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Kenya

Feb 24, 2011

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I was strangely invited to play in an annual cricket match held in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve last week. I say strangely because I haven’t played cricket since the under twelves. And I wasn’t much good then. But with the Cricket World Cup about to begin and a chance to visit one of the world’s most incredible landscapes, the opportunity seemed too good to miss.

Mara is a Maasai word meaning mottled — the region is a patchwork of grasslands and trees. South of the border in Tanzania, the Mara becomes Serengeti National Park.

This is the scene of the world’s largest annual migration — even in the low season there are wildebeest up to your eyeballs. On the morning of the match I was woken by an elephant uncomfortably close to my tent.

The setting for the game was a private farm within the reserve. Having a cricket field on your property is unusual in Kenya — not to mention the pavilion and bar. I had been expecting a pretty amateur set up, but aside from the concrete pitch and the occasional gazelle we could have been in county England.

Our hosts and benefactors also accommodated some rather unusual pets. One soon gets used to a tame impala nuzzling the hay bale you are sitting on, or frolicking with the spaniels — but when a 600kg eland does the same thing it can be disconcerting. When a serval invaded the pitch and began prowling the outfield it was clear things had gotten very strange indeed. Continue reading “Gentlemen of Leisure: A touch of cricket in the Maasai Mara”

Cambodia

Feb 23, 2011

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Moving internationally to undertake an assignment in a developing country is a fairly challenging affair. Roles can be undefined, work plans unclear, language difficulties a barrier, plus a host of other basic problems that would leave even the most positive person feeling flat.

Learning about these potential challenges at pre-departure training for my AYAD role in web development at Friends in Phnom Penh and feeling somewhat apprehensive before leaving Australia, I channelled Richard Simmons in a candlelit ceremony and devised a plan: keep active and say “yes” to as many things as possible.

In my first weeks I joined the AFL expat team the Cambodian Cobras. Being part of a large AYAD community is also a blessing. I have fallen in love with many in this small, tight-knit group (don’t you dare tell them I said that). Being part of these social/support groups allows me to have the most amazing experiences. I travelled to Vietnam with the Cobras to play in the Indo-China cup, attended the Phnom Penh Christmas ball, sailed away to a New Year Eve tropical island holiday and enjoy general shenanigans most weekends.

Thankfully, working at an international NGO has made things in Phnom Penh surprisingly easy for me. Feeling at home at Friends and busy from day one, I’ve avoided the work issues and small psychological ills that can arise if you’re short on workload or struggling to adjust to Khmer work practices.

While my professional role is in web development, I am still able to visit the Mith Samlanh children centre. It is here that I really get to view the end product of our work. Working behind a desk I sometimes lose focus of the children and their programs. It’s sad but true. I become entangled in the web and all of its infinite possibilities.

Walking through the centre is a surreal experience. At times there will be hundreds of children playing volleyball, marbles and just generally being kids. The smaller children will inevitably approach and repeat “hello” over and over while waving their tiny little hands. They’ll cling to my legs and shirt bottom and call to be lifted into the air. They are cheeky and absolutely lovely.

The older children will politely smile and bow their head. It genuinely feels as if they are doing it in appreciation. The teachers and outreach workers smile and ask about my assignment and embarrass me by testing my Khmer. Occasionally I’ll just sit in the grounds watching the children play and speak with their teachers.

At times I can hardly believe I’m here. It’s almost as if I’m cheating. I’m not protecting habitat, assisting in land management, increasing farming productivity or clearing land mines. I’m here utilising the internet and its tools to promote an NGO. It doesn’t have the same air of importance as “I’m a lawyer working on the Khmer Rouge trials” does it? Continue reading “Bowing to the hierarchy: the challenges of working in Cambodia”

An Expat Opinion

Feb 16, 2011

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An Expat Opinion: Rex Hunt’s Translation Adventures

I arrived on the scene of my first fully fledged translation emergency to find a professional Polish translator in his sixties, with a snowy-white beard and thick glasses, sobbing into his English-Polish dictionary. In impeccable, Oxford-accented English, he looked up at me with his red-rimmed eyes and summarised his problem in four words: Rex Hunt's Fishing Adventures.

I arrived on the scene of my first fully fledged translation emergency to find a professional Polish translator in his sixties, with a snowy-white beard and thick glasses, sobbing into his English-Polish dictionary. In impeccable, Oxford-accented English, he looked up at me with his red-rimmed eyes and summarised his problem in four words: Rex Hunt’s Fishing Adventures.

A mutual contact at the embassy had put me in touch with the poor gentleman, who’d been given the job of translating the show’s script into Polish. I’d heard of the show, of course, but hadn’t actually ever watched it before. So we sat at the computer together and the translator played me a bit, to help me get the idea of what was going on and what the problem was.

It took approximately 45 seconds to see why I’d never watched this show. To take a (paraphrased but not atypical) exchange:

Rex (to mate Bushy): Hey, Bushy, bewdiful fish.
Bushy: Yep, bewdiful fish.
Rex: Yeah. (Pause while they consider the fish’s finer aesthetic qualities). Great fish, eh?
Bushy: Great fish alright, Rexy.
(Both nod in silent appreciation).

I felt the Great Australian Cultural Cringe at the banality of the dialogue and the gratingly ocker accent, and wondered if we really didn’t have anything more worthy of export than this. But I didn’t immediately see the crisis. In fact, I was thinking that, with a word or two for ‘fish’ and two or three variations of ‘pleasing to the eye,’ even I could translate this.

At which point, the translator fast-forwarded to the first phrase he couldn’t make sense of. “That swell’s coming in straight off the Atlantic,” I heard. Except that Rex didn’t say that. He said, “thaswelzcummininstraydoffthlandick,” as though he’d swallowed a tube of novocaine and had lost the use of his tongue. Continue reading “An Expat Opinion: Rex Hunt’s Translation Adventures”

Switzerland

Feb 14, 2011

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Freelance writer Troy Wilkinson writes: As one of a sizable percentage of foreign citizens living in Switzerland, I’m pretty far removed from the machinations of the country’s direct democracy. That being said, even to me it is still evident that, especially when compared to Australia, referendums form a central feature of the Swiss political landscape.

Three to four times each year the full spectrum of political parties trundle out clusters of posters in public areas in order to persuade the citizenry to make their voice heard at the upcoming polls according to each party’s wishes, in what could best be described as the Swiss equivalent of a ‘How to Vote’ card. The issues up for popular voting can either be applicable to a federal, canton (equivalent to state) or local level, and if they pertain to minor proposals within education, health or taxation, the party posters are quite likely to be a simple encouragement to either vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

But when it comes to contentious issues, particularly at a national level, the posters go straight for the patriotic jugular. Parties’ messages will be splashed across major billboards and the graphic design work gets a lot more emotive. Forget “be alert, not alarmed”, if it could be at all perceived that the Swiss way of life might be in danger from outsiders, the parties on the fringe symbolically use the white cross on red of the Swiss flag in a wholehearted attempt to set alarm bells ringing in the heads of the electorate.

My personal favourite came before a referendum in late 2005, when voters were to decide whether Switzerland should join the Schengen Agreement, the European treaty on open borders. I don’t ever recall knowing which political party produced this particular poster, but it was the first attempt I’d seen at blatant scaremongering. Continue reading Ivan, rapist, soon to be Swiss?: the billboards of Switzerland”

Sri Lanka

Feb 10, 2011

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Scott vs. the rain

I know it's the wet season. I know that parts of the country are suffering from devastating floods. I know that getting a bit damp while on holiday is totally a #firstworldproblem. But still I found myself getting frustrated as I spent a week locked in battle with Sri Lanka's rain.

I know it’s the wet season. I know that parts of the country are suffering from devastating floods. I know that getting a bit damp while on holiday is totally a #firstworldproblem. But still I found myself getting frustrated as I spent a week locked in battle with Sri Lanka’s rain.

Basically, it started the moment I arrived into the mountain town of Nuwara Eliya after an overcast but rain-free day in Kandy, and didn’t stop until I woke up one morning, eight days later, in the southern city of Galle. And after three months in desert Qatar, during which time it rained exactly twice (and that was above-average rainfall), it was a very strange sensation to essentially not see the sun for a week.

Continue reading “Scott vs. the rain”

Cayman Islands

Feb 8, 2011

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The beauty of travel is that it encourages us to do things that we never thought possible. Bungee jumping in New Zealand? Okay. Eating fried spiders in Cambodia? Sure. Swimming with great white sharks in South Africa? Of course.

What is it about hitting the road that makes us throw inhibition to the wind? Perhaps it is the knowledge that if we don’t seize this opportunity now, we never will. Or perhaps it is the sense of abandon that often accompanies travel.

It was in that spirit of adventure that I allowed myself to be talked into visiting an iguana farm. Now, let me preface this by saying I am petrified of lizards. Any size, shape, nationality, it scares me. At the very top of my list are blue tongue lizards. The sight of a blue tongue in summer, stalking around my backyard, fills me with dread.

I thought blue tongues would remain the primary source of my fear until I moved to the Cayman Islands, home to more iguanas than you could possibly imagine. So, the idea of going to an iguana farm was laughable, to say the least.

But my boyfriend and I were on the Honduran island of Roatan, and, I guess, travel prevailed. We arrived at Arch’s Iguana Farm by scooter (another travel-only experience) after my boyfriend insisted that it was an attraction he had to see. I could wait outside, but he wanted to go in. The farm (backyard zoo would be a more apt description) has become renowned for its bounty of iguanas and for the owner, Arch, an elderly Honduran man who runs the household of reptiles. Continue reading “Why would someone with a lizard phobia visit Arch’s Iguana Farm?”

An Expat Opinion

Feb 4, 2011

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ukraine2“I just want something more… Ukrainian,” my friend Hilary whined. I, rather unkindly, wondered what the hell she was talking about. We were in the Ukraine, after all. How much more Ukrainian does it get?

In my defence, I’ll add that it was nine at night, and we were hot, tired and hungry — in no particular order. We’d been roaming the streets of Odessa looking for something to eat for a while, with no luck. There weren’t any restaurants, and all the supermarkets were closed. So when we finally happened on a small shop with some bread and cheese, Florence and I were ecstatic.

But not Hilary, who made her inexplicable comment and wandered off, presumably looking for ‘something more Ukrainian’. I just sighed and stood by Florence on the hot, dark pavement, hoping Hilary would give up soon.

Hilary’s my friend from Warsaw, and I was trying not to get too annoyed at her because, after all, it was her idea to head to Odessa, in neighbouring Ukraine, for a bit of sea-side adventure. I’m always up for a road trip and in the grip of an European heatwave, any coast was calling. But Odessa, beachside playground of the region’s rich and famous for a century and hidden behind the Iron Curtain of the USSR for half of that, seemed a particularly exotic destination. Continue reading “An Expat Opinion: In search of something Ukrainian”

On travel

Feb 1, 2011

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Most of the best meals I can remember while growing up were eaten at my grandmother’s house. Sometimes it was because a couple of branches of the extended family were sitting around the table eating together and chatting, and sometimes it was just because of the love and care transmitted to us by the cook via the food. My grandma’s cooking — regulation meat and three veg and variations forthwith — will never feature on Masterchef, and it will never be showcased by Jamie Oliver (even ironically), but the experience of consuming those plates of food was something special, proving that the experience surrounding the eating is often more important than the eating itself.

I reckon that meals on the road are very similar. When trying to think of my best travel food experiences I always recall things like street food at makeshift roadside restaurants in India and dizi at local teahouses and basic breakfast in locals’ houses in Iran. The food is usually nothing extraordinary – just simple, honest and tasty – but it’s made spectacular by the company and circumstances surrounding the food.

Continue reading “When a meal is more than the sum of its parts”