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.

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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

Death vs Taxes

I have been grappling with my tax situation for months, and occasionally sharing my pain and frustration via facebook, so I thought I would chart the horrific atrocities of both HMRC and my irritating employer in full here so that you can all feel my pain and share the burden of horror from the beginning.

I’ll be having tax-related nightmares for weeks, and may also require therapy at some point. And if it’s a choice between death or taxes right now, then point me to the nearest cliff…

It all started in the middle of last year….

2nd September 2015

You know that thing where you work overseas for almost 2 years, and a month before you come home your employer realises you should have been registered as non-tax resident in order to reclaim all your tax? So you fill in all the forms, discover you have to also do a tax return and start the excruciating process of registering online for a self-assessment form.

Then you get stuck, cos you need a special number to register online, but you can’t get one, as it has to be posted to you, and they think you still live overseas and so they keep posting things to Iraq and the Philippines.

You keep calling them to tell them you’ve moved back home, and they tell you that you’ll need to do a tax return, but they can’t seem to fix your address glitch on their system and of course they can’t possibly just give you the damn reference number over the phone …. And after spending more than an hour on hold on three separate numbers before they refer you back to the first number you called, you just start to weep while bashing your head repeatedly against the desk.
Yeah, that.

Continue reading

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…

Coming to you live….

I believe I mentioned in my previous post that I was roped into hosting/anchoring a live talkshow here in Tacloban covering the Haiyan Candlelight Memorial.

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I found out on Wednesday I was doing it, and so had very little time to practice for the 5-hour long live event on Saturday!

In spite of the nerves and jitters, we got there in the end, and it was actually really fun! During the rehearsals I had a large rat crawling across the beam in my eyeline, and I got somewhat frustrated by not having enough clear/straight answers to my questions. The producer was a lovely guy, but he has a tendency to sermonise everything and talk in riddles, which is not helpful when you have limited time… ¬†I would ask things like “What order will the interviews and reports be in? Can I have a schedule in advance so I know what’s happening before I actually go live on-air?” and he would talk for 30 mins about humanity’s finest hour…. That was very frustrating! He also kept misunderstanding my frustration as nerves, and when I asked him to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do (like sit up, speak loudly, don’t turn your head etc) he asked me if I knew the difference between speaking and talking. I said no, not really, cos they’re synonyms, and he started singing “The Sound of Silence” to me. It was excruciating.

So as a result of that, right up to when we went live on-air, I¬†had no idea what was happening next – there was no schedule to follow, it was more like them just waving bits of paper at me from behind a camera saying things like “Joe¬†on the line” or “Go to Commercial” or “More energy!” Continue reading

Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda – 1 year on…

We are building up to the 1-year anniversary of Super-Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Haiyan), so all hands on deck, and a lot of activities going on, candlelight marches, memorial services, exhibitions, and so on.

Everyone is busy putting together summaries of our work in the last year, numbers of beneficiaries reached and support given, and advocacy messages for the coming year.

A few quick figures for you. My organisation has, in the last year, provided support to over 800,000 people, including:

  • Provided clean water, sanitation, and hygiene kits to over 500,000 people
  • Provided cash and income support to over 530,000 people
  • Distributed non-food items such as mosquito nets, tarpaulins, and mother and newborn kits to over 430,000 people
  • Supported the recovery of over 200 small businesses and micro-enterprises
  • Distributed over 8,000 sacks of rice seeds to support farmers

and many many more things as well. We’ve given out boats and cleared loads of agricultural land as well, but I don’t have the numbers handy…. Continue reading

Winding Down…

Wow, after over 11 months here, I suddenly only have 3 weeks to go!
It seems to have snuck up on me somehow, and now that it’s looming I’ve realised how much I have to do!

In addition to all of the handover of the work here, and supporting the teams through what is turning out to be a tough transition, there are a million and one other things to do in the next three weeks…

As I don’t know how long I’ll be at home for, I need to start planning to see my family and friends, as there is never enough time to see everyone, and I won’t have time to get around the UK much. If I don’t start organising things in advance, people will be busy and before you know it I might be off somewhere else!

Then there is all the¬†life admin that builds up and needs attending to, like Dr’s appointments, renewing prescriptions,¬†seeing the dentist (and getting my teeth cleaned) and the optician (getting new glasses), taking the cats to the vet for their check-ups and vaccinations, and so on.

Oh, and at some point I have to find another job too!

So much to do, and so little time. Continue reading

Empowering Women

Last week was a real rollercoaster for me. I had some serious ups and downs.

There was the usual internal bickering and politics and bureaucracy that makes me want to tear my hair out several times a week. Plus a bit of a bollocking which I feel was slightly undeserved, so that never puts one in a good mood.

Then we had an unexpected donor visit Рwe found out at 4pm on Wednesday that they were coming at 9am the next morning, so we had to scramble to come up with some activities we could take them around and see. Luckily we pulled it all together (on account of having such an awesome team) and they absolutely loved it, so we ended the day on a massive high.

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However, at 5pm on Friday, my lovely colleague P made my day – no, he made my week. Continue reading

Conquering the Ocean

In non-work related news, I recently conquered my fear of the ocean (at least partially), which I am extremely proud of!

I went on a mini-break with some colleagues to Southern Leyte for a long weekend, which was really nice. We stayed in a fantastic hotel called Sogod Bay Scuba Resort, which frankly I couldn’t speak more highly of. It was very reasonably priced, the place was lovely, the food was delicious and the staff couldn’t have been nicer. Sorry for the shameless plug, but it was such a fabulous¬†place.

Anyhoo, I was there with a group of colleagues from Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the UK. Out of 11 of us, only 4 of us could swim, yet we headed out on a boat trip to do some snorkelling, and I was blown away by how ¬†brave my colleagues are! I’m already fairly scared of the ocean, what with all the sharks and jellyfish, and I consider myself a strong swimmer. However these guys chucked on a lifejacket, a snorkel and a pair of flippers and happily piled into the ocean to check out all the fish. Continue reading