First time out of Colombo – Matara & Arugambay

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My supervisor is keen on the “learn by doing” philosophy. This is best exemplified by a work trip I took last week. After only one full day in the WUSC Sri Lanka office, I was on the road with the Uniterra team, traveling to orient two Leave for Change volunteers to their work locations in Matara and Arugambay. I hadn’t even finished my own orientation and I was already greeting and orienting new volunteers!

After their 20+ hours of travel to Colombo, the two Leave of Change volunteers were certainly tired but with only 3 weeks in the country and big tasks to complete as short-term volunteers with WUSC’s partners around the country, there was no time to spare: their orientation started the day after they arrived. That Monday morning, we quickly overviewed some “Dos and Don’ts” in Sri Lankan culture. Then, we did my favourite part of orientation: the “eating with your fingers” session, which takes place in the fancy Sri Lankan restaurant Raja Bojun. This restaurant offers some Sri Lankan specialities including rice and curry, kottu, and hoppers! This session is fun AND delicious, even though¬†I’m still learning how to eat with my hands (there’s a proper technique¬†that I have yet to master).

Once we finished lunch, we set out on the road. The first stop on our list: Matara, a coastal city about two hours south of Colombo by highway. We arrived about 3:30PM in the afternoon, which meant we had time to have a meeting with the volunteer’s partner organization INDECOS and even some time to play around in the ocean! It was my first time on the beach in Sri Lanka and I fell in love with the warm water and amazing views. It made me sit back and think about how lucky I am to be living in such¬†a beautiful country. That evening, we had an incredible meal at the¬†home of one of leaders of INDECOS. His wife is a very talented and generous cook, which meant the food was both bountiful and mouth-watering.

We stayed at a beach-side hotel that night and were lucky enough to enjoy breakfast next to the ocean the next day. It was an early morning, though, because we had a long drive to Arugambay, where the second Leave for Change volunteer is working to fulfill¬†his volunteer mandate. Though the¬†drive was longer and much slower due to windy roads and a bit of traffic, we arrived with a couple of hours of sun left in the day, allowing for a short period of exploration after we finished some of the recording Sabrina, Uniterra’s communications volunteer, wanted to do to create¬†videos about women who work in tourism in Sri Lanka. Even tired after a long day of travel, it was easy to appreciate the quaint tourist area that is the main road of Arugambay. It is filled with little shops with Indian-style clothes (I bought a beautiful tunic!), stands that sell fresh fruit juice, and many little restaurants along the way, too.

That night we stayed at Stardust, which is a beach hotel, something I didn’t truly appreciate until the next day¬†when I woke up at 5AM – still a bit jet-lagged – to the sound of early morning waves. I went for a short walk on an empty beach and took advantage of the free time to write¬†in my journal. I can’t wait to look back in a few months on these entries chronicling my early days in Sri Lanka. While the first few weeks are the steepest learning curve and so they can be overwhelming, they are also the most magical because everything is fresh, new, and exciting. (Even now, officially in my third week in Colombo and I’m still definitely in the honeymoon phase.)

Then it was back on the road. We went up the east coast a bit to visit the WUSC Sri Lanka office in¬†Batticaloa. We were there for only a short time but it was nice to put some faces to names of the people I had been hearing about since I arrived!¬†I participated in (well, more watched since I’m still very new) a couple of meetings where my supervisor pitched the Uniterra program to potential partners in the region and then, as quickly as we came (this trip was a whirlwind!), we were off and heading back to Colombo. We arrived back in Colombo around 10PM on Wednesday night and, honestly, I was beyond tired. Despite the exhaustion, it had been an amazing trip: in only three days, we had traveled all through the southern coast and halfway up the east coast. I’m very lucky to have had this opportunity so early in my mandate!

More details from my personal travels in the days to come (hint: I went on safari!)

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Hanging out with an animatronic elephant at Raja Bojun in Colombo

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The trusty van that took us to Matara, Arugambay, Batticaloa then back to Colombo (all in three days!)

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The INDECOS office in Matara

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My ocean-view room in Polhena Beach, Matara

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Polhena beach!

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We passed along the way many sights including some in-the-distance elephants near Arugambay & this Hindu temple with a huge statue of Gana Devi / Ganesha near Batticaloa. 

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Entrance of Stardust Beach Hotel in Arugambay

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Stardust beach hotel in the morning sun

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Finishing off the post with this photo promoting the most recent X-men movie. Sabrina and I went to it during our first weekend in Colombo to enjoy a few hours of entertainment and to enjoy the air conditioning!

If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.

It’s actually happening! (T-6 days)

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Less than a week until I depart for a year in Colombo, Sri Lanka and it’s finally sinking in… This is all really, actually, for sure, 100% happening: I am moving abroad. On Sunday. Again.

I love this feeling of exhilaration because I love the moment before trying a new thing. I’ve felt it in the past¬†(e.g. my¬†first day of university or at¬†a new job) but it’s always a rush.¬†Maybe it’s because I’ve lived abroad before that I didn’t expect it¬†as much this time. This time, I thought I’d be super chill and not at all the giddy little kid I feel like inside.

But I’m thankful for my excitable inner child. It’s the reason I can get through a packing list the length of my arm and spend hours on the road back and forth into the city to gather supplies (and then gather supplies again as I realize I don’t own a single lightweight, work-appropriate blouse!?!?).

This energy will also propel through the longest flight I’ve ever been on: 12 hours from Montreal to Doha before flying on to Colombo. (Note: I’ve been on a plane for ~20 hours from Washington D.C. to Johannesburg but it touched down for an hour in Dakkar to refuel so this one will technically be longer!).¬†I know this flame of energy will wane into more of a slow burn as I get into a groove in my new home but for now I’ll relish it… It hides the nerves, after all!


If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.

T-11 days!

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After a¬†busy trip to Toronto, I spent a few days relaxing at my grandmother’s house in southern Ontario. (She reads my blog – hi Gramma!) Those days were spent sleeping in, chatting, enjoying the spring weather, and hanging out with the amazing¬†folks in my grandmother’s life.

Back in the Ottawa area now, my life has been filled with preparations. Tasks like appointments with the travel doctor, making decisions about packing (yes or no to the travel pillow? Oh, right there’s a twelve hour flight – of course I’m bringing the travel pillow!), organizing all the¬†paperwork, and so on are definitely keeping me busy… But I will admit that my days have been more filled with everyday tasks¬†than I had anticipated. Yes, I’m moving abroad in the near future but in the meantime there are also dishes to be done¬†and laundry to be cleaned. And all of these little tasks¬†serve to remind me that while I am away, life here will continue on similar to how it has always been (though, of course, sans Katherine).

While it might sound that way, I don’t see this as a sad observation. Instead, I take refuge in the thought¬†that while this move seems like a big deal right now (even¬†a Big Scary Thing), eventually life in Sri Lanka¬†will take shape in many of the same ways life in Canada does – through the tasks of everyday life. Eventually, I will settle into a new routine in my new place. This reassures me because I know I will find my way.


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Exploring near my grandmother’s house in southern Ontario

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Lunch at our favourite tea shop, Annabelle’s

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Me and Gramma¬†having a laugh after lunch in Carleton Place at Ginger Cafe (we were happy vegetarians!) (note her “University of Toronto Grandmother” tee-shirt!)

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You can’t be in Ottawa in May and NOT visit the Tulip Festival

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Shoutout to the happy Ottawan who wrote cute sayings like this on many of the walkways throughout the Tulip Festival

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Got my visa… Got my plane tickets… See you soon Colombo!

If you would like to donate to my fundraising campaign for Uniterra (note this money supports local partners not my volunteer mandate), check out my Canada Helps page.

 

Feeling grateful in Toronto

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I buy into the idea that it takes a village to raise a child.¬†This is likely because I grew up in small-town rural Ontario, where everyone knows everyone and the community is strong. And¬†it’s also probably because I worked in residence life¬†throughout my undergrad, where I consistently saw the power of connection in bettering students’ lives. So my community is incredibly¬†important to me, even as I prepare to spend a year away from the people I love most.

In all honesty, I had a hard time staying in contact with my friends and family during my last year of university. A busy life filled with work and school and more work and more school meant that I didn’t keep up with everyone as much as I wanted to and it also meant that I also didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to many of the people important to me in my Toronto community before I moved away last month. So this past week I took a trip to visit as many of them as I could, spending a few nights couch-surfing in the city to catch up with old friends, before I leave on my next big adventure.

I am now just finished this trip (and coming to you from a train to visit my grandmother before heading back home at the end of the week!). After four busy days of chatting, laughing, exchanging advice, and receiving words of wisdom (often over a delicious meal, cup of tea, or glass of wine), I feel full of love. I am so grateful to have this many awesome people in my life, people who understand my wanderlust and support me no matter what part of the world I end up in.


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At the Aga Khan Museum, in front of a portrait of Toronto

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Aga Khan Museum

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Breakfast at Karine’s (amaaazing vegan food near St Patrick station!)

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Look at my friends’ adorable cat!!

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Seriously. Look at this silly, adorable kitty.

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Obligatory “CN Tower in the background to prove I was in Toronto” photo

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Bye for now, T-dot! (See you at convocation next month!)

 

Being Kind to Myself

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I spent much of the last week or so in the Toronto area, visiting friends and spending time in the city I’ve called home for the past few years. It was amazing to catch up with so many of the people I love as well as just take time to assimilate back into Canadian culture. On this trip, I had many hilarious moments, meaningful conversations, and I ate lots of delicious food, all of which made me feel supported and safe even while also feeling a little turbulent as a result of¬†the emotions and stress of coming home from Ghana.

I definitely have had moments of reverse culture shock, which I expected but I’ve still found surprising nonetheless.¬†I thought life back home would be perfectly simple and easy but I’ve changed in the three months I spent in Ghana, which has meant some friction here and there with my Canadian surroundings. For example, I spent a bit of time in the Eaton Centre downtown Toronto a few days ago between meeting with friends. I was proud that I was feeling calm in a place so large and busy that it can be¬†overwhelming to anyone, let alone someone like me who’s hasn’t been in a building so imposing in quite some time. After an hour or so wandering around the bookstore though, I was sitting on the windowsill and looking out into the massive shopping centre when I suddenly felt melancholic, even near tears, for seemingly no reason. I realized in that moment that coming home is a process and that it’s okay to feel a little unhinged here and there.

It’s been over a week now that I’ve been back on home soil. Much of this time has been spent with friends and family, relaxing and catching up. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time running, one of my favourite exercises and something I just didn’t do in Ghana since I’d get a lot of attention so I preferred working out indoors. While in Toronto, I met with my co-op coordinator, who is working with me to secure a new co-op placement. It looks like I’ll be able to go abroad again for about five months, which I’m very excited about! I’ll not be on the road for probably over a month from now so, in the meantime, I’m at home with my family.

So far, it’s been very nice to ease back into the Canadian life. I’m trying to be patient with myself as I go through all sorts of emotions reacting to being home much sooner than anticipated.¬†I keep reminding myself to be kind to myself, which is why I have no problem spending time doing the things I love like chatting with family, drinking tea and reading a good book, or thrift shopping with friends. I still haven’t even unpacked from Ghana, as I’m just taking my time to settle back in at home. I’ll get around to it eventually!

Missing the Little Things

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In about three days I went from thinking I’d be in Ghana for at least another five months to flying back to Canada early, so I had little time to mentally prepare for the shock of coming home. Seeing my family has been incredible and I’ve set off to connect with many of my friends in the Toronto area this weekend, which has already been such a relaxing and fun time! That said, I’ve definitely experienced some reverse culture shock.

For example, I stepped into the shower when I arrived home after the long flights from Ghana to Ottawa and I was completely weirded out by the whole not-showering-in-a-bucket situation. It’s also been strange driving as my main form of transportation instead of walking and taking tro-tros. Even going to get a snack is a completely different experience here than in Ghana. At home, I have a kitchen where I can prepare food found in the cupboards or in the fridge but just less than a week ago most of the food I ate was coming from streetside stalls.

I am missing Ghana, for sure. I find there are little things that throw me off being back in Canada. Driving up to Oshawa with my brother on Thursday, I was frustrated by the lack of West African dance music on the radio. I complained at every song (they all sound the same all of a sudden?) and eventually gave up, preferring silence to the reminder that radio here just isn’t the same.

I miss the noise of Ghana. I find this funny because when I was in Ghana, I was often searching for quiet, which is one of the reasons why I loved peaceful spots like Lake Bosomtwe. In rural Ontario, where I live in Canada, there is so little noise. But I’m still used to the constant cacophony of goats and roosters, tro-tro mates calling out their cars’ destinations, people greeting each other, music, and so much more – the sounds that are the constant background to life in Ghana.

Another thing I’m missing is the amazing fruit I had access to while in Ghana. I’ve never had sweeter pineapples than the sugar variety I ate in Nsawam and the mangoes I ate everyday for three months were so juicy… The frozen fruits I use for my smoothies at home just can’t compare so the first smoothie I made in Canada was dramatically disappointing. I took a sip and thought sadly, “This tastes like sawdust.”

I’m easing back into Western culture and the North American lifestyle. For my first couple of days back in Canada, I was a homebody, preferring the company of my family to the adventure of the greater world beyond my own warm and amazingly comfortable bed. But then I went into town and then into the city and now I’m touring around the Toronto area to visit friends, whose company always makes me feel safe, happy, and at home.

A Little Love Letter

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My beloved Birkenstocks,

I’d like to take this chance to apologize for neglecting you during my first few weeks in Ghana. I was naive in thinking I could live without you. Your absence only resulted in trouble afoot.

I strayed, I know, but the fetching style I got from the gold ballet flats was as unsatisfying as a year without food. You see, while others might seem perfect in their delicateness, it is merely a disguise for their weaknesses. They couldn’t stand the rocks, the mud, the long walks here and there. They were nothing like you. I had no choice but to give them the boot.

With feet butchered by sandals I’d bought in the markets, thick with blisters, I stumbled back to you, begging forgiveness. I know you were skeptical – how could you not be? – but I thank you for giving me this second chance. Your strong hug is a welcome memory of a time not-too-long-gone when you and I were inseparable. I hope we can rebuild this relationship, one step at a time.

You must know that I am sincere in my apologies and in my love. You are beautiful in your sturdiness and strength. You give me hope and support, two feet to stand on. How could I ever have settled for anything less?

Yours forevermore,

Katherine

Reunited & it feels so good

Reunited & it feels so good

(Pssst – I’m heading to Kumasi this weekend &¬†I’m staying at a place with WiFi so stay tuned for travel posts!)