Friday, July 25, 2008

A belated hello

I'm still alive.

No one ever even checks this blog anymore, but it's my own little corner of the web.

I got a new job. Well, not new, but an inter-company transfer. I am now in Human Resources, and am the international recruitment specialist for my company.

No, not a head hunter.

I get to travel around the world to source employees for our IT department. So, I figured I needed a place to put my new pictures and stories, so I won't forget them when I'm 94. Also, so my mom won't panic.

I don't have any trips planned in the short-term, but I have to start somewhere!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Street scene

View from my personal bathroom on the hill

Hanging out on the beach

Senegal part 11

No trip is a trip for me without a bathroom blunder, and this time was no exception.

Mono + greasy food + food poisoning + Malarone does not make a good combination.

We went for a walk around the island, and I could barely keep up. My stomach started rumbling, along with other body parts. I knew I was in for some trouble.

I felt the beginnings of a fart coming on. Due to my "delicate" nature, I tried to be discrete as possible.

I learned the hard way that it's impossible to be discrete when you've got diarrhea.

It wasn't just air that came out.

In a panic, I asked one of the nearby sellers (there was a mini market set up along the path) if he knew of a nearby toilet. He just giggled at me. I pleaded with him, that it was an emergency. Laughing, he told me that there were no toilets around. However, if need be, I could go up the hill, because no one would see me there.

So up I climbed. It was the highest point on the island, and as I went up, I could feel myself squish. Retching and heaving, I finally got to the top.

I found a small firepit on the very highest point, so I climbed in and used it as my personal toilet (beggars can't be choosers!). Taking off my shorts to assess the damage, it wasn't as bad as I thought. I was able to use one of the bottles of water to clean myself off, so I felt reasonably refreshed.

I turned around to leave and realised that my entire ass was on display to the whole island. If anyone had looked up, they would have seen me in all my glory. The firepit wasn't as camouflaging as I originally thought.

If that wasn't humiliating enough, there were two enormous goats who saw the whole thing. These were monster beasts of epic proportions. They made a move forward, and I made a bigger move backward, scrambling down the hill.

I had a few more mini emergencies. Luckily, I was near the beach, so I was able to clean up in the ocean.

The beach was lovely. I splashed around in the water and collected beach glass. Got a slight sunburn, which was a novelty, as the temperature was below freezing back home. I started to feel sick again, so I passed out under a few palm trees.

We all gathered at the restaurant for some drinks. At last, the elusive toilet. It was wet, smelly and of course had no toilet paper, but it was a real bonafide toilet.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Our host's daughter, in front of the Point of No Return (AKA, the best picture I've ever taken)

Room for the children

Hallway between the rooms used to hold the people

The Point of No Return

The slave house

The museum door

Ile de Goree

Goree shoreline

Dakar skyline

The ferry terminal

L'Ile de Gor�e

Senegal part 10

When we got to solid land, the group decided to take a tour of the island and the museum, and then have some free time in the sun and sand.

The streets were narrow, with colourful houses and buildings on each side. The hot sun was beating down, and my bottle of water was almost gone already. Not that it mattered, because it was already hot enough for tea.

We then went to a former slavehouse. I didn't know how I would feel about it. Would I imagine myself in it? Or would I experience it passively, like a television documentary?

We walked into a courtyard full of people. The walls of the building were a soft pink, and the ground was well-trod upon earth. A large staircase dominated the middle, and it split into two and ran along the galleries. Huge glassless windows were cut into the walls, but you still couldn't see the the ocean.

I couldn't hear the presenter talk, as there were so many people murmuring amongst themselves. I wandered around the inside perimetre, touching the walls and peeking into the museum. They had maps, slave charters and torture equipment, like manacles, balls and chains and restraints.

The families would be separated in the courtyard and sent to small, dark rooms. I ducked behind the stairs to explore behind the tiny rooms and corridors.

To the left was the room for the children. It was about 2 metres by 5 metres, and held approximately 50 children. The sign above the door said (and this is a rough translation, as the sign was very hard to read) "Innocent child, far from a smile, and crying for his mother".

Further away was the room for young women, which was slightly larger, and lit by a single lightbulb, which cast an eerie yellow glow on the stone walls. On the other side was the largest room, reserved for the men. There was also a sinister room, for the "temporarily unfit".

Upstairs were the traders' quarters. They were turned into miniature exhibits for artifacts found on the grounds.

A single hallway led to the ocean, with only a tiny doorway overlooking the sea. It was called the Point of No Return, as it was the last place the Africans would see before being forced on the slave ships. You could literally feel the pain and agony in the hallway. The walls were scratched and chipped. I ran my hand along the surface and felt sick to my stomach. I found out later that I wasn't the only one who had that reaction. The temperature was noticeably lower in the hallway, than in the rooms or courtyard.

I went to the Point of No Return, and saw a few children playing in the rocks. Our host's daughter was also looking out, and I caught her on camera at the perfect moment. Probably the best picture I've ever taken.

The ocean looked so beautiful, sparkling outside the doorway. Too bad it has such a sinister history.

Unesco did a wonderful tour of the slave house, which is accessible here.

Senegal part 9

The highlight of Senegal was our trip to l'Ile de Gorée.

A bit of background history first.

We got up bright and early to catch our bus to the ferry.

By now, I was in the midst of full-blown food poisoning. I could barely stand up straight. My colon was contracting violently and I was getting hot flashes and chills.

But I was still going to go.

To pass the time, we were all supposed to sing a song from home. I remember leading a rousing round of "Dragostea din Tei" before passing out against the window. Romania, represent!

When we got to the terminal, I laid crumpled in a ball on the maroon vinyl benches. Suddenly, I realised that I had to go to the bathroom. Bad.

How did I know this was going to be foreshadowing of the rest of the trip?

I ran to the bathroom and tugged on the door. Locked. I pulled and pulled. Wouldn't budge. A custodian sauntered around the corner and watched my show of desperation. I politely asked if he had the key. He slowly nodded his head and even more slowly, unlocked the door. I was so grateful that tears were streaming down my face.

Inside, there were two dirty toilets, a cloud of flies, a soaking wet floor and no toilet paper. I didn't care. I was wearing sandals and had a personal supply of toilet paper.

I staggered out, empty but relieved. I took a quick look in the gift shop and bought a bag to use to carry my book, towel and toilet paper.

Luckily, the boat had just arrived, so we all hopped on and we were off!

I seemed to be the only person who brought sunscreen, and for about 20 minutes, I was Miss Popularity. I hate boats more than almost anything, but luckily I wasn't sick. The trip was short, we were surrounded by glittering water, and we got spectacular views of both Gorée and the Dakar skyline.





I'm sure my sociology prof would be proud that I'm still using the textbook, 4000 km away

Starting the presentations

Mosque at dusk

Roundtable discussion


Jerri, Gwen and I on the roof

The view from the roof

The view from the roof (the good Internet cafe is to the left)

The view from the roof

The mosque across the street

The view from the roof

The view from the roof

Keynote speaker (minister for women's rights)

New friends

Three oranges!

Juggling oranges

Opening day meet and greet

Senegal part 8

We were all pretty disappointed that we were not able to see any of the town. Kat, one of the Canadian interns, spent her year in the Gambia and often travelled to Dakar. She told me several times what an amazing city it was.

We went out the second night to a few nightclubs. The African girls wanted to go to a traditional African bar. The guys wanted...I didn't know what they wanted, because they ran up ahead. And I wanted to go to someplace with a lot of people.

I had no idea how to dress. They were all slipping into shiny, slippery lamé tank tops and tight jeans. I was dripping sweat, so settled on a rather unsexy tank top/skirt/sandal combo.

The first disco was nearly empty. It looked like any club I had gone to back home, with a large bar, comfortable couches and mirrored walls. Or maybe a dance studio from hell. The music was techno-ised African music that I didn't recognise.

I plopped down on a couch with the Romanians and watched the scene around me. The African girls were amazing dancers and really knew how to move. If I could only be 1/10th as graceful as they were.

I'm a horrible dancer with no rhythm, so I was hoping for something vaguely Britney Spears-ish, so I could get up and gyrate on the floor. One of the girls dragged me on my feet and I made a half-hearted attempt to dance. I mainly wobbled back and forth.

Soon, a bunch of white guys (translation: fat, sweaty, piggish businessman-types) swaggered in, surrounded by a gaggle of lanky black girls. As per my suspicions, they were prostitutes. Our hosts quickly wisked us out and into a different bar.

This one was distinctly "African" themed, with low lights, fake palm trees, creaky wooden floors and picnic tables. It almost felt like being in the gallows of a pirate ship. After 20 minutes, not a single soul passed through the doors, so off we went again in searchb of adventure.

I was accosted outside by a young man about my age. He was clearly on something and was mumbling to himself and pointing at me. He followed us about 1/2 a kilometre down the street, and no amount of "leave me alones" could get him off me. The African girls were only warming up, but myself and the Romanians had had enough. We hailed a cab and prayed that we would not be "taken for a ride". Luckily, we got home in one piece, only marginally ripped off, and no worse for the wear.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Senegal part 7

We needed to check our email and found a small internet cafe by our hotel that seemed to run 24/7. It was dirty, hot and stuffy inside, but beggars can't be choosers. The computers were all run down and running Windows 95. English-language soap operas blared from radios and many of the people inside spoke English, which I found strange, but rationalised that it was an internet cafe, after all.

Whenever we came to the cafe and there were no computers free, the owner would kick one of the youth off a computer and give us his place. I found that strange, but figured that maybe he was getting free service and that once a paying customer came, they would be given priority. A few times, while waiting, I glanced around at what the others were doing. Most of the other customers were my age, and I was curious as to what Senegalese youth looked at online.

The guy beside me was writing from a yahoo account, enticing people to send him their bank account details in exchange for splitting a large amount of cash due to a disposed minister in some western African country. Another was having cybersex with a guy in the US. Another was searching through pages and pages of returned mail.

Suddenly, I put two and two together. I was in a 419 Scam cafe. I thought this was hillarious, since I had fun spambaiting a scammer earlier in the year. He was supposedly from the Ivory Coast but could not speak a word of French. I eventually got bored and ignored him.

Anyways, I wrote in an email "Hey, guess what! The guy beside me is a 419 scammer! Hah! Guess they are in Senegal as well as in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast." I kept going back to that cafe, even though it was getting dodgier by the second. The internet would cut out randomly, the management was suspicious and the place was filthy.

Then we found another nearby Internet cafe. This one was immaculately clean and sparkling white. The owner smiled and welcomed me when I came, instead of glowering. I loved looking at him. He was tall and regal with dark chocolate brown skin and a pure white floor-length robe. The computers were new and running Windows XP. I glanced around at these customers. They were reading online newspapers, working on college applications and playing video games. A much nicer place, and I enjoyed the time I spent there.

On our last day, I was preparing to go to the market with some of the participants. One of them called me back and said that someone wanted to talk to me. The owner of the first internet cafe stormed out and started screaming obscenities at me.

"You know what you did! How could you do that? Do you know how much trouble you could have caused?"
"Excuse me?"
"Excuse me? I don't know what you're talking about!"

Suddenly, it dawned on me. He knew that I knew what was going on there.

Another flurry of racial insults started.

"You think that we wouldn't think you're the smart white girl who think's she's smarter than Africans. We're smarter than you. We're smarter than you'll ever be."
"I made a comment in an email."
"I'm sorry"
"You're lucky to be alive. We saw you walking alone last night. We almost kidnapped you and killed you. No one would ever have found your body. But we decided to teach you a lesson, because you're just a stupid white girl who doesn't know any better. You're going to go in there and apologise to each and every person because of the damage you could have caused".

I'm not going to lie, I was pretty shaken up.

So then, he marched me into the internet cafe and made me apologise to a room full of internet scammers. I contemplated doing a mock Rick Mercer-type apology. My common sense got the better of me and I decided to make it as short and as sweet as possible.

"I'm sorry I saw and said things I shouldn't have. I did not know how much damage I could have caused. I'm sorry if I inadvertently got you into trouble. I do apologise for my actions and I will never do it again".

Everyone accepted my apology and then went back to scamming innocent internet users. I felt sick for the rest of the day and I allow myself to be alone.

Of course, all the other participants wanted to know what was going on. Luckily, they were there while it was happening and formed a protective circle around me. I just explained the 419 scam and what was going on in the cafe, and we all just laughed it off. Well, I tried to, but I was so shaken up.

I spoke to one of the local participants and she said that people make threats like that all the time and that they wouldn't really have tried to kill me. Still, I didn't want to play around with people who would even threaten me that way.

I was surprised at how they brought race into it, how I was the "stupid white girl" and they were the "smart black men", instead of being the "foreign girl" or the "English-speaking girl". I never realised how much resentment there was between the races. We're always shown images in the media of racism on behalf of white people. This was one of the first times I've encountered racism from black people, even though it does exist, and not just in rap lyrics. This man expressed pure rage that someone, especially someone white, could take away his (illegal) livelihood. I mean, to each his own, and while it's illegal, I wasn't exactly prepared to race to the FBI to report them. I've been scammed enough in my travels where I just live and let live.

In hindsight, while it's probably not smart to make a comment in an email, they weren't exactly hiding what they did. They probably logged everything that went out of there, in case one of the employees hit gold and refused to share the wealth with the bosses. He probably thought I was a narc for the FBI, reporting back to my superiors in code, while in reality, it was a "heh, guess what, I'm surrounded by 419 scammers, teeheehee".

I didn't relax until I was on the plane out of there.

Senegal part 6

I started feeling quite sick during the days. Cramping, lightheadedness and weakness told me I either a) had food poisoning or b) had malaria.

I guessed it was probably food poisoning as I had yet to get a mosquito bite.

I started decreasing the amount of food I was eating as we were given literal feasts at every meal. Jerri told me that this was not normal and most people did not eat like this on a daily basis. Rich sauces with oil slicks glistening on top. Couscous and various grains. Thick, greasy slabs of meat. Marinated potatoes and carrots. No desserts.

I tried to eat moderately but it was hard since each mealtime ended up like a festival. Many of the participants were Muslims practicing Ramadan and could not eat during daylight. The rest of us were starving when we were finally served. To the point where Jerri almost passed out the final day.

Strangely, the food wasn't especially special. Most meals included a grain, whether couscousm pasta or rice with a meat and oil sauce with marinated vegetables or a salad on the side. We were served fish one evening with fresh grilled vegetables and that was the best meal of the week. Especially since they used a big tomato and lemons for the eyes.

Our last night, we had mutton. We in North America are used to foods hiding where they came from. It's hard to link a pink chicken breast to a feathered clucker. Beef comes from a beef tree, not placid cows. This mutton really was mutton. I have never before stared into dead sheep eye sockets before. The participants reached into the carcass to tear off bits of meat. It was delcious.

Anyways, all the oil I was consuming was giving me the runs. I only drank bottled water, but I was experiencing severe cramping and stomach problems. I would be huddled in the bathroom for half an hour at a time. I figured it was food poisoning, my poor body not used to the foreign ways of cooking. Sadly, this was not the case, and it was only the beginning.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Senegal part 5

I learned a lot about tolerance during this conference. As stated below, I consider myself a tolerant person.

I was not prepared for "the African way" of doing things. They're not wrong, we're not wrong. We're just different.

I was shcked to realise how dependent on the clock we are in the west. If I'm not wearing a watch, I feel naked. If I don't have access to a clock, I panic. At previous seminars and meetings, everything was planned down to a T. Breakfasts, lunches, breaks, activities, discussions...all had a set start and end time.

I was not prepared for Africa.

Time operates differently there. We would spend so much time waiting for meetings to start that sometimes it felt like we could have accomplished what was eventually done in an hour instead of five. It was frustrated, sitting there, ready and waiting to work, while we waited hours for people to come downstairs. It was to the point where Jerri and I would arrive two hours late for meetings and even then, they would not have started yet.

We had a group meeting at 3:00 pm. We were supposed to discuss women and the media.

3:00 Arrive at meeting room
3:10 Am the only one waiting
3:20 Go find other team members
3:30 Find one of them asleep on the couch - he says that our team meeting has
been pushed back to 4:00
4:00 Go to meeting room
4:10 Am still only one waiting
4:20 Grab random people walking by and form new group
4:30 Have meeting
4:40 Member of team comes downstairs
4:50 Another member of team arrives
5:00 Meeting is full swing

Later on, all the groups came together to discuss our findings. Other groups did presentations on women and family, women and education, women and culture, etc etc. Since this was a seminar on empowering females, I expected to hear from "liberated" males arguing on behalf of their female colleagues.


One of the participants argued for female circumcision, saying that if it limits female pleasure and keeps her faithful to her husband, than it's alright. Not "full" circumcision, mind you, but enough to let her know her place. Another argued against higher female education because while female education is good, women shouldn't be too educated.

Eventually we got into a discussion about Islam and education. A lot of shouting voices later, all we concluded was that Islam encourages women to be educated, but not too educated. I contrasted this to the Muslims I met at university in France. The women were all extremely bright and educated while the men at least showed no outward sighs of resentment.

Senegal part 4

I was surprised at the amount of culture clash I felt. I think of myself as a fairly tolerant person. Although I grew up in eastern Canada, the whitest place I've ever seen. Skin colour is nothing to me. Blond, redhead, eyes, brown eyes, green eyes... It's all the time to me. I don't understand judging someone on the colour of their skin because it's superficial... just like hair and eye colour.

Many of the girls, after the first night, gave us Canadians a rather frosty reception. Jerri and I kept trying to talk to them, but they either made excuses not to talk to us, ignored us or put themselves in situations where they weren't near us. With the exception of a lovely Senegalese girl named Aminata and the Malian girl, the others wouldn't give us the time of day.

I asked Jerri if she felt the same way. She started asking some questions, and it's true, they were avoiding us. Apparently, according to them, "white girls don't like black girls". I was shocked, but I realise that we've all got prejudices deep down. After that, we made a conscious effort to really be personable and friendly and by the end of the conference, many of them did start to warm up to us.

Senegal part 3

We woke up the next morning bright and early. I was excited for breakfast, wondering what sort of Africans foods we would be eating. I was disappointed to realise that it would be stale white bread, an empty jam bottle and tea or coffee.

We had a quick meet and greet and then went to a meeting hall where we would meet with the Senegalese minister of education (I think). She was amazingly beautiful. I had a hard time with the African accent and all the fans twirling around. Instead, I was captivated by her brilliant orange turban and dress.

Later on, we hung out on the grass, talking, laughing and eating. I sampled several types of local juices. One was a gritty green, another a super sweet purple. Needless to stay, I stuck with water for the rest of the day.

I made friends with one of the Malian girls. She had long braided hair and reminded me of a cat, she was so feline. Within five minutes of meeting me, she was asking my complete sexual history, including names, times, places, occasions and positions. Within five minutes!

She asked how many girlfriends my boyfriend had.

"Just one," I replied. "Me."
"That can't be true. many girlfriends does he have?"
"Just me. That's the point of a relationship. One person with one person."
"So he doesn't have any other girlfriends?"
"He better not!"
"Oooohhhh....My boyfriend has two other girlfriends."
"He told you?"
"No, he said I was his only girlfriend, but I know he's lying. He tells me he's going to visit his sister and he's really going to his girlfriend. Do Canadian boys do that?"
"Yes they do, but when their girlfriends find out, they usually break up with them."
"I don't want to break up with him."
"That's very sad."
"Wait...I don't understand. You mean to say that your boyfriend only has one girlfriend? He doesn't want more girlfriends?"
"No. Why would he?"
"Well, Muslim men are allowed to have lots of girlfriends."
"I don't like that...if the men are allowed to have more girlfriends, the girls should be allowed more boyfriends!"
"You don't mean that!"
"Of course I do. Equality for the sexes!"
"Wow...I still can't believe that your boyfriend is only with you. Here, men want a different girl for each day of the week. One for Monday, one for Tuesday, one for Wednesday... I hate it, but we can't help it".
"Well, my boyfriend knows that if he ever had another woman on the side, he will never be able to *be* with another woman again!"

I made a snipping motion with my fingers. We both laughed.

Day 1: Total mosquito bites: 0

Senegal part 2

We walked out to the bus, my hair already a ball of frizz. What a great way to make a first impression. We walked into the airport and I was shocked. It looked like a dank little cellar basement. It didn't help that it was about 50 degrees with 200% humidity. We were jetlagged to hell, travelled through5 time zones (strangely enough, Senegal is only three hours ahead of eastern Canada) and could barely walk.

I desperately needed the bathroom, so Jerri stayed with our luggage while I found a toilet. They pointed me to the lavoratory and I was delighted to discover that it had a real, honest to goodness toilet (fans of this blog will remember my aversion to Turkish toilets). No toilet paper, but I had tissues with me. Flies buzzed around while sweat dripped off my face.

We looked around the waiting room for our hosts but no one was holding a "Welcome Karla and Jerri!" sign. Did they forget about us? We walked outside and luckily we saw a sign for the conference. We loaded everything up in the car and sped off.

We drove about fifteen minutes to a small residential area outside the downtown area. We were staying in a guesthouse beside a mosque and a few shops.

We were led upstairs and introduced to everyone. I saw Adriana again, which was awesome! I bounced up and down for a good five minutes. I didn't know anyone else. Since I knew the Romanians, I would be sharing a room with them, while Jerri would share a room with one of the French participants, Gwen.

I think we "Romanians" got the worst part of the deal. Adriana and Oana were sharing a double bed while I slept on a mattress on the floor. No air conditioning, a weak fan and no cross breeze. Some of the male participants were sharing rooms five times as big as ours with excellent AC.

Everyone was super friendly and welcoming. We joined in a big game of Assassin, which brought back memories from Bulgaria. Instead of five people, we played it with twenty and everyone had a specific role.

By now, I caught my second wind, and I had to force myself to go to bed. I couldn't wait for the conference to start!

Senegal part 1

The trip to Senegal did happen. I know it's been almost three months since I've been home, but better late than never! The experience was neither good nor bad, just different. I'm glad I went, but I was ultimately disappointed in the end.

I was travelling with my friend Jerri from university. She was in my French class and coincidentally, we had both been exchange students in Helsingborg! She went in 95 and I was there in 99, but it is still neat nonetheless.

We met up at the airport. As we were checking in for our Paris flight, they gave us a heart attack. The plane was overbooked and they wanted us to take a later flight to London and then take a connecting flight to Paris. We protested. We already had to go from Paris to Lisbon to Dakar. We didn't want to take the chance of missing any of those flights! Luckily, there was room, so we settled in for the long flights ahead.

We arrived at Paris CDG and had to switch to Orly. I've never been to Orly before and was surprised how small it was. In preparation for Portugal, I changed into a skirt and tank top. We checked in and relaxed before our flight. While waiting in line to board the plane, they announced our names over the loudspeakers. Jerri went up to speak to them while I held our place in the line. Turns out they forgot to give us our bording passes. Luckily, everything was sorted and we arrived problem-free in Lisbon.

I had been to the Lisbon airport the December before, but I was a little sad this time. We wandered around, checked out the gift shop and wrote some postcards home. We headed outside to enjoy the Portuguese sunshine and were shown a thing or two about public displays of affection by a few overamorous Portuguese tweens. No wonder they were so thin: making out is an Olympic sport!

The airport itself was freezing. Little did we know that in a few hours, we would give anything to be back there!

We boarded the plane at 11:00 pm. It was a mixture of Senegalese, French tourists, a few Portuguese and two pasty white Canadians. We got settled in and tried to get some sleep before arriving. I drifted in and out of consciousness. Every little bump was an impending crash. I was afraid of falling asleep in case I needed to quickly escape. I had a window seat and I could tell we were flying over the coastline. Lights twinkled sporadically. By 2:00 am, we had arrived. We descended into the hot, wet, humid African night.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

La multi ani!

Today is Romania's birthday. I remember last year when I watched the fireworks from Piata Unirii. I completely forgot the significance of December 1 until my mom picked me up from work.

"Look at this!" she cried.

I squinted in the streetlight. A Romanian party tonight? Where!? When!?

It was already 5:00 pm and the festivities started at 5:30.

We rushed home and I found sufficiently dressy casual clothes. I printed off a few copies of my CV and I was out the door.

I went to the conference room in the city hall building. Upstairs were about 30 people, drinking wine and laughing. I heard mostly French with some English snippets thrown in.

I didn't know anyone. I was the youngest person there and one of the few females wearing pants. All the men were wearing suits and ties, while the women wore dresses.

I milled around for a bit, hoping someone would take pity on the poor, alone, young girl. Soon, my luck paid off and I was introduced to the son of our city's Romanian ambassadore. I can't remember his name, but he had also done an internship in Romania. We spent a few pleasant minutes discussing the merits of Timisoara over Brasov and then we the presentation started.

Some of it was in English, French and Romanian, but the majority was in French. They played the Romanian national anthem, and then the Canadian one. I had a few tears in my ears when the ambassador raised a glass to a healthy and happy Romania and wished "la multi ani". Or maybe it was because I understood everything he said. I was one of the only ones who sang along to the birthday song.

I'm proud that I still remember the lyrics!

Afterwards was the meet and greet. I met our minister of culture and international affairs. We discussed possible intercultural projects we could create for Romania and Canada, which got my mind working a mile a minute. I gave his assistant a few CVs and she said she would take a look at them and hand them out.

I also got to speak with the ambassador. I tried to reach him numerous times last year without luck. I left voice mails and emails with no luck. Come to find out tonight, he was in Timisoara during that time. He also knew about me and tried to contact me when he returned, but I had already left for Romania. In fact, a lot of the people there had been to Timisoara, whether for work or visiting friends.

Later on, I got to speak to a wonderful gentleman from Bucharest. I can't remember his name, but I told him I wanted to practice my Romanian, so he patiently listened to me stumble through an account of my time abroad and my reminiscing about the various foods I missed.

- zacusca cu ciuperci
- pepene
- rosii din Timisoara sau Arad
- mici cu mustar
- cascaval (but not really)

I told a man I had just met about Cristi and Nelu and Fabi and Calin and everyone at the Institute and the crazy cat ladies at my apartment and everyone I missed and how I missed Romanians so much. I babbled on, happy to be given the chance to practice my Romanian, but also a chance to pour my heart out.

It was a bittersweet evening. It was great to remember everything I loved about Romania, but also everything I missed. And I miss a lot.


I'm sorry for the long long delay. Mono was a killer (ended up being sick in Halifax and not going to the wedding or the training...luckily, my CV is strong enough that I'm still on the list for replacements) and then some hard weeks preparing for Africa (aka sleeping as much as possible to get my strength up).

Africa was certainly an experience. The pictures are all still on my camera but will be up shortly. As a teaser, I'll just announce that it was nothing like I expected and that I almost got killed.

I also do not want to go back to Western Africa. I had such a negative experience that returning there is not something I would like to repeat. At least any time soon.

I have started work at the grey collared factory: the local call centre. Frustrating and boring, but it pays the bills (or in my case, my Visa bill).

It's hard for me to write in the blog now. For one, I don't want to write boring, banal stuff. My life is boring now: work, family, friends. Second, it's incredibly difficult for me to even look at this page anymore. Romania is a chapter of my life I am not prepared to close just yet, but it was such a large part of my life that I don't know if I can face now. I kept a diary when I was in Sweden. I only recorded the positive memories, so I could only look back and smile. Five years later, it's laying in my Swedish memory box, untouched. I can't bear myself to relive those memories again, even though they were good. Same with Romania. I could relive every day if I wanted to. I remember exactly what I did a year ago today. Walking around Piata Unirii, pretending to be Romanian, watching the people with candles, watching the fireworks. Now I'm back in my home city, knowing that celebrations are going on halfway across the world, and I can't be there with the friends I made to celebrate. I'm also afraid I'll lose the friends I made during the time I wrote in this blog. People like Bava and Peter and Brandon and all the Romanians who gave me feedback, held and advice during my year. I don't think I have a choice, I will continue with "The website formerly known as Ro-Mania", but it will be least to make my life sound as interesting as I want it to be.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I'm off

I'm off to Halifax for my uncle's wedding. Then, I have two weeks of Katimavik training, starting Sunday. This is not coming at a good time. I had my interview this morning and 30 minutes after we hung up the phone, they called me back and I was offered the job.

This screws me up royally. No time to do anything. I still need to finish my presentation for Africa. I still need to get my shots. My tickets aren't settled. There's no internet access there. I need to get my bloodtest results back. I'm still sick.


I told them about my prior engagements, and they said they'll find me a computer. It's not my fault they hire me the absolute possible last day before the training starts. According to the memo, everyone else was hired before September 9th.

I'll be back in two weeks.