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.


All the places I’ve been

In a recent conversation with my dad, I realised that in his 70+ years, he has travelled to a huge number of countries, (34 and counting!) so I thought it was worth listing all of mine out too to see how we compare!

My dad also pointed out that the majority of his travelling happened in his 20’s and 30’s, as like most people, once you settle down and have kids you tend to travel less often, so here is our combined list:¬† Continue reading

Weapons training with the French army…

Monday 8th December 2008

Hello again people!
So much to talk about!

With only a week to go before I head home, there’s a lot to do! I have an exam on Friday, and we have to arrange to pay our final rent and bills, which is proving to be very confusing!
Also, last week I went on a really amazing Security training course run by the French Army that was really fun, but also exhausting. Continue reading

A Halloween Faux-Pas!

Tuesday 4th November 2008

Bonjour mes amis!
Ca va? Hope everyone had a bon halloween!
The Bioforce party was AWESOME, and I plan to tell you all about it!
We went to the Chateau de Passins, about an hour’s drive outside of Lyon, which was gorgeous, and they had rented the place from Friday night until Saturday lunchtime. I had arranged a lift with some friends, and arrived to find everyone busily putting up decorations and setting up speakers and kegs etc.
I had been worried that not many people were going to wear costumes, and hadn’t really found anywhere to buy something, so I’d hastily fashioned some ears and a tail out of a cheap hairband and some black socks (That’s the beauty of having been a primary school teacher!).
Anyway, lots of people were in costume, and so I transformed into a cat wearing my sexiest clothes, and frankly looked pretty damn good (if I do say so myself!). Continue reading

The Anglo-Saxon Approach…

Sunday 26th October 2008

Hi again!
Well, things here are tootling along nicely, I’ve now had my first exam¬†(which went ok) and have finished the first module without too much trouble, so¬†fingers crossed I passed!

I’m also learning things at an insanely fast rate – it turns out there is¬†so much I don’t know!

I’ve discovered that the humanitarian world has it’s own little¬†language that requires translating (for example the word “coherence”¬†when used in an evaluation context apparently means “sustainable” –¬†who knew?).
So half of our time is spent arguing over the meaning of words and I have quite an impressive little dictionary with definitions of the difference between a hazard, a threat, and a risk, what constitutes a disaster, and the difference between disaster prevention, disaster preparedness and disaster mitigation! Continue reading

Life in the French Ghetto…

Monday 13th October 2008

Hey everyone,
It has been BUSY over here in the delightful ghetto of Les Minguettes, so get ready for a very long post!
I almost don’t know where to start, as there’s so much to say!

Ok, well I guess the most important things should go first, so I’ll tell you all about my new neighbours. Up until two weeks ago, Bioforce had been pretty quiet, with only us Masters students and a couple of other smaller classes going on. Then the new students arrived, 130 of them, to start their school year training in logistics, project management, administration etc.
Apart from a hefty smattering of filthy hippies (I have soooooo gotten over that look – maybe it’s cos I’m getting old, but it’s like, seriously, have a shower and wash your clothes already!)
but the rest of them are GORGEOUS! Continue reading

La vie en Francais…

Saturday 27th September 2008

Salut everyone!

Well after only a week here I am fully immersed in French culture, and straight in at the deep end on this course! Vive la fromage! et le vin! et le pain!

It’s been pretty good so far, but we have classes from 9am til 4 or 5pm, so there’s very little time to do all the mountains of reading I’m supposed to do!
They’re already asking me for my dissertation topic, which I have no clue about, and I’m still staying with my cousin in Lyon so the commute out to Les Minguettes, where Bioforce is, means getting up FAR too early!
However, everyone on this course is lovely – they’ve all been very welcoming and kind and keen to help me catch up. They all keep emailing around useful articles or websites, and have regular “brainstorming” sessions to help think through our research projects and spot potential problems as a group etc. Continue reading

The craziest week of my life!

Wednesday 17th September 2008

Monday 15th September….

Hello everyone,
I know my last couple of updates have been fairly mundane, mostly because my life just hasn’t been all that exciting.
However, all that has just changed rather drastically in the last few hours to something verging on insane.

Ok, so my life was tootling along quietly, applying for jobs, signing on, watching Neighbours, blah blah blah. Then on Saturday I had the training workshop I had been waiting ages for – run by a group called RedR and entitled “So you think you want to be a relief worker?”
I had applied for it back in July and had been rather gutted that they didn’t have one a bit sooner than September, but there you are.

Anyhoo, off I went, and learned an astonishing amount in the space of a mere day (this was especially impressive given the intensity of the monstrous hangover I was nursing after a lovely night in with my friends Betty, Bill, Rita and 5 bottles of wine!).
Basically, there was lots of background info on what it takes to work in the humanitarian aid sector. and examples of the types of jobs you can do, and then we heard talks from several aid workers with different organisations, including a senior logistician for UNHCR, who has planned missions to bring refugees out of Sierra Leone, and a woman who works in Human Resources for GOAL, who was able to tell us exactly what they look for on a cv for different kinds of jobs.
Sooooo useful!

However, it soon became apparent why it is that I’ve been utterly unable to find work in these kind of areas over the last few months, as I am hopelessly and completely un-qualified for them!
Firstly, the woman from GOAL explained that a Masters degree in a related field is pretty much a pre-requisite, which I do not have. Secondly, you MUST be fluent in another language, preferably a UN-approved language (eg French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, or Russian). French seems to be the obvious choice as I did GCSE French, although it was 11 years ago and I’m extremely rusty!

So, I came away from it buzzing with new plans for my rather bizarre life, and by Sunday my new life plan looked like this:
a) Do a masters
b) Learn French, become fluent.

I decided that it’s pointless to continue looking for work that I’m simply not going to get when what I really need to do it commit to re-training, and the RedR training pack gave a very helpful list of masters courses and logistics training institutes that come highly recommended. Many of them include exciting courses like “Disaster Management” and “Refugee Studies”. However I also realised that it’s mid-September and there’s almost no chance of me getting onto a course for this year, but I thought I might as well call around and ask on the off-chance, as some Uni’s don’t start term until October anyway.
Having researched around and found about 10 courses that looked pretty good and relevant, I called up, and amazingly, about 8 of them said “Term starts on Monday, but there are still places available if you can get your application in ASAP.”

I was amazed!

Anyhow, realising I couldn’t manage to do that many applications in only a day or two, I narrowed it down to the ones that looked the best, and met the criteria I was looking for the closest, and set off! I started around 8am Monday morning, and spent the whole day filling in applications, contacting my old lecturers for references, scanning and emailing people copies of my degree certificate and transcripts etc.
Eventually I applied for an MA in Post-War Recovery Studies with the University of York, and an Msc in Humanitarian Programme Management with the University of Liverpool.
The admissions secretary for York said that their term doesn’t actually start until October, but the professor running the course is leaving for a holiday on Thursday, so I’d have to get the application in by Wednesday so he can look at it. The woman at Liverpool told me that their course had actually already started on September 1st, which I thought meant I’d got no chance, however when I called the guy running the course to ask if I could apply, he said that I’d only missed two weeks, and he thought it’d be better for me to get my arse there asap and just work extra hard to catch up.

Their course runs the first semester in Lyon, France, in conjunction with a major humanitarian training organisation called BioForce (one of the best according to my training workshop – they’re responsible for a lot of the major relief operations around the world when it comes to logistics specifically). So, anyhoo, as long as I can get myself to Lyon this week, he reckoned I could easily catch up and do it, and of course it would also help my French come along nicely! However he was concerned that I’d have nowhere to live, but in a stroke of amazing luck, my cousin Arnie happens to live in Lyon at the moment and has very sweetly agreed to let me sleep on his floor until I can find a flat of my own.
This course is amazing – the first semester is in Lyon working with Bioforce, the second semester is in Liverpool, and then the third semester is a research project done in the field with the NGO of your choice pretty much, so I could spend 8 weeks in Sierra Leone with the Red Cross, or in Beirut with the UN, etc.

So, that all happened insanely fast, and it now looks like I could be in France by Thursday if my application is approved by the director of admissions, and my references from St Andrews get there in time, and I can prove I can support myself.

The money thing is a little scary – I am no longer eligible for a student loan, and bank loan rates have shot up to about 20%, however thanks to my work abroad in Korea and Kuwait I have saved up a fairly decent amount of cash. Unfortunately, this still won’t be enough!
The course fees for this masters are £6,800 (primarily because it includes all of the costs for the research project Рflights, accomodation there etc). That leaves me with the remains of my savings to live off for the entire year, which is not really enough.

However, it’s enough to get me through the French portion of the course until Christmas, and once I come to Liverpool I can get a part-time job to support myself.

It’s all incredibly last-minute and hectic, and I’m a little scared of the idea of blowing all of my savings in one go like this, but I figured that this is definitely the career path I want to pursue, and to do that I need to be properly trained, so I simply have to invest in my own future to get there.

Sorry this email has been incredibly long, but so much happened all in one day, that I’m still not quite sure it’s even real! When I woke up this morning I had no idea anyone would even consider me for a placement this year, and now I’ve got about 2 days to pack and organise myself to go to France!

That’s it for now, but I wanted to make sure you all knew what was happening, as I may not have enough time to call you all to say goodbye, or cancel plans for dinner etc, so I hope you’ll all forgive me! My next update might even be from France!
Tres exciting!

tons of love

ps – It is now Wednesday, and I’ve been approved – the only thing I’m waiting for is to pay the fees, but first they have to check that I’m eligible as a home student as I’ve lived abroad for the last three years. So, my flight is booked and I’m off tomorrow!
What a crazy week!
Sorry again to those of you I haven’t had a chance to say goodbye to, but I’ll be back around Christmas time!
Au Revoir!