the chase and the kill are definitely high adrenelin moments of any safari. You have to be alert and ready because even though the hunt can take time, the kill can be over in seconds. But after the kill, you do think of the victim – the sweet baby antelope that just happened to become the leopard’s dinner. [There were moments in 2011, when I felt like I was being hunted by a pack of nasties trying (and failing) to make me their victim! Lesson: stay alert and don’t become anyone’s ‘kill’!]

 

 

 

 

 

The safari experience is best enjoyed with like-minded friends and/or photography buffs. Sharing the vehicle with restless bores is definitely excruciating and I find I don’t have patience any more for difficult and complex people in my social life!  [In 2011, more friends left my social circle than entered it so I have ended up in a deficit of like-minded people around me…except that my new friends are outside my work-life and they’re pretty cool!]

Open spaces, rare opportunities, and splendid skies. Safaris always restore my sense that it is great to be alive and moving in god’s creation, spotting rare wild creatures under an enormous blue canvas sky. [Even though Liberia’s skies are often hazy and grey the wet season can bring some spectacular thunderstorms, enormous clouds, and beautiful sunsets. Whatever the weather, I am grateful to be here: alive, exploring, and ready for more!]

I hope that 2011 was a splendid journey for all my friends and readers.

I wish that 2012 will be a superb safari for you all!

A year of adventure, unexpected surprises, natural beauty, 

and wild possibilities!!!

Life is a safari!

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!

 

more posts in 2011 – PostAWeek2011

wheneva i’m in an internet-rich location i want to post more. one thing about livin’ in liberia is that it is internet challenged, probably damn incapacitated is a more apt description! nevertheless, there must be a way to overcome the gaps and frustrations. surely i can do that once a week…surely.

i don’t like my blog thru-out 2010. i didn’t write often and readers didn’t look in at the wordz and fotoz very often either.

i therefore accept the wordpress challenge to post once a week in 2011.

i’m also going to learn taekwondo

and i’m going to escape the blue cubicle

so 2011 is going to be a good year!!

🙂

time to reflect…small small

a favourite saying in liberia is to describe things as ‘small small’, which means ‘nothing special, big, or extraordinary’. like,’i’m trying small small’.  somehow at the end of 2010 it feels like time to reflect small small.

the danger is that my reflexion on 2010 will come out with plenty of negatives and frustrations, so i’ll try and avoid that, without ignoring the truth. if i’m honest, 2010 wasn’t a great year. but i’m definitely less stressed thanat  this stage 2009 and there were some really great times thru-out the year, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

the good times in 2010:

  1. singing about malaria control with flat-mate L
  2. reconnecting with friends in aust and enjoying womad
  3. printing my best 50 shots to enjoy thru-out the year
  4. laughing til the tears ran about elections with A and A
  5. kicking H’s butt
  6. laughing with the house-lady about how many people have stayed in my place with some form of ‘ann’ in their name
  7. travelling to senegal with A and spending some time plotting and dreaming about the future
  8. getting top score in wii tennis and cracking up playing wii with A
  9. zanzibar – just a great holiday with A
  10. working with the 2 best national staff from the section
  11. getting involved in watching the world cup matches
  12. meeting A and A recently (just how many people’s names start with A?)
  13. starting personal training
  14. enjoying meeting new people on lamu island
  15. sharing honestly with a few good friends
  16. starting to drink coffee again (forced upon me after discovering great columbian coffee)

i should count my blessings – i’m healthy, i’m employed, i’ve got great opportunities to travel and take fotoz, i’ve got friends all over the world, i’ve got good things ahead, i’m learning new things, some people would kill to have my life…well kind of! and i’m the one who chooses to be here. i could’ve gone to afghanistan if i wanted to, and i can always return to aust whenever i want to. so if i choose to stay here, i should not grumble too much.

one thing i learned in 2010 is that not everyone uses ‘african maths’ (1+2=5). i can stand my ground and eventually they’ll go and pick on someone else. i also learned that when the job sux, i can channel my energy into activities outside of work and that will help reduce my frustration.however,  i should not ignore that inner dissatisfaction so that i have some drive to find the energy i need to search out, apply, and win a better place than what i currently have. because if i accept this as the best that’s possible i will be underselling my capacity and the abundance of great opportunities that the universe offers me to make my life count.

these are good reflexions for the year’s end!

 

and this is my nicest 2010 reflexion foto…(Lamu Island, Kenya)

the year is winding up

the year is passing by, winding up, closing down, signing off, … ending.

it went slowly for the most part, but now that its december, it kind of passed by quickly. odd isn’t it.

i had such high expectations of 2010, and it failed to deliver any of them to my little sphere! it’s been a bland year professionally (i’m torn between trying to convince myself that it isn’t so bad here and knowing that this is professional stagnation and i’ve got to get OUT of this little blue cubicle.)

mind you, i had some nice holidays, and that was the greatest thrill of the year.  aust, senegal, zanzibar, kenya (including lamu island) – not bad! and even better holidays under construction for 2011 🙂

socially it was a mixed bag – i had good times with good friends, but now the core of those friends have left liberia, leaving me a little sad. but i also widened my group of friends outside of the work arena which is a good thing. i started working out with a personal trainer and that’s good even if i haven’t lost any weight. that leaves 2 or 3 good things to look forward to in 2011 – more training, more fotos, and more friendz.

one big disappointment that i didn’t solve in 2010 has been the internet service in liberia. i’ve got to find a solution to have internet at home next year or i may as well kill off this blog-page. if i don’t have time and ISP to write and post, its pointless. no decent service works with mac, so maybe i’ve got to buy a small microsoft netbook so that i can have a reasonable speed of service at home. in fact that can be my first christmas present to self and my first new year’s resolution…

overall 2010 lacked forward movement. in some areas i regressed, in others i just stagnated. definitely not enuff positive action.

i need to create some momentum for 2011.

retrospective on my last decade

i promised myself that i’d look back on my life over the last decade, so here goes…

it was a most interesting decade…more good than bad. 🙂

in broad strokes….

my millennium 2000 new year was spent in albania with ak-47 tracer fire substituting for the fire-works! wot a blast – literally – and certainly a memorable place to be for 01/01/2000! i thought i’d go out on the balcony to record on my analog vid-cam, and it completely over-whelmed me, the noise and the sudden awareness that these were real bullets being fired up into the sky … and they weren’t immune to the forces of gravity!! i spent the eve with my albanian family – not sitting close to the windows and the day was spent with friendz watching the world celebrate on tv.

since then i celebrated new year on 4 occasions in europe, 3 in australia, 1 in asia, and 1 in africa! this, he start of the new decade has been spent in monrovia, liberia…so that just leaves the americas as a place i need to spend some time!

i made some fabulous friendz who i should strive to keep in touch with more regularly! the good aspect of travel and working in foreign places, has been that each mission i make @ least 1 or 2 life-long friendz. i wish i made more effort to keep the connexions strong as there r some cool folks in my (global) circle! 🙂  🙂

maybe i should add that i started blogging & facebook and posting fotoz as an effort to develop my social network & thus to keep in touch with friendz betta. if only liberia had a stronger & cheaper IT infrastructure!!

while speaking of work – in the last decade, i changed jobs 7 times – from INGO to the UN; from kosovo to nepal and liberia; from education to civil affairs, from project management to team leader, from head of office to coordination, from local to central governance… i must say the varied experience has all been good!

the down-side of my work-life has always been when i have suffered from some incompetent &/or insecure supervisors. unfortunately within the UN-world there are far too many of them! but they cannot defeat me…even if they out-number & surround me! i have a remarkable amount of resilience @ my core and i sincerely believe that eventually things will change and i will be set free. so far that has been my experience and may it also be proven true in liberia!! please god!!

to complement that, one of my major achievements of the decade was graduating with distinction for my masters degree! the 2006 disser was a major stress becoz i started afresh on it 3 weeks b4 it was due, but wot the heck, it was far, far betta for doing so!!

recently, i renewed my passport for another decade, and observed that in the last decade i travelled to ruffly 25 countries for 3 dayz or longer – croatia, montenegro, serbia, bosnia, macedonia, bulgaria, france, ireland, switzerland, germany, slovenia, kosovo, albania, australia, UK, nepal, thailand, usa, greece, liberia, kenya, ghana, tanzania, uganda, and south africa! ok, so some places were my temporary home, and others i had been to before, but the majority were freshly visited and explored.

from the health perspective,  thankfully i stayed relatively healthy BUT i am starting to add a few kilos that i cannot lose…easily 😦 on a positive note, i survived one near death experience that i’m aware of – & maybe many that i neva knew about!! i’m glad about that as now i get to experience the next decade!

i’m expecting good things from the years ahead!! yup, really good things!

ps: of course this is just the broad surface stuff. i am a far more complex & reflective person than this blog indicates, but i’m not going to explore the deeper stuff here! as we say in liberia, ‘sorry-o!’ 🙂

happy new decade!

i wanted to make sure i had a post to mark the new year and the new decade! 01/01/2010

another milestone achieved…living through the noughties decade! but i think i’ll write more reflection on the decade elsewhere or another day…

as for the past year…i don’t think i’ll look back on 2009 with much excitement. living in liberia ain’t easy and work has not been very fulfilling. on top of that, this christmas & new year holiday was pretty drab compared to last year’s parties. but as i sit here on the balcony of my new apartment, without any NY party hang-over, knowing that small changes have happened @ work, i can view 2010 with some optimism. if the work becomes more interesting and less stressful then livin”n’liberia will be more enjoyable. i just need a good holiday plan to spice up the year!! also i have to find a way to move forward so that i don’t have a 3rd holiday season in liberia in the same job…that’s one thing i’m clear about…

new year’s resolutions??

nah i’m not going to bother to commit to anything specific, certainly not in this public forum!! i wouldn’t want to have to declare the disappointment of my failure!   but i do have an general sense of being happier, more settled, and more optimistic about being here.  &  that optimism, i hope, will spill over into better care of my body, greater confidence to find a new job elsewhere, and a deeper sense of peace about being on the planet and contributing something worthwhile.

2009 was about surviving the stupidity that surrounded me!

2010 can be about spontaneity and substance! …and more daily safari’s!

🙂