Why is it hard to take R&R during a mission?

Everybody who knows the kind of work I do knows the value of “holidays.” It is the much-awaited time-off, planned at the beginning of the mission to fit within the whole year calendar of the post assigned.

According to me, the supposed rest and recreation (or recuperation) or simply R&R is not really that restful when planning for it.  Don’t get me wrong I am one of those who looks forward to it but very lazy to plan ahead because unlike some people traveling, it takes more effort for me to plan than it should be.

Because …

  1. I always have to plan ahead (which I don’t like) to get a visa if places I want to visit requires one for my nationality. And to do that I will need requirements that are sometimes complicated to gather when you’re out of the country to even be granted a 15-day pass.article-0-0B3FB5B800000578-178_468x315
  2. I try to be thrifty, but with advancing age and the kind of adventures I like nowadays, I will need to shelve a little more than what I used to do. Now, I prefer to enjoy a little luxury and comfort when traveling. Top-10-Luxury-Travel-Trends-and-Predictions-for-2013
  3. Related to number 1 and 2, I always try to go to places where I don’t need a visa to visit, and I visited most of those countries. I had my shares of backpacking and sleeping in shabby places. Now those places that remain to be visa free are in other continents that will require some serious savings both for the airfare, board, and lodging and of course shopping, so they are not for R&R kind of holidays! rlytdimje6ozs66xsnpcj5ssh9vnqlyk-xlarge
  4. The work gets in the way. Always felt that as it nears my break work seems to pile up. Because I don’t manage people I have no one to endorse work and leave without being tempted to check on things, worst to cancel holidays. 
  5. To avoid all those problems, the last option is to visit “in-country” where I am assigned. But that defeats the purpose of R&R right? Although I did it more that I could count depending on the context and security situation of the country it is always best to do R&R in another place – preferably another country!

But then again there is the last option that defeats all the points I mentioned above … go home and truly rest. Be in touch with people, places in your hometown. Or simply enjoy time with family and be grounded until it’s time to go back to work and start over again!

Returning to the Fold

For a couple of years, I was so eager to put something on paper, publishing and generate attention from my small friendly followers. I wrote anything and everything of what I had been doing since we entered the millennium era. Although I was dead set to tell you all about my work for people with disabilities, over time I got my thoughts all over and I lost sight on the prize of being a good storyteller.

Who am I kidding? Myself I guess.

I missed the momentum of writing daily and freely. When I returned to work in the aftermath of the great big earthquakes in Nepal. I thought I will have lots of stories to tell but at the end of each day, sleeping under the elements inside a tent rendered it impossible to even get myself to lift my arms to write reports let alone blogs because I was so tired. I did manage to post some stories, photos and a little bit of poetry but it was not enough – I was not able to tell the stories of the life I had there and of the people I encountered. Guided by ethics, I have to be careful what stories I tell and photos I post.

It got more complicated when I moved to Gaza, oPt. Social media was welcome by the Palestinian but not by the Israelis who were in charge to give us work permits to help the refugees in the occupied Gaza and West Bank. I was discouraged to write anything because everything will be taken out of context and of course be seen as bias even if intentions were not. Like in Nepal, I managed to post something but not much to tell you that I had a wonderful time living and working with the people not many of you know are being oppressed every day at this age and time.

Now I am residing in Turkey, not far different from the other context within the region. I wanted to say I am working here, but dare says not, I am touring the country and giving advice along the way.  I am enjoying my time here and inspired to write mentally but physically impossible because I was consumed by other priorities than to write. Inspirations are everywhere, I just need to get myself back on track and start over.

I will not have the #illusion when I begin blogging again, although have to say, those blogs I followed when I started have gained lots of thread and I still enjoy reading their stories. Hope this time I can stick to what I say I will do and eventually become the good storyteller I want to be.

Stuck

I wanted so bad to live up to your expectations, but it seems like a force is pulling me back from making sure I get to the end of it.

I am trying to find ways to juggle life – work balance but the pressure, the stress seems too much that I find myself sometimes stuck, unable to move forward.

The mind is willing, but my body does not budge to get me moving and doing what I should.

That is me living here in Gaza.

When I thought I am tough enough to endure living in a foreign land and meet new people for almost two decades now, I met my match being here. It’s hard to explain because, on the outside, I look fine, sometimes I feel fine, and recently felt at home in Gaza I wish to stay longer. (Read here)

Strange how that may sound but that is how I feel, and I am trying to figure out where my problem lies  – is it the place? The people? The work? I don’t know!  I don’t want to blame where I am for my feelings in the last six months, nor the people and especially the work for the love of what I do.

I have seen good things here in spite of the history of the country and the recent crisis they endured, and somehow I empathize with their being unable to move freely out of Gaza. Not that I can’t move out from here, being an expat working for an international organization gave me some freedom to shuffle in an out at least every three weeks and be like everybody else. Unlike most people I know and work with they will need permission from Israel to go out for a limited time only, which is not given readily and benefits only very few.  In my case, it may not be the same as for most people, but my being closed off from where I live somehow gives me a little understanding of the people’s lives in occupation.  Not being able to go out and enjoy the sun, sand, and sea across my room can be frustrating. Not being able to walk around town and catch a glimpse of life or experience it does not allow me to live my time here actually.  Creativity in my case is boxed online – I see the world like most people here via the social media.

So little out of the ordinary activity is very much appreciated, like yesterday, being the last day of the work week, I was able to enjoy the morning with some of the people we support in the community outside, in the sun, harvesting olives in one of our beneficiaries farm — that was incredible! When asked by some people how I felt (being the only foreign in the group who obviously had not done olive harvest before) all I said was great. To be out in the sun and not see patients for the most of it for a change, and my colleagues with me are so much fun even if most of the time they speak Arabic.

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Now I am back in my apartment, being a Friday nothing much happens here so I am stuck to my computer and live out the day watching movies, catching up with friends online and talking on Skype to my family. That scenario made me somehow understand what most felt day in day out. The frustrations of the young people to be out and enjoying liberties other young people in other parts of the world enjoy. The dreams of parents to give the best to their children – good education, freedom to travel and to choose the life they want to live. Not the current life where everything has to be dependent on what the other person behind the counter say so — it can be too much.

I think that fuels the hatred, the fear and the tension in an already tensed situation since the 40’s basing on their history. The history is written for the Palestinian people by outsiders thinking that lives would be better if foreign people write it for them. And here I am years later, foreign, trying to understand what is incomprehensible because of the kind of work I do. Humanity comes first before politics, and often I am in no liberty to talk about politics (even religion), and I wouldn’t dare even if I want to.  Instead, I will continue bridging the gap of what the world failed to do for these people and support the best I can when I can until it’s time to say hati waqt lahiq (until later).


Being stuck may seem bad for the most of it, but that also gives one perspective of the life we have. To understand that life is not equal in many regions of the world and to experience it in a short time somehow allows me to speak about it. To live it out with these people gives me the profound respect for the resilience of the Palestinians I meet every day be it for work or the little leisure I have here.

My spirits lift when I can pen these feelings and hope those that reads this understands my whim and not take this as drama. Life as an expat may seem appealing for the most of it, but the emotional investment we have is sometimes more than what we can give if we don’t have ways to vent it out.

Now I have to get going … I have pending paper works to accomplish if I want to reach my destination.

My Habibi

First encountered the word when I was in Sierra Leone, a call of endearment thrown my way by my then love of my life. It sounded very exotic, me having no understanding of Arabic word whatsoever, and I felt so much loved.

Habibi is an Arabic word directly translating as “my baby” or “my darling”; Habibti is feminine form of habibi, which means “my love”

Arriving in Palestine early this year, the first recognizable word I heard was Habibi, and I was culture shocked to hear it spoken between men — whoa! Only to be told I interpreted the exchanges wrongly (and maybe with malice) and should let it pass. I did, or so I thought, but I am not over it.

The word means my beloved, and in normal conversation, it is normally used between close friends of the same or opposite gender or between couples romantically involved.

For us non-Arabs, it can be (in English)  “my friend / bro / sis” when used among friends, or “my love / baby” when used romantically. In Tagalog, it can be “pare” for men and no idea what can it be for women 🙂

After being here for a while, I can let it rest and accept it as part of the normal conversations in taxi, offices, and meetings but I will keep the first impression and feelings I had when I first heard it nine years ago.


I discovered too that there are books of the same title that tells stories about love … from the looks of it, maybe I should get then and start reading about my love …

 

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Habibi bt Naomi Shihab Nye

The day after Liyana got her first real kiss, her life changed forever. Not because of the kiss, but because it was the day her father announced that the family was moving from St. Louis all the way to Palestine. 

 

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Habibi by Craig Thompson

Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.

My dear habibti … hope you enjoy reading!

Memories that last … Nepal

Today I was reminded of where I was last year … in Nepal.

A video was made to chronicle the events that unfolded before, during and after the big earthquake by the people working for the different organization, including mine. HI team responded without delay to the catastrophe that was unfolding on the very soil they were standing as they were out on the field playing football.

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I still keep in touch with my former staffs now friends. Catching up on the development in the places where we used to go which with the enormity of needs seems to be slow. But believe me, a lot has been done when I was there and since I left November of last year.

Being part of the 2nd wave of emergency support means we arrived when most of the first batch of emergency support are flat out tired from the non-stop action, sleepless nights, traveling mostly on foot and maybe lack of proper meals.  It doesn’t mean that we have everything prepared for our arrival, no, we were merely taking up from what they had started … the colleagues we came to replace were laudable for really doing a good job setting up what we came to continue and improve.

I inherited a good team of physiotherapists, vibrant social workers, and energetic project officer and recruited some more including a data officer in a difficult situation. They had exceeded my expectation and was able to accomplish what were expected of us in the short time I was there – the rehabilitation services of people injured during the earthquake continued in the hospital after we folded the temporary tent hospital and rehabilitation center.

I have done many first in this mission … first emergency post and the first time in South Asia and first time to be in an earthquake zone.

When I arrived I was expecting chaos but no … arrived at midnight, went through immigration smoothly and then I saw the car.  At night you see nothing, but it has that feel and asks yourself “maybe I am in the wrong place” then I arrived in our lodging and met in passing all the rest of the crew. Then I woke up to two aftershocks of 6 magnitudes, 15 minutes interval and reality set in — I am in an emergency post!

What else do I remember?

Living in tents and sleeping either on the ground or the treatment table, shaky hotels and house in the middle of a corn field when it’s not a pond during the rainy season. Showering in a room under the stairs where you make a mental note not to sing in the shower, or you risk getting diarrhea the next day which you will not like to have being in the field.

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The blue tent is my room for the first three weeks in Nuwakot

I get to eat at the pit stop restaurant before getting to our final destination, where food was always good if not spicy and always the same – dhal bat with chicken washed down with nice cold coca cola.

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I like everything on the plate except the bitter gourd

I saw many hanging bridges and wondered how it feels to be on it. When I was actually on one, my feet won’t let me move, the phobia returned and only until our driver walked with me I was able to get to the other end otherwise, I will sleep in the car next to the river while my staffs are sleeping in the proper tent with mosquito net.

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It’s all smiles, but my legs were weak

But the best memory of all saw the Himalayan Range – even though I didn’t see the great mountain Everest, I got to spend a good time with the other peaks in the western part of the ranges – the Annapurna Range in Sarangkot and enjoy the company of friends while on that trip of a lifetime and the Langtang Range on my last visit to Dhunche in Ruswa district.

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Sunrise in Dhunche … Hello, Lantang Range!

In life we get to experience new things … live life different from what were used to … met people we will never get to meet again but somehow changed both of you forever … and these memories of the events that passed makes my belief in humanity even stronger.

 

Love Hurts

 

When I thought I am understanding the people around me, one incident would make me ask again “what did I get myself into taking this post?

Seems like my powers of attracting good people in my life is loosing charge, I need holiday again!

When in this situation, I seek the help of the one person who understands me inside and out, my sister. If there’s one person that can make me feel guilty and happy at the same time that would be her.

She told me to keep on loving them in spite of how awful they may be to you.

I told you, I am already feeling guilty — I should know better.

Gaza is not an easy place to be. The not so recent war is still palpable around us here and some of the people I met are resigned to the fact that their situation now is their destiny and may not change in their lifetime. Others conditioned themselves to hide their emotions and get on with life like nothing happened, detaching themselves from the reality of what is around them because that is the only way they know how to get to the future they imagined for themselves and their young families.

Again, I should know better! But like every human being I am fallible, bound to take things personal that often affect my psyche, blinding me of the truth in front of me.

In a confined space where people have been working together for years, enduring their situation together, they form a bond and I am seen as an outsider.

Being new in the region, having very few friends from the Middle East, I struggled to understand the culture and while on it, my understanding is challenged by characters of people I am not used to see in other places I’ve been to.  I started to loose my compassion and dwell on the negativity that I felt directed towards me, even though I know it is not to me personally but to what I represent to them – an outsider.

But like what Dalai Lama said in his book My Spiritual Autobiography

Faced with a problem, try to remain humble while keeping a sincere attitude, and think about the right solution.

And that is what I am going to do – although it’s hard to get back on track, I will find the right solution to my predicament (eventually) and get on doing what I am here for without loosing the passion I have doing this.

God Willing!

Afternoon Delight

Winter is already forgotten, the images in front of my house has been changing day after day since I arrived. Before I just marvel at the beauty of sunset everyday and I don’t see much happening down at the beach, the weather was still too cold to be hanging around and even attempting to go in the water.

Come May, the scene has transformed. More and more people are flocking in the beach, cabannas and makeshift resorts suddenly are there, while families pitch their own tents and taking a nice dip in the Mediterranean sea.

Summer is fast approaching.

The water is still cold,  the waves still changes and today it’s cloudy but it does not stop strings of people (and cars) coming to the beach across my hotel.

Too bad I can only marvel and enjoy what I see from a distance.

My afternoon would be incomplete without me sitting in my couch watching the sun set in the west while below my room, and across the streets are images of fun and family gatherings. Taking advantage of the warm afternoon sun and cool waters and let’s not forget bounty of food.

Include in the mix horses and camels walking up and down the beach.

 

 

My Nepal Top 9 Stories : Where Do I Sleep Tonight?

Where indeed?

Arriving late, my thoughts were veering towards nice shower and nice comfy bed. As we are heading to the guesthouse and while the driver was trying small conversation, I am almost dozing off from tiredness. Until we reached the end of the main road from the airport, which took almost 20 minutes, to a dirt road, the worst I had in Kathmandu.

The guesthouse located in the Budhanilkantha municipality at the foothills of the Shivapuri water reserve and national park. Away from the pollution Kathmandu is known for and later I will know was 15 minutes to our office.

Guesthouse One

Replacing the one of the first batch of responder, I took over her room in the first house of 2 my organization rented for 15 expatriates. The house was a mess when I arrived – beds were on the floor in the living room and house furniture were literally in the middle of the foyer because it just arrived and are not yet fixed in the 7 rooms we have. Imagine how big the house is.

I took the room on the ground floor at the foot of the stairs leading to the 2 other floors of the house. It has a new bed, mattress and I managed to find new bedding, pillow and duvet. I was helped by one colleague (the logistics support) to settle in and was told simple instructions if and when there’s an earthquake – listen to the alarm and get out of the house, wait 15 minutes before returning inside – got it!

Can I go to sleep now?

Shower and sleep was uneventful, too tired to be bothered but was happy there was hot water.

The morning after this is what I saw …

It was a massive house, not what I was expecting in Nepal but the area where we live almost have the same structure around – it was the diplomatic compound after all!

But I only got to stay for few weeks at the ground floor and I was moved to the third floor known to us as the dorm because I only get to sleep in my room for the weekend and my g/f room was given to someone more permanent in Kathmandu … fair enough, but it means all the visitors in the mission will be my weekend roommate — bummer! Good thing it only happened twice and it was of course not too bad, so I took back the bummer comment.

The move to the top floor was a blessing actually – I always have the room (enough to fit 3 queen size beds) and a balcony and roof top deck to myself and I got stunning view of the city, the hills, sunset and sunrise and full moon (check out Fullmoon Over Shivapuri Hills) and I am not bothered with noise when I want to sleep in or just wanting to be left alone.

Living on the rough

As I moved out of Kathmandu to be stationed in my base, I knew already what to expect — I will live in a tent and it will not be comfortable. Little did I know that it was really going to be tough, but I also did realized that I was not in the position to complain because my staffs have been living there for 6 weeks already.

(Only those who experienced living in the tent for extended period of time have the right to complain — for the others shush!)

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My six staffs have similar room as I had but staying there for over 2 months before we moved to a proper building

I arrived with the other project manager and the two of us will live in a tent … yey! Holiday camping is no comparison to my experience living in a small tent for 3 weeks — I had no choice to begin with, on where to put the tent (though I had a choice on what kind of tent to use but that’s another story altogether).

Staying in tent was fun when I was still climbing, much more when I experienced “glamping” in Uganda overlooking the Nile river. But when your tent is pitched on the grounds without grass but instead has little stones, waking moments was like being thrown in the washer, worst its like being walked on by someone in stilettos. Was tough! Throw in the space problem and the humidity because I arrived in Nepal in the middle of summer and Nuwakot was low enough to be blessed with nice cool breeze like in Kathmandu and other elevated districts (Ruswa I mean).

For 3 weeks I endured (again not complaining!), twice I had a chance to sleep on the massage bed when there were more people in the base than expected – which was a welcome relief from sleeping in small space and warm room.

For 3 weeks, I felt dirty before Friday, grumpy for lack of good sleep and tired for both lack of sleep (have to wake up when foot traffic starts coming in the compound) and lack of comfortable space to work (either under the tree because it’s too hot in the tent, in tea houses and after 5 on your lap). I always look forward to the weekends when I know I can have long hot showers, sleep in and eat good food – either I cook or from good restaurant.

House in the middle of the field 

The logistics managed to find a house for me and my colleague to move and have a decent after 5 life in Bidur. They found a house under construction and to be ready before the big rainy season come – or so we thought.

While waiting, they rented the top floor of the only hotel deemed safe for NGO to use. We used the 4 rooms (3 bedrooms and 1 hall) as sleeping quarters in the night and the hall as office during the day. It was different from living in the tent — en suite toilet and bath (even if the water was brown), bed, pillow and duvet. Plus breakfast and beers available all the time (not that they are consumed at the same time ha ha).

The house we are waiting to be finished was found in the middle of the field – around it was the owners corn and rice field, but additional cash was so tempting they are willing to rent it out while they live in a tent next to it. Strange arrangement but we took it. The constructions took longer than it should be and my colleague only managed to stay for 2 weeks to enjoy the comfort of sleeping on a proper bed and showering anytime you like before he was replaced.

 

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House in the middle of the field

But our stay in the house in the middle of the field was short lived – we have to move out when it was discovered that rain water was coming in the kitchen (from the ceiling) and no water in the tap. Worst was when the mud was too much and the plants were growing, movement was becoming restricted.

Why not rent a whole building instead? 

That’s what we did. We rented a whole building, refurbished hotel next to the military base along the only road to Bidur.

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View from the first office we had in Bidur … the main road leading to the hills and other districts out of Nuwakot and 1 km away was the 2nd hotel cum office

From the first office, we rented the 2nd office in the sister hotel but we included all the 13 rooms in it to house all of the Bidur staffs relocated from Kathmandu.

Not cheap but more practical.

So taking the furniture from the house in the middle of the field, I continue to enjoy my Kathmandu amenities in my new room — on the first floor, at the back of the building away from the road and looking out to the hills (and lots of birds), with en suite toilet and bath, hot water machine (which I didn’t get to use for fear of it blowing up – LPG powered geezer) and air-condition unit.

The same for everybody that needed to be accommodated by the organization plus the visitors. We started to have a good work-life balance while we slowly finishes up the emergency mission and preparing to hand over the remaining activities to the district hospitals and to the other partners.

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Facade of the final lodging … Satanchuli One

Unfortunately towards the last month of the mission, the petrol problem plague the country, immediately after the new constitution was promulgate late September. I did not get to spend much time in Bidur and enjoy the district life — slow paced, work packed and nightly fun with my staffs, it was a heartfelt goodbye, I have to drag my feet to leave.

As I bade goodbye to Nepal, my last morning in Kathmandu stepping outside my balcony was to take my last look around and thank God that in spite of the earthquake, the beauty around remains beautiful to greet me “good morning” wherever I wake up from my restful night.

My Nepal Top 10 Stories : How did I get to Nepal?