A week away: Congo

Look, I love my job and I’m pretty sure that they love me. But this needs to be said, their views are not the views of this blog.  K? K.

The other week I went to the Congo. Where to begin….

First of all, you should know there are two Congo’s. There is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which you frequently hear about in the news because of the atrocities, mostly. And there is the Republic of Congo, where I was, a small and oil rich country on the West Coast of Central Africa. There was no civil war anywhere near me and more wealth than anywhere else I’ve seen in Africa, aside from Nairobi. It wasn’t the Congo you’re probably thinking of.

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I spent my time in Pointe Noire, Congo aboard the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship. Let me tell you about this ship. It’s giant. It is home to a fully functioning hospital with 5 operating theatres and an 82 bed ward. This hospital ship goes into countries in West Africa for 10 months at a time with the honourable and humble goal of leaving the nation better than when they arrived. They do orthopaedic surgeries, remove tumours, repair cleft palates, vaginal fistulas, use plastic surgery to fix burn wounds and remove cataracts so people can see. Among other things. One of these other things being training local doctors, nurses and workers so the healing can continue for years to come. Cool, right?

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It’s also home to 450 volunteers from around the world. Did you ever live in residence at university? It’s like that, but the volunteers range in age from 18-75, plus the children of the families on board. Of those 450 volunteers, many are doctors and nurses, but many more are support workers. There are people who cook, clean, serve food, take photos, write stories, every tradesman there is, and even a hair stylist. Again, cool, right?

After nearly two years working as a fundraiser/story teller/Canadian advocate for this amazing organization, they finally sent me to the ship and see things first hand. Let me tell you, it was cool. Can I share some stories?

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Dr. Woodame is a ophthalmologist from Togo. I spent about an hour and a half watching him perform and supervise surgeries removing cataracts and ptergyium from people’s eyes. While they were awake. It was super gross/intense. Dr. Woodame used to do 400 surgeries a year. Then a few years ago he received advanced training when the ship was docked in Togo and now he’s doing 2000 a year. That’s 2000 more people that can now see  every year because of this man. Plus he has dedicated his life to training others and spends time every year volunteering on the ship.

Benjamine is the most beautiful girl you’ll ever see. When she was a seven, she fell in a fire in a pretty bad way. When her body healed it’s burns, as bodies do, she didn’t have the burn care she needed, so her arms “healed” themselves adhered them to her torso. And her chin “healed” itself and adhered itself to her neck and chest. And so was her life. She couldn’t use her arms or mouth. Imagine.  And then she got surgery. And she hasn’t stopped smiling since. For obvious legal reasons I can’t put pictures of patients on my personal blog, but you can get to know Benjamine a little better here. 

An unamed woman who I didn’t actually meet, but whose story touched me. She had a vescovaginal fistula.  When she went into labour she needed to have a caesarean, but it wasn’t available and complications arose. Her baby died and her uterus-vagina-colon-bladder completely tore and for the next 30 years of her life she leaked urine and faeces and became completely ostrased from her family and community. When she heard there was the chance she could receive a  surgery that would heal her and that it would be free, she did what she could to get to the coast. She worked odd jobs until could afford travel to the next town. Then she did it again. And then again. It took her 5 weeks what should have taken her 2 days, but she made it. And she got surgery and she no longer leaked. A volunteer on board asked her what she was most looking forward to when she returned to her home (the 2 day trip would be funded by my organization). Her response? Now people will sit beside me.

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Happy Monday…I’m tired

No rest for the wicked is something they say.

Kurt and I spent the last week working really hard to get settled in our new home–unpacking, organizing, cleaning, furniture shopping, and all that. I’d be lying through my teeth if I said it hasn’t been stressful at times, but all the hard work seems worth it as I look around our home. We’re definitely not there yet, but we’re close and that’s exciting.

This past week also saw fitness working it’s way up my priority list again, which I couldn’t be happier about. I’ve been back on the 10KM training plan I put myself on a few months ago and it’s been going really well. I’m incredibly sore, but I feel good.

And I got some face time with some of the most beautiful faces around. I was overdue for some catch up time with friends and that happened over a couple runs, a hike, some beers and even a bunch of cleaning supplies (bless you Megan).

This week I’m looking forward to more fitness, more friend time, and more than anything enjoying my new home.

For your eyes I got to spend some time with this woman when I was in Congo a few weeks ago. I love her story and I love my work.

For your ears Another from the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack.

For your health Since beginning my little weight loss journey two weeks ago, I’ve lost 5lbs! I’m at 151 now, so that’s cool. I knew the first 5 would come off pretty quickly as soon as I started exercising again and not eating like I was on vacation. I expect the rest to come off more slowly. I should also add here that I’m tall (5’10”), so I can take off (and put on) weight faster than someone smaller. I know that losing 5lbs in 2 weeks wouldn’t be realistic for me if I was 5 inches shorter.

For the win Last night I met up with my friend Elexa and her boyfriend Ty for a beer.  Even though she’s one of my closest friends, we hadn’t seen one another since February. We had a lot of catching up to do. She is the most positive person I’ve ever met and being her friend is awesome. Especially after a long, stressful and tiring week. She has a way of finding all the great things that I’m overlooking and bringing them to my attention loud and clear. Everyone needs an Elexa in their life. I’m certainly grateful for mine.

Healthy Food That Tastes Good: Chilli Lime Quinoa Salad

I, like every other woman I know right now, am currently on a diet. Summer’s coming y’all. I think what’s going to save me through all this, the thing that’s going to keep me happy and satiated are quinoa salads. Here’s a recipe that I invented and feel pretty proud about because it’s delicious and only 350 calories a serving.

Ingredients/Directions (serves 6)

1 cup of quinoa (uncooked)
Cook this (bring to a boil with 2 cups of water and then simmer for about 20 minutes)sld

Meanwhile chop these things into small pieces and put them into a bowl:
1 large cucumber
2 medium peppers–I like orange and yellow, but your choice
1 bunch green onions
1 package of smoked tofu
1 can of corn
2 mangos
1 avocado
1 bunch cilantro

Add in the quinoa

Make this sauce (you can play with ratios here if you like, totally allowed)
6 tbsn olive oil
3 tbsn honey
2 tspn chilli powder
1 tspn garlic powder
1 tspn ground ginger

Pour this yummy sauce all over your salad and you’re good to go!

 

take me to church

Upon hearing Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” last week on the CBC, this is what I did:

1. Shazamed the song
2. Looked it up and listened again
3. Looked up tour dates in hopes he was coming to Victoria/Vancouver/Seattle sometime soon (aside from Sasquatch, he is not)
4. Found him up on iTunes and purchased the single–he doesn’t even have an album available, only an EP!
5. Watched the video and loved it even more

Happy Monday…from my new home

Last Monday I was like I just spent the last three weeks in Texas, Congo and Paris but now I’m home and I’m getting back into my routine immediately and I can’t wait. Haha. Right. I spent half of the week trying not to slip into a jetlag-induced coma/nap every day at 10AM and the other half desperately trying to catch up at work and squeeze in face time with my friends. Oh, and I moved. Kurt and I got the keys to our new home on Tuesday. I spent 5 hours cleaning it on Thursday. Friday and Saturday were devoted to packing and Sunday was the actual move (thank you Katie and Trevor!). It was an intense week, a great week, though there was nothing routine about it.

For your eyes Why life in your 30s is better (and worse) than life in your 20s. There isn’t much else to say. I just loved this because so much of  what it says is how I feel.

For your ears This song. It’s so beautiful I want to cry. I tried to watch Inside Llewyn Davis on three different flights during my time away, but kept falling asleep. Katie and Trevor said it was extremely depressing, so maybe it’s for the best, but man, the soundtrack is perfect.

For your health Ahhhh….there wasn’t a lot of “health” going on for me this week, despite my eager claims one week ago. I went on one short hike and one short trail run. I rode my bike to work once. That’s about all I’ve got. I did join the Fitocracy group #pfworkout in an effort to be more accountable/make working out into a game, but so far I don’t really get it.

For the win Kurt and I have a new home, together. It’s big and bright and in a great location and extremely affordable. But most importantly it’s a new beginning with the one I love.

Fernwood vs Rockland

I’m moving tomorrow. Not far, seven blocks south and two blocks west, but in Victoria that is a whole new neighbourhood. After three great years I’m leaving Fernwood and putting down roots in Rockland. Even though it’s only a 10-minute walk or a 2-minute drive from my old home to my  new, the amenities in the 5-minute walk radius is changing and that’s kind of exciting.

Neighbourhood Coffee Shop
Old: I used to get coffee and a cookie at the Parsonage every day. I don’t go there any more but I’m sure it’s still great.
New: Bubby Roses and Picnic, two of my all-time favourites less than a 100M sprint away.

Neighbourhood Pub
Old: I’ve seen some awesome bands and played some mean rounds of Tuesday night bingo at Logan’s.
New: Argyle Attic rules, the food is good, the staff is great. I hope my close proximity increases the frequency of my visits.

Neighbourhood Thai
Old: Little Thai Place for Penang Curry and Pad Thai.
New: Little Thai Place. Technically there is another Thai place much closer to my new house, but I don’t care. I’m ever loyal to this food.

Neighbourhood Grocer
Old: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve purchased yogurt past the best before date at Wellburn’s, I once even helped a meth head pick out an avocado.
New: Oh, Market on Yates, I’m so excited to have you and all your fresh produce, baked goods and organic everything right at my fingertips.

Neighbourhood Running Route
Old: You can’t beat running the hills of Mount Stephen-Fernwood-Cedar Hill-Roseberry-Avebury.
New: Honestly, I don’t know yet, but considering the only things standing between the ocean and my new home is a mostly flat road and millions of flowers, I’ve got a pretty good idea of where I’ll be going.

When I leave Fernwood I’ll be leaving behind numerous free piles and abandoned furniture and front lawn sculptures and weird old people that walk around blowing bubbles. Admittedly on the surface my new neighbourhood is a lot less interesting, but man, is it ever beautiful. And you never know what interesting characters and quirks I’ll manage to find with a little exploration.

And let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of things, what’s 9 blocks?

Eating my way through Texas

I love Texas.

I used to have a job that took me there twice a year and I loved every minute of it, I couldn’t get enough. When I share my affinity for the state with people up here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, I’m often met with some questionable looks. Some people just require an explanation and if you’re one of those people, here you go. This is why I love Texas: the food (fish tacos are one of my favourite things), the music (best in the world), and the people (genuine, kind, chivalrous and completely unpretentious). Texas rules.

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Like all my previous trips, this trip was because of business. I received full funding to attend the AFP International Conference in San  Antonio, a conference for fundraisers, communicators and non-profit leaders. My boyfriend Kurt decided to tag along and then join me for a few days in one of my favourite places, Austin.

Upon our Saturday evening arrival in San Antonio, Kurt and I had the chance to walk the Riverwalk (I loved it in a Vegas-y kind of way, he was less impressed) and have some mediocre fish tacos at Maria Mia’s.  As of Sunday morning, I was in full on conference mode, all but forgetting I even had a boyfriend– though considering all the Spurs and NCAA tickets in his pockets, I think he was just fine without me. My conference partner in crime was my real life friend Margo, the Executive Director of the incredible YPSN, an inspiring Victoria charity. It was great to have someone to bounce ideas off of and regroup with in between sessions, not to mention enjoy a night out with. On Monday night Margo and I managed to muster up the energy and get out for a beer at The Friendly Spot, an outdoor trailer-turned-bar complete with the Spurs on a big screen and fun playground for the kids. Indeed it was a very friendly spot. I imagine this place is one the best spots in town on a nice summer night. For dinner we walked across the street to Rosario’s for the best margarita and fish tacos that I had my entire time in Texas. This place was great–and recommended to us by a lot of locals for the best food off tourist path.

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When the conference wrapped up on Tuesday afternoon, I remembered my long lost boyfriend and met up with him for some San Antonio exploration. We wandered around The Alamo, a San Antonio must-see. Being Canadian I know very little about US/Texan history, but we met a great young Mexican guy who gave us the serious low down. If you’re interested you can look it up on wikipedia, but it was adorable to see his passion and it goes to show that it pays to ask probing questions. For our last night in town, Kurt and I went to Bohanan’s for an incredibly disappointing dinner. The prices were ridiculous, the service was terrible (despite the fact we had 2 servers and a server’s assistant) and the room was set up like it was the home of a Southern slave owner. It was gross and weird. Avoid this place unless you’re into that kind of thing. To be fair though, the food was pretty great.

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Wednesday morning we were on to Austin for four straight days of smiling, eating, exploring and eating again. It was great from start to finish. On our first night there, Kurt and I started off on the best street in Austin–South Congress–with dinner at Lucky Robot. This is a very good, very atypical sushi restaurant that also has a great happy hour and serves the best brussel sprouts I’ve ever eaten. We met up with Margo and her friend Jackie (who also came to Austin for little Texan fun) and headed up the street to The Continental Club to see my friend Christian and hear the Hot Club of Cowtown, a super fun gypsy swing/country band. They have a corgi who hangs out on stage when they play and word on the street is, the singer used to have a thing with Dylan (as in Bob).  After this Kurt, Margo, Jackie and I headed to East 6th St, another great street to hang out on (not to be confused with 6th St E….seriously). We had some great cocktails at East Side Showroom and then the time of our lives at The White Horse. For real. The four of us just sat there with these big dumb grins on our faces loving the country music and the dancing. We didn’t even order drinks, we just sat there being big dorks. Such glaringly obvious tourists. It was almost 2am by the time we made it back to our hotel, totally unheard of for me but totally worth it.

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The next three days in Austin meld into a hot, sunny and delicious blur in my mind. Kurt and I rented some very heavy bikes with inadequate brakes and rode around town. We swam in Barton Springs, the jury is still out as to whether that is gross or not. Either way it certainly was fun. We ate BBQ at Stubbs, it was all right but could have been better, says me, the 98% vegetarian.

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We did happy hour at La Condesa and it was the most amazing food ever….the corn….I died. We perused Rainey Street, a historical street filled with character homes turned bars, many seemingly on the verge of being torn down. We walked through many of the buildings, but ultimately chose to eat some great Indian food on Garage Mahal’s outdoor patio, followed by beer and ice cream at Banger’s. On what was or wasn’t the same night we made our way across town to see Second City Comedy, which was amazing. These guys aren’t permanent Austin fixtures, so if they come through your town you should definitely check them out. We wrapped up our trip with lunch with my friend Christian at Curra’s with some pretty delicious and authentic Tex Mex. So good.

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And that was that, my week away in Texas. You really should go there when you get the chance.

PS….hotels book up fast and can be pricey so book early on AirBnB for the best places to stay. Food and drinks are ridiculously affordable. I’d tell you how much I spent but I failed to track my spending, though I assure you, it wasn’t bad at all.