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.

ūüôā

Carbon Footprints…

One thing you learn to accept as an aid worker is that you are never going to have a small, or especially environmentally-friendly carbon footprint. There are just too many flights involved! Not only do I travel to far-flung and exotic places for work, and then generally want to take holidays around the general area of wherever you happen to be, but I also have family in the UK and Australia that I try to visit once in a while, and a lot of friends having fabulous destination weddings at the moment in places like Canada and France! I think 2015 might turn out to be a record-breaking year for me in terms of flights and travel, as I look back at everywhere I have been this year, and am simultaneously busy planning both work trips and holidays for the coming months. I’ve decided to¬†map it out compared to last year, which was also quite travel-heavy….

2014: I can’t remember how many internal flights I did in the Philippines, but if I had to guess I’d say

  • Tacloban – Cebu – Tacloban x 3?
  • Tacloban – Manila – Tacloban x 3?
  • February/March: Tacloban – Cebu – Sydney – Perth – Cebu – Tacloban
  • May: Tacloban – Manila – London – Manila – Tacloban
  • July: Manila – Phuket – Manila
  • November: Tacloban – Manila – London
  • December: London – Sulaymaniyah (Iraq)

Total countries visited in 2014: 5 (Philippines, UK, Australia, Thailand, Iraq)

2015:

  • February: Erbil – Amman – Erbil
  • May: Erbil – London – Vancouver – London – Erbil,
  • July: Sulaymaniyah – London
  • August: London – Geneva – London
  • September: London – Madrid – London
  • December: London – Bangkok – Phuket – Chiang Mai – Bangkok – Sydney – Melbourne – Sydney – Bangkok – London

Total countries visited in 2015: 8 (Iraq, Jordan, UK, Canada, Switzerland, Spain, Australia, Thailand)

Phew! What a lot of travelling!

It’s annoying me that I’ve only just thought of signing up for some frequent flyer air miles! Ah well, better late than never…

A challenging context…

Shall I fill you in on some of the security context here as well? Bear in mind that my general¬†knowledge of global political and foreign affairs is extremely limited, so I’ll have to give you the dummies guide to the context here, as understood my me…. (Disclaimer – I can’t be held responsible if this turns out to be hopelessly simplistic or just plain wrong).

I’m now here¬†in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). A lot of people just call it Kurdistan, but you have to be a bit careful with that, as “Kurdistan” is often used to refer to the entire Kurdish region, which encompasses parts of southern Turkey, Northern Syria and Northern Iraq and parts of Iran, so that could be confusing. For now I’ll just call it KRI. Technically I think it is still part of Iraq, but in reality it’s more of a semi-autonomous region¬†(or something to that effect).

(And on a side note, I also have to be careful how I refer to ISIS. I was informed that it’s ok to say ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh, but I should avoid referring to them as the Islamic State, because that might add a legitimacy to them that could inadvertently put me on the wrong side!) Continue reading

All by myself…

Well now, so much has gone on since I got here it feels impossible to give you an overview, so I will have to split it all up into random chunks. Firstly, I’ll give you a quick recap of my first few weeks in Kurdistan.

I arrived here in a flurry of activity, and spent two weeks working crazy hours down in the south – we barely had time to stop and eat once a day, and after two weeks we were all a bit frazzled and exhausted, and feeling under pressure! I was supposed to organise the distribution of 1000 “winterisation” kits (blankets, mattresses, heater, kerosene, jerry cans, plastic sheeting etc), but when I got here nothing had really been done (no suppliers identified, no list of beneficiaries, no idea where we’d be distributing etc).

We were under some serious pressure to deliver, but in the end the supplier couldn’t deliver the goods until just before Christmas and the decision was made to postpone the whole distribution to January as we wouldn’t have enough staff left to manage it. Continue reading

Things I love about Kurdistan

Ever since my Reasons why I love the Philippines post went ever-so-slightly viral earlier this year, I thought I ought to try something similar in the next country I visit.

So here are the things I love about Kurdistan so far. You may notice a fairly heavy bias towards comedy food items…

I’ll be adding to this list as I go along.

Continue reading

Psst!

Aside

Psst! 

Did you notice I’ve been updating things on my blog recently?

There’s an exciting new “View Topics” page where you can jump to different posts, sorted by year, country, city or tags.

Also I’ve updated some of the cover photos, so there are loads of new and exciting photos across the top of each page you look at.

Hope you enjoy all the exciting new things as much as I do, and do feel free to send me suggestions if you’d like to see any other improvements to the site!

The Arc of Fire…

Phew! Time certainly does fly when you’re busy!

The last few weeks¬†have been a bit of a blur, but I’m now here in Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. However, to backtrack slightly, (cos I like to keep things in chronological order….) here’s a little bit about my security training course before I left the UK.

I spent 4 days in a scout camp deep in the midlands on a Security training course, learning a lot about traumatic first aid in the field (how to cope with traumatic amputations and gunshot wounds in a place with no hospital or ambulance nearby). There were a lot of gory pictures and practice bandaging people with very lifelike wounds!

All very practical and useful.

It was freezing cold, so I had to nip to Asda to buy a new hat, gloves and an extra jumper for the outdoorsy bits, ¬†Here’s me wrapped up in a tons of layers ready for the day!

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Continue reading

Home, Holidays and The Next Thing…

Hello again my lovelies!

Well after all the excitement of leaving parties and lovely presents, in which I got given an amazing model fishing boat which is now my pride and joy, AND an umbrella hat which is the most awesome thing ever, I have now left the Philippines, and am at home, back in the UK.

The flight was fine, and I even had enough space to spread out and lie down across the empty seats. The excess baggage was expensive but in the end I only had 29 kilos, which frankly after being in the Philippines for 1 year, was not too shabby at all really!

Since being back home in the UK,¬†I’ve had a lovely time hanging out with my mum, sister, and niblings, getting lots of cuddles, trips to the spa, arranging to see friends and other such lovely things. Continue reading