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.


Home Owner, part deux

Friday 5th August 2011

Just though I should add a few extra things to amuse you, as my new house is so awesome, there’s just so much to tell!

After the incident with the kitchen door, in which I met my neighbours for the first time while hanging halfway out of the kitchen window, and the seriously mature way that I dealt with spiders, I have now progressed to an even giddier height of maturity – gardening and DIY.

By gardening, I mean that I have transferred some pot plants into some other, slightly bigger, pots. I think that practically counts as landscape gardening. Makes me feel incredibly grown-up.

Also, on Monday night, after a full day at work AND an aerobics class, I successfully operated my drill for the first time, and installed two roller-blinds PERFECTLY in my spare room. I was so proud of myself, as I figured it out all on my own and didn’t need any help at all. No-one ever told me before what a enormous sense of accomplishment and achievement you can get from successful DIY. My mum has always been so good at DIY, and I always felt a bit sad that I didn’t get that gene, but lo and behold I appear to have it! It’s like discovering a dormant superpower! Suddenly I am invincible! I even went out and bought a spirit level!

I was so incredibly chuffed with myself about those blinds that I felt like a rockstar. I felt like Superwoman. I was basically the Bono of DIY. I took myself off to bed, grinning like a maniac, and was just thinking that this must be how God felt at the end of the 6th day, after creating roller-blinds and realising she just couldn’t top that…..

…..but then my Ikea flat-pack bed collapsed underneath me. Continue reading

Home Owner!

Monday 1st August 2011

Hello again everyone!

Time for another update from me, and this time, I have some very exciting news!
I am FINALLY in my brand new shiny house!
We completed the sale on Wednesday last week, and so the last few days have been a very exciting whirlwind of activity!

I got my keys on Wednesday, and then rented a van to go and collect various things I had managed to find for free (one colleague had a freezer going spare, while another colleague was trying to give away an Ikea flat-pack bed and wardrobe, and yet another was giving away 2 Ikea bookshelves etc). So I rented a Streetvan for a couple of hours, and off I went, with the help of two kind friends, to go and collect all my free furniture! Continue reading

The accidental web-designer…

Wednesday 22nd June 2011

Hello again everyone!
Well, it’s been so long since I last wrote that I thought I had better get on with it and tell you all how my life is going!
Let’s see, so much to tell you!

Ok, well, most of you know I have recently hit a big milestone and turned 30. I saw many of you at my birthday party, which was great fun, and I saw tons of old friends and got showered with loads of fantastic presents too! For those of you who are interested, I have already developed fairly severe memory loss and crow’s feet, and I believe that my standard-issue hunchback is coming along nicely. I’m looking forward to receiving my free zimmerframe on the NHS, so I look forward to zimming around with all the other middle-aged 30-somethings soon. Continue reading

Follow-up on International Women’s Day

Tuesday 22nd March 2011

Thanks for all the amazing responses! I’ve had loads of suggestions for women who deserve honourable mention, – a truly wide and fascinating range, so I will try to share them all with you! I have tried to include some of your comments along with them. I was surprised to discover how many of these women I hadn’t heard of before, so where no description was given I have tried to give a short bio of them (mainly cut and pasted from wikipedia for time-saving purposes!).

Here is a fantastic presentation I saw at work that I found really inspiring:

Int Women’s Day pres

And here are a few of the women who have inspired you:

1) Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer
“It’s a shame that (women’s) participation in software engineering has been tailing off since then.”

2) Josephine Butler, Social reformer of the 19C. “Not well known but a champion of and for women, in particular prostitutes”.

3) John Stuart Mill “would have to be the most important early thinker who advocated women’s rights” (1806-1873) Continue reading

Movin’ on up…

Thursday 10th March 2011

Hello again!
Well, it’s been a while, so you must be due another little ramble from moi. I’m afraid I started writing this email about 3 weeks ago and have been adding to it ever since, so aside from being a bit long, my apologies if my train of thought appears a tad scattered!

Let’s start with the hot topic of the week here at XXX – Happy International Women’s Day! This week (Tuesday 8th March – also pancake day) was the 100th anniversary of international women’s day, and so we have had lots of great presentations and discussion groups going all week at work. Here are some interesting facts for you to digest – Did you know that 50% of the world’s food is grown by women, yet they only receive 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the world’s property and land? Continue reading

New Year, New Job

Tuesday 11th January 2011

Hello again everyone!

I hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year? Mine was brilliant – I was spoilt rotten and got LOADS of great presents, and ate so much I almost exploded.

I have now moved most of my stuff down to Oxford, and have been settling into the office at work quite nicely.
XXX is an amazing place to work, although there is so much to learn that I’m doing my best to shovel all the information into my head as fast as I can!

The building itself is huge, and was purpose-built for the NGO 5 years ago on the business park. It’s a convenient 15 minutes walk from my new flat, and houses over 700 employees. It’s all very funky and open plan, lots of open space and kitchens with comfy break areas. There’s an amazing cafe downstairs with a plethora of vegetarian options (yay!), and a breakfast bar, as well as hot lunches, a deli bar and a salad bar. We have our own ATM inside the building and they have regular sales of shop products so you can go and browse all the new products they are planning to introduce into their high street shops soon. There is also a yoga class once a week in the big conference room, and a massage therapist who comes in on Wednesday afternoons, although you have to pay for those. Karina, my line manager, also took me along to the singing group, who meet at lunchtime once a week, and there’s apparently also a book club who meet at the pub once a month, so I might join that too!

In other words, it’s hard to find time to do any work once I’m done choosing my muesli/fruit/yoghurt/eggs/toast/croissants in the morning, having a massage, doing yoga, shopping and deciding what I fancy for lunch! I also have a sneaking suspicion that if I’m not careful the majority of my paycheck will find it’s way back to XXX – I’m sure they have designed all these fun activities with that in mind!

The whole office is designed to reflect the NGO’s ethos, so it’s ALL open plan, even the CEO doesn’t have her own office, she’s just at a desk with everybody else. There are of course lots of meeting rooms and conference rooms, and one-to-one rooms as well, and the only staff member I’ve seen who has his own office is the staff counsellor! We also have a staff health team that includes two registered nurses for confidential health and travel advice.

So far I’ve been having a lot of induction meetings and doing a lot of self-study e-learning modules to get me up to speed on everything. I’ve had HOURS of health and safety training, including tours of the building and fire exits, a training session on how to properly adjust my chair for correct lumbar support, making sure that my computer screen is level with my eyes and my wrists are flat on my desk at right angles from my shoulders. I’ve done the online workstation safety assessment, and had meetings with my manager about the levels of glare on my screen and not slouching forward while I type. I’ve even been informed about the “No peanut” policy which applies to the whole building, as there’s one staff member with an extremely severe peanut allergy.

On top of all this, there’s a little sheep on my computer who pops up and tells me to take a micro-break (30 secs) every 15 minutes, and a break (15mins) every 2 hours. It registers if you ignore it and keep using your mouse or keyboard, and just reminds you more and more often. If you ignore it for too long a scary Lara Croft-style animated woman pops up and sternly orders you to start doing stretches at your desk! If you use your computer for more than 4 hours continuously, or for more than 8 hours with breaks, it just tells you you’re done and orders you to stop everything!

In amongst this hive of activity it’s hard to know where to start! I’ve been busy reading lots of reports and things, and meeting people to figure out what they do and how it fits in with what I’m going to be doing. For those of you who don’t know, my new job title is “xxx” and in a nutshell my job is to help the humanitarian department achieve their vision, which is to develop the capacity of all the country offices in order to make sure that they are fully prepared to cope with a Category 2 or 3 emergency on their own, should one occur. This of course sparks off endless meetings and debates about how one defines “prepared”, and is of course a much bigger undertaking for some countries compared to others.

Countries as large and complex as the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) would require enormous manpower to cope with an emergency, whereas a country like Albania might be able to cope just fine. Then there’s levels of complexities, such as DRC or Sudan, with a complex political context, or Indonesia, which has over 16,000 islands, and requires a lot of remote management!

At the moment we are developing a set of frameworks to help individual countries plan their staff needs in an emergency.
We’ve had some hilarious meetings so far trying to hammer out the issue of language, and “unpack the jargon” – which in itself is a hilarious phrase. Each team leader has written a draft of their framework, and they are all completely different in every way, so my job (and Karina’s) is to try and standardise them and make them work as a generic tool for field staff to use.

Anyhoo, that’s enough about that! In other news, Oxford is a fantastic city, small and friendly with LOADS of great little bars and pubs and shops etc. Carl, my credit card, was feeling a bit nervous about the move, so I took him out and familiarised him with all the shops in town. He feels much more comfortable now, and thinks we’re going to like Oxford! One of my close friends from school, Hannah, is living here in Oxford, so she and her flatmates have very kindly been showing me around, and my cousin R has just finished her degree here, so she came back to visit the other day too.

I have found a lovely place to live, only 15mins walk to work, and 5mins from the local swimming pool and shops. J, the girl who owns the house, lives there too, and it’s a nice big house with loads of space. She is really nice, and although we’re still slowly getting to know each other I think we’re going to get on well. It might take me a while to get up to speed on everything (like remembering to rinse out my yoghurt pots for recycling, and only buying non-toxic organic dishwasher tablets), and she does occasionally have a rather judgemental raised eyebrow look (it’s usually combined with a comment like “You’re having a cup of regular tea with sugar at this time of night??? Caffeine AND sugar?…Tsk…You’ll never get to sleep…” or “Gin and tonic? On a school night? Hmmm….”) but in general I think we’ll get on fine.

That’s about it from me really.

Hope that gives you all a good idea of what I’m up to!

Lots of love to everyone,
Fully-Lumbar-Supported Maya!

P.s. – I almost forgot! Seeing as this year marks the official end of my twenties, I am having a big birthday party to celebrate! It’ll be at my mum’s house in XXX on the 21st May, starting at lunchtime and going on all day and evening. Feel free to drop in any time and we’ve got plenty of room if anyone wants to stay the night. Also I’ve decided on a fancy dress theme, although I know there are some of you (particularly of the older generation) who may not want to dress up! The theme is characters from your favourite children’s tv programme/cartoon. For those people around my age it’s a great excuse for some retro costumes – think Fraggles, Smurfs, He-man, Thundercats, Care Bears, Dangermouse, Muppets, Superted, Button Moon, Ducktales, Transformers, Sooty and Sweep, Inspector Gadget, etc!

Naturally there are many more – that’s just a few ideas to get you going!
Do let me know if you’ll be able to come, and if you’d like to stay the night.
Hope to see many of you then!