An Ode to my MacPac…

As I was recently rooting around in my loft for something, I found my big macpac, and realised I’ve had it for 10 years this year. It’s the best rucksack I’ve ever bought, it has a lifetime guarantee, and it’s EXTREMELY well-made, so I thought it was worthy of a little shout-out.

I bought my matching big and little macpacs in 2007, before going to Nepal for a year.

My big macpac has gone with me to Nepal, India, Malaysia, Singapore, France, Liverpool, South Sudan, India again, Nepal again, Kashmir, Oxford, the USA, The Philippines, Thailand, Australia, Iraq, Jordan, Canada, USA again, Australia again, Senegal, Kenya, Iraq again, and Senegal again.

Other than an unfortunate incident once where my Big Mac got ripped in an airport and needed to be patched (I sent it off to macpac and they fixed it up and shipped it back to me), it has held up remarkably well! In Nepal I used to keep it empty under my bed, but padlocked as my passport was in there, and when I lost the key, I had to beg the locksmith to cut through the padlock carefully not to damage the zip!

It’s incredibly comfortable, exactly the right size, and I love that it unzips like a proper suitcase instead of rooting around in a normal rucksack. I also love that you can fold in and zip up the straps when checking it in at airports so they don’t get damaged en-route.

My little macpac has gone with me EVERYWHERE in the last 10 years. It’s literally my everyday bag, it carries my laptop into work everyday, it goes with me on mini-breaks and weekends, and in addition to all of the countries my big mac has been to it has ALSO been with me to Qatar, Madrid, Italy and Switzerland!

Obviously daily use for 10 years has left my little mac a bit grubby, but considering what it’s been through, it’s holding up INCREDIBLY well! It’s even still mostly waterproof, as I learned after a can of tonic water exploded inside it once in the Philippines…

This little bag goes with me pretty much everywhere, is still sturdy and comfy after 10 years, and it zips onto the front of Big Mac (although I hardly ever do that).

So, all in all, as a fairly frequent traveller, I give these bags 10 out of 10 and highly recommend them for your travelling adventures.


Christmas Cheer!

Tuesday 14th December 2010

Hello again everyone!
Well, seems I’ve got time to squeeze in another update before I slip into my annual chocolate-induced coma (also known as Christmas!).

I have yet to get fully into the spirit of the thing, as despite having bought and wrapped most of my presents, we have not yet acquired a tree or put up any decorations yet. I must admit that in a very childish way I only really feel like Christmas has arrived when I can go nuts and smother everything in sight with tinsel and sparkly things!
However, I am pleased to announce that one particular Christmas present (and frankly by far the best one I could possibly get!) has arrived early this year. Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to announce that I have GOT A JOB!!!!

(insert screams of adulation and general fabulousness)

Even better, it’s not just any old job, not sharpening pencils for some teeny tiny little charity that no-one has ever heard of (even though I’d have taken that job if I was offered it). No, no, this is a stupendous job, an awesome and brilliant job, working for…….. (drumroll please……)………….XXXXX!!! (Major UK NGO)

Yeah baby, that’s right. The big fish. The blue chip. The motherload.

In other words, I am thrilled to have been offered a position working for them!
So, details, details……

Well, the position itself is as XXXX, working at their head office in Oxford.  Anyhoo, the job itself is mostly to do with staff training and development, and condensing and collating lessons learned from evaluations and reports to create fun! easy-to-read! intranet pages. Apparently they’re going to teach me how to design an intranet page, so that’s a bonus!

Anyway, that’s all really brilliant and exciting. I went through a rigorous screening process, which included a phone interview, a test, then a face-to-face interview and another test before I was offered the position. I got the call about 2 weeks ago, but was waiting to announce my news until all the administration was out of the way (checking references, negotiating salary, getting contracts and offer letters sent out and signed and sent back etc).

So, here we are, and I’m about to head down to Oxford to look for a flat, and then I’m officially starting my new job on Monday! Although it’s a bit strange to start so close to Christmas, my new line manager explained that it’s a lot easier for her to show me the ropes and settle in while the office is nice and quiet and empty! So I’m starting on Monday, and just working for 3 days, then home for xmas, then back down on the 29th for another 3 days before new year.

So, that is my big huge exciting news!
The perfect Christmas present – and just in time!

Soooo, well, what else is there? Not a lot really. Since my last update I’ve mostly been filling in endless job applications, visiting friends, and hauling my enormous bulk around the back roads behind the village in preparation for my 5km charity run. The impetus for losing weight and getting fit has recently increased after I sat on a friend’s sofa a few weeks ago and broke it. You know you need to lose a few kilos when sofas start to collapse underneath you!

We had lots of snow a couple of weeks ago, although sadly it’s all melted now, and I felt extremely hard-core when I went jogging in the snow. The shocked looks on my neighbours’ faces was enough to spur me on!
Unfortunately when I went out the following day all of the snow had frozen into solid ice, and no-one grits the country lanes, so I fell over a lot, and could barely get above a brisk walk without losing my balance! The neighbours especially enjoyed watching me slipping and sliding about, although the real low point was when I accidentally inhaled a large snowflake while jogging and almost choked (until it suddenly melted halfway down to my lungs!).

But nevertheless, I have bravely persevered! I was actually starting to look forward to the event itself (just so I could get it over with), but sadly it was cancelled due to all the ice! (Apparently the event organisers don’t have insurance against several thousand broken legs and shattered hips). So, sad day for me, but fear not, all you good people who have sponsored me! There is still hope!

The options left are that
a) I can get hold of a santa suit and run my own 5k with a friend taking photos and verifying that I actually did do it
b) I can post-pone it until May when the same organisers are holding a super-hero themed 5k fun run

So, don’t worry about your sponsorship money – I have promised you a 5k run in a silly outfit and one way or another I will complete the challenge!!
The only thing I am waiting for is to find out the specific date of the May run, as although I LOVE dressing up as superheroes, if it’s anywhere near my birthday weekend I’ll be either far too drunk or far too hungover to attempt it!

However feel free to write back and let me know which YOU’D rather see me do – a lone Santa run, or mass superhero run?

I guess that’s about all my news for now, except to wish everybody a very happy Christmas and spread a little bit of my xmas joy to you via the interweb.

Merry Crimble!!!!

lots of love
Employed Maya!!!

Life in the slow lane…

Wednesday 17th November 2010

Hello again all!

So, it’s once again time for a little update on my life, before the Christmas mania and panic starts to fully set in…

I must admit I haven’t been up to many exciting things recently, although I do find myself incredibly busy in general – the days seem to be flying by! I’m still flogging away at the job-hunting and am reluctantly doing my best to network on the few occasions that I leave the village! I must say that things are looking up compared to last year – although I am still unemployed, I have had a lot more interviews this time round, so clearly my CV is getting better, and I’m now getting roughly a 1:10 ratio of interviews to applications sent out, which is encouraging! Of course now that my CV is up to scratch I need to start honing my interview skills, in order to get through to round two (and these days it seems there are several rounds of selection, including phone interviews, face to face interviews and timed tests, all of which I had to do recently!).

But anyhoo, enough about that, what else have I been up to?

Two of my dearest friends recently got married in a beautiful ceremony in Islington Town Hall, which was a really fantastic day, and one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to. So naturally I drank far too much and spent the day afterwards with a hangover so severe I can only assume it’s the early stages of liver failure.
I’ve also been getting back into my knitting and sewing, in an attempt to make more homemade xmas presents! I am still fairly limited to scarves and other things that can be knitted in a straight line, although I almost managed a hat recently, but it all went a bit peculiar towards the end, and isn’t really very hat-shaped after all. Poor thing.

And course small-town rural life continues to be full of hilarious little anecdotes. Just today as I walked through the town center I came across 6 or 7 elderly pensioners standing in a huddle on the pavement outside the brand-new, just-opened fish and chip shop (humourously named “The Codfather”). As I walked past they were muttering to each other “ooooh, look at that!”, “It’s so smart!”,  “And look, it’s a restaurant – you can sit down to eat and everything!”, “Oooooohh”

It was just so funny.

And then of course, there’s my latest fad/hobby, Jogging.

It’s hard to put my thoughts on jogging down clearly to be honest. It’s a sport, much like it’s sibling, running, which people who do it claim to enjoy. They tell me insistently over and over again that once one gets the hang of it, it’s a lot of fun, or something similar.
I would have to say, after several weeks of “training” for my epic 5km fun run in December, that it is not fun, and it does not, in fact, become any more enjoyable over time. I have (most weeks) been doing my little 3-mile circuit of interval training (alternating jogging and walking) round the fields behind the village, 3 times a week. I did have one week off when I inadvertently made my knee go “twang” and couldn’t go up and down stairs for a week, but that seems to have fixed itself and regular torture has resumed.

There are brief moments, when I’m wheezing and panting my way through the ice-cold drizzle and gale-force winds of your average November morning, when I think perhaps it’s all a huge conspiracy and there are hundreds of people out there laughing hysterically at my gullibility and naivetee. And then there are other moments, when I’m gasping for air and barely able to move beyond snail’s pace, when I know that it really is a conspiracy. The only way running could EVER be enjoyable as a sport would be if, at the finish line, there was an enormous double bed, covered in rose petals, chocolates and Johnny Depp, and even then you’d only ever need to do the running bit once.

However, I persevere, because I have signed up for the fun run and am committed to raising a bit of cash for a really great NGO called EJF – Environmental Justice Foundation. Not only do they do all sorts of gung-ho environmental actions like lobbying and advocacy, and fair-trade to make sure Joe Bloggs-Ngumbe gets a decent price for his fish in Sierra Leone, but more importantly, they are one of the select few organisations that saw my potential and gave me an interview! Although I didn’t get that particular job, I still think they deserve your hard-earned £5 for being fabulous and for recognising my talent and brilliance! So please please please dig deep into your pockets and sponsor me on my 5km personal marathon! I only have £70 left to raise, and I’m fairly confident that you guys have got what it takes to get me there! GO TEAM! Do it! Do it now!

If that wasn’t motivational enough for you, I should also point out I’ll be staggering around Greenwich Park IN A SANTA SUIT! I’ll be taking my place alongside thousands of other fundraising Santas, complete with my red and white jacket and trousers, Santa hat AND BEARD! Naturally there will be photos to follow after the event, and any of you who want more comedy are welcome to come and watch me in person.

So, that’s about all from me this time, I do hope you’re all well,
tons of love
Jogging Maya


Monday 11th October 2010

Hello everyone,
I’m so sorry I haven’t written for AGES – completely unforgivable I know, and I’m sure most of you are DYING to know what I’ve been up to for the last two months or so, so prepare for a very long update!

Well, I came home from India in early August, and was almost immediately swept up in all of the excitement of my sister’s wedding, which was on the 4th September. There was a lot of logistics planning, and military-style organisation involved, including figuring out who was driving over to pick up the bouquet and bring it to the correct venue at what time/day etc. All terribly efficient, and it gave me a glimpse of just how much insane planning actually goes into a wedding!

Suffice to say the wedding itself was perfect, with a lovely registry office ceremony in Cambridge on Friday, and then a blessing ceremony and reception at my aunt’s house in Essex on Saturday. Two of my friends from Uni had also gotten married on the bank holiday Monday beforehand, so by Saturday it was technically my 3rd wedding in a week!
It was all fabulous however, and great to have a chance to catch up with so many friends and family – including my dad and stepmother, and my brother and his family, who had all come over from Australia for the occasion!

After all the wedding excitement died down, I spent a fantastic month with my brother and his family, who I have not seen for three years! We all had an amazing time, and mum and I got to babysit my gorgeous nephews while my brother and his wife had a couple of well-deserved mini-breaks – 3 days in Berlin and then 3 days in Barcelona. My nephews are perfect in every way – I still maintain that they are the best-behaved children in the world, and I know I’m not biased, because the rest of my extended family think so too!

O, the oldest, is now 6 and a half, devastatingly cute, and terrifyingly bright. He is very artistic, and is already reading the 5th Harry Potter book and can spell Lord Voldermort (I’m so proud!). He has of course also mastered the art of sulking, which is HILARIOUS to watch – I’ve never seen it done with such panache!

J is in the middle, and about to turn 5. He’s gorgeous as well of course, and LOVES all things Star Wars – so old school! He is extremely perceptive and also very funny, and has such a sunny disposition that he can’t stay in a huff for more than 5 minutes! He is very cheeky and loves wrestling and sword-fighting, and comes out with the best quotes.

Then there is N, who is the youngest, and just turned 2. He is an utterly adorable toddler, as his brothers were before him, and has a brilliant smile. He LOVES cars and driving cars and making brrrrummm, bruummm noises, and likes to pretend to drill things a lot. He is very cuddly and also sings little random tunes all the time, and frequently got us all joining in with “Do DO Do dooo Do Duh Duh Duh DOOOOO…YAY!” – A classic song for all the ages!

Basically they are all wonderful, and spending a month with them left my ovaries screaming! (I seem to have become even more broody than I was before!).

Anyhoo, it was of course also wonderful to see my bro, who is awesome, and my sister-in-law, who I get on with incredibly well too, so we spent LOADS of time gossiping and generally catching up. And so, with all of this hustle and bustle of activity going on I have barely had time to do any of the other things I was meant to be doing, like once again looking for a job!

However, since the family have swept off back to Oz, and mum and her partner are off on their holidays, I’ve now got the house to myself and some time to focus on it a bit more. I have now sent off around 35 job applications since leaving the University (which incidentally was recently shut down due to tax fraud, so a lucky escape there!), and have been attempting to take a few more pro-active measures about job-hunting.

I have not yet had any interviews as such, although I did get invited up to Leicester for a kind-of pre-interview interview with XXXX (more of an informal meeting to discuss my suitability for the post or any others they might have for me etc). All very good, and I spent £50 on a return train ticket to Leicester, but then got a very apologetic phone call the day before telling me that DFID (the UK Department for International Development) had just cut most of their funding and they have to immediately halt all recruitment, including for the position I was going for, as they can no longer afford to hire someone for that position! So sadly I never got to have that particular interview, although they very kindly offered to refund my train fare.

I also attended a conference last week on job-hunting and careers in the International Development sector, hosted by a charity recruitment company. It was…. interesting. The first half was a bit lame – all the speakers kept telling us to focus on volunteering abroad (yup, done that), and getting a masters degree (check) – all very useful for the 200-odd students and fresh graduates there, but not so helpful for me. The other thing that every single speaker kept harping on about was the importance of networking. “Network, Network, Network” was the general consensus, and there was a 40-minute “networking break” built into the conference timings.

I found it all a bit terrifying – 200 people vying to speak to 5 speakers in 40 minutes. Queuing disintegrated very quickly and it ended up being a case of shove your way to the front and say something interesting really really fast. Luckily I was one of the few people who had brought copies of my CV with me, so I was able to shove it at several people before getting trampled under the crowd of desperate graduates hungry for jobs. It was truly quite a scary experience, and I’m still not sure it was worth the £25 ticket price, but then again I suppose it can’t hurt. I did manage to get some useful CV advice from a major recruiter for charity/NGO jobs, so that part was good, and one of the speakers was from an organisation I had just applied for a job with, so I squeezed my way in to shake her hand and introduce myself (but in fact did not subsequently get selected for an interview for that position).

To be honest, I’m still very sceptical about networking. Even though I know it does seem to be the only way to get anywhere in the world these days, I think my bleeding-heart liberal mind still feels that it’s uncomfortably close to nepotism, which I fundamentally and very strongly disapprove of, and I wish that I could get a job based only on my merits, but apparently that’s not really possible these days. Also in fairness, I only got my most recent job in India because I have a friend who was related to someone there, so I can’t really be too judgemental! But anyhoo, job-hunting continues at a steady pace, and my attempts at networking continue….

So, in other news, I am finally attempting to get vaguely fit, so have taken some proactive measures in that general direction. Firstly I bought a cheap second hand bicycle back in August when I first came home and managed to cycle into Sudbury from the village several times (a 9-mile round trip I discovered!). However during the madness of the wedding and hanging out with my family, I didn’t really do much, and the filthy wet, soggy, cold British weather has dampened my enthusiasm for cycling in general, although I’m slowly building up the guts to get out and carry on in the rain!

I have also decided that I need a slightly bigger incentive to exercise, so I have signed up for a charity fun-run in December. It’s only 5k, which is apparently very easy, and I’m running it to raise money for EJF – Environmental Justice Foundation, an NGO my friend works for. I will of course be looking for sponsors for my epic jogging debut, and to make things more interesting, I’ll be running the whole thing in a Santa suit – I KNOW there are many of you who would pay to see me do that!

Please feel free to check out my fundraising page and sponsor me.
Also any of you who would like to come down in person and watch me run 5k in a Santa suit (or just come to point and laugh), please feel free to come to Greenwich Park, London, on Sunday 5th December, where the merriment will commence at 11am.

Now, I feel I should warn any of you planning to sponsor me that I may not necessarily manage to run the whole thing – I may end up walking some of it, but I am attempting to train in order to do my best. I started my “training” today – and was shocked to discover that Step One actually involves leaving the couch and going outside! I found a website online that suggested starting out with interval training (alternating 60 seconds of jogging and 60 seconds of walking for 20 minutes), so I went over to the village playing field to have a go. Of course there was a bloke over there in a tractor mowing the field, so I had an extremely amused audience for my very first attempt at learning to jog! I made it about 4 times round the field doing the intervals before getting a stitch and running out of breath! Fairly pathetic given that it’s such a small field, but hopefully it’ll be easier tomorrow!

So, that’s just about all of my news for now (Phew! Sighs of relief can be heard across the globe!). I hope you are all well and will send me some of your updates soon so I know what everyone has been up to!

For those of you wanting to catch up and hang out, I should be around for a while and my mobile number is the same as it was before, so feel free to give me a call! My immediate future plans involve continued job-hunting and reluctant networking, learning to jog, learning French (including a possible trip to France to practice sometime before xmas), and all sorts of other odds and ends like attempting to finish the patchwork quilt I’ve been working on for 10 years, and learning to knit something other than a scarf.

Best wishes to all of you – and well done for making it to the end of my email!
tons of love
wheezing, jogging Maya

Coffeeshops and Landslides

Wednesday 28th July 2010

I know I just wrote a few days ago, but honestly there is so much to tell you I felt a need to write some more down!

I left Leh at 4.30am on Monday morning, and began a gruelling 2-day bus journey down to Manali, in Himachal Pradesh. The bus was comfortable enough, although the woman behind me refused to let me put my seat back, and the views as we crossed the Himalayas were breathtaking. On the first day we crossed several passes, including Taglung La, the highest point on the road at 5350 metres. It was cold and snowy, and very stunning. I used up most of my camera battery on that first day, as well as all of my ipod battery, and the journey finished for the day in a small town called Keylong, about 16 hours later. We had travelled 230 miles, and were put up for the night in “tented accommodation”, which sounds like a very posh way to say that you’re sleeping in a tent!
However, the tents were surprisingly comfortable – they were big while canvas tents, tall enough to stand up in, with 4 camp-beds per tent and nice clean sheets and blankets, even an electric light! I slept surprisingly well, and the next morning we set off at 7am for the last leg. Continue reading

The world’s best kept secret…

Friday 23rd July 2010

Hello all,
After my rather rushed email last time I thought I would try for something slightly more interesting!

My trip to Srinagar in north-western Kashmir got cancelled. Two days before I was due to leave I met a friend at a party who had just come back from there and said things were heating up again. Lots of fighting in the streets, military everywhere, a couple of civilians had been shot last week and an almost 24-7 curfew, meaning you can’t really leave your hotel room anyway.
Not exactly my idea of a holiday! Continue reading

Travelling Maya

Thursday 15th July 2010

Hello everyone,
Sorry it’s been so long since my last email, but so much has happened once again that I don’t really know where to start!

Let’s see, in shorthand: during my 1 month’s notice period I was allowed to take my 2 week’s compensatory leave, so I went to Nepal for a break and well-earned holiday.

Unfortunately my holiday was utterly exhausting and ended up being really quite stressful. It was GREAT to see all the kids again and being back was lovely. However I’d forgotten that staying at the orphanage meant getting up at 5am, which is not my idea of relaxing! Also there were 3 other volunteers there, so we were all sharing a cramped room. I won’t go into the details right now, but basically there was a lot of drama involving the other volunteers, me, Priya, and Aama, a lot of misunderstanding and a fair amount of upset all round. I also came down with a hideously nasty cold and have been ill pretty much ever since, so my holiday was mostly an exhausting and stressful disaster. Continue reading

It’s not racist, it’s because you’re white…

Monday 14th June 2010

Soooo, last week I was called down to see the Chairman (the big man himself). I was terrified I’d be yelled at again because of the NGO programme, but it turns out he has decided that I’m not doing any CSR over the summer while the students are gone, and has ordered me to sit in admissions for the next two months smiling at prospective students because basically they need a white face down there and there isn’t anyone else left.

I’m supposed to chat to new students and gauge their English level (although if their English is crap they will still be admitted as the Uni needs the money and is desperate to up enrolment) so it’s utterly pointless – even if they haven’t got any English they’ll be allowed in, so having me interview them is only so they can be paraded past my desk to see that the University has white staff!
I’m not even allowed to stay in my office – I have to move downstairs to a cubicle in the admissions cell so as many people as possible will see me. Continue reading