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Moving Forward …already half way through my time in Malawi!

Vicki Hodgkinson's blog - June 17th, 2009 10:50 AM

It’s Wednesday — half way through the second week….half way through my time in Malawi!  The time is flying.

Yesterday afternoon, I managed to do a bit of reading and note taking for my work at COWLHA. I didn’t have a lot of energy and still was not interested in eating very much.

Patricia came by my room when she returned from her work at YECE and we caught up on the events of the day. Her experience continues to be similar to mine….bits of forward progress with a strong emphasis on ‘going with the flow’!!

I settled into bed early (6:00 ish) – listing to the Malawi ‘playlist’ that Justin put together for my travels. A knock came on the door and it was Ben, Annie and Hershey. They are students from the University of New Brunswick who are part of a group doing volunteer work in Malawi. Annie and Ben are also staying in the County Garden Lodge; they work with school children (many of whom are orphans) in a village on the edge of Lilongwe. They have been here since the beginning of June. Hershey just arrived this week and will be joining other UNB students in Mzuzu, about a 4-8 hour bus trip north of Lilongwe. (Yes…4 to 8 hours, the range is wide because the travel is unpredictable!)

Annie, Ben and Hershey had heard that I was sick and came to check on me. When they didn’t see me at breakfast in the morning, they had asked after me. I was very appreciative of their concern and kindness in dropping by. We chatted about the events of the day and I shared the story of my ‘trip to the clinic’! They were helpful in giving advice on using the phone system in Malawi (there are a few tricks, it turns out.) This will allow Patricia and me to make better use of the phone WUSC has loaned to us.

I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I got up and showered this morning, had a bit of breakfast (“Coffey”, toast and a banana), and got myself ready for the day. Fortunately, YECE came to pick up Patricia for work and I was able to get a lift to Old Town by car….allowing me a bit of respite from the minibus! I’m definitely feeling better than Monday but still not quite myself.

I arrived in Old Town by 8:00 a.m. and, before walking to COWLHA, I went to an internet café to check my emails.

I arrived at the COWLHA office shortly after 8:30 a.m. and was greeted warmly by Victoria. Daphne arrived soon afterward. I have suggested that today, Daphne and I work together reviewing COWLHA’s 2007 advocacy plan. I want her to brief me on the status of each of the advocacy objectives (several of which I already know are dated), the role and activities of COWLHA with regard to each to-date, the “lessons learned” and whether they are still relevant given the advocacy directions set out in COWLHA’s recently completed strategic plan.

This will have to wait until later in the day, however, as Daphne has been called on short notice to a meeting with the local office of the UNFB. They want to review the budget proposal Daphne has included in a proposal submitted by COWLHA last week. Daphne departed along with Victoria (so she can run pressing errands for COWLHA while Daphne is in the meeting.)

While I was alone at the COWLHA office, Stella dropped in to leave an invitation for COWLHA members to attend a candle-light church service on Sunday to commemorate those whose lives have been lost to AIDS. She told me a bit of her story. She used to be a teacher with Daphne. She left teaching and joined a local church (Presbyterian, I believe) and was eventually hired to co-ordinate the church’s AIDS related programs. She is assisted by a committee of people from the church that includes COWLHA members. I quite enjoyed my brief time with Stella. As she left she said to me, “I have a story that I could share about my life. Perhaps we will have an opportunity another time.” I hope so.

Wisdom also popped in to pick up an envelope that Victoria had left for him. He was on his way to a community about 200 km outside of Lilongwe to do some work with an organization there. He seems to be doing consulting work (in advocacy??) while on his vacation from his post at the rubber plantation.

My appetite remained submerged. I ate the only thing that appealed to me: a juicy mandarin orange. As I sat in the COWLHA office I could hear the prayers being called from the mosque across the river, near the Old Town market.

The afternoon has proven to be productive. I finally had a great chance to sit and work through various pieces of information with Daphne. We shared stories and I generally had a good feeling that our relationship is advancing.

I am feeling better….still not myself. On my way home on I picked up some crackers and some almonds ….something to work into my system to begin to return it to normal. The mini bus ride was relatively uneventful today….just a stop for gas along the way.

I am finishing this post off around 4:40 p.m. sitting in the lobby of the Capital Hotel. I look forward to an early bedtime tonight. Before that, however, I hope to go over to Ben’s and Annie’s room to see some of their photos of the village where they are working.

I will post photos eventually…..including one of the mini-buses, as Lauren has requested.

Missing everyone….but feeling good and comfortable here despite my health adventures.   (For those so inclined….please don’t worry!!! )


Home again, home again, jiggety jig;

Sean Yo's blog - May 10th, 2009 8:48 PM

I’m home, safe and sound.  The trip from Hong Kong was great – Cathay Pacific is fantastic.  Despite the great service and food, it was an excruciating 15 hour flight since I was so excited about getting home and seeing my girls.

It’s been rough for me and amusing for everyone around me the last couple days as I try to reset my body clock to my normal time zone.  We headed off to my parent’s house today and had a lovely time celebrating Mother’s Day and my father’s Birthday

I have lots to unpack and a ton of photos to sort through.  I will be putting together some catch up posts and hopfully sharing some of my follow up work now that I’m back in Canada.

Sean In Hong Kong

Sean Yo's blog - May 8th, 2009 11:55 AM

Well, the 2nd leg of my long trip home is complete.  Yesterday I flew from Malang, East Java to Jakarta.  I have a really great visit with my Cousin Ay Fang and her family.  Today I spent the day with my Cousin Arief who took me to the airport.

Hong Kong International Airport is enormous.  A sprawling behemoth of glass and metal, built on an artificial island dredged out of the ocean, filled with designer brand stores, smoking lounges and and endless stream of people from around the world (48.6 million of them last year).  I mean, I saw a Montblanc store here…nothing but Montblac…the shopping here is dizzying.

When I was here at HKIA last, with my dad, we had Dim Sum since I am a devotee of this delightful form of Chinese cuisine and Hong Kong has a reasonable claim to being the world Capital of Dim Sum.  It was very good, in fact some of it was fantastic – and I expect the Airport doesn’t have the Dim Sum in HK.  However, the local competition in Southern Ontario stands up very well, especially the fine offerings of Cameron Seafood Restaurant in Kitchener.

This time I went for Japanese Ramen at Ajisen Ramen.  This is the real deal – just like instant Ramen noodles, but, erm…not instant <grin>.  This picture is pretty terrible, but the Big Boy Camera is packed away so I only have my backup camera with me.

Ajisen Ramen @ HK Int'l Airport

I got Combo #3: Ramen with Soup, Fried Pork Chop and Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings.  And of course the requisite World-Dominating (Diet) Coke.  The soup was rich and had a wonderful onion flavour.  The dumplings were quite delicate and very tender.  The porkchop was nice and crispy and not salty at all – I was really expecting it to be very salty.  The Diet Coke tasted like watered-down global domination.

Combo #3T

All in all, it was an excellent meal and a huge portion to boot.  It ran me exactly $80HKD or just shy of $12 CDN, which I think is very reasonable…especially considering this is at an airport.

My flight leaves at 3:05am local time so I still have 4 hours to go.  I should land around 5 or 6am at Pearson Airport in Toronto and I expect to clear customs and have my luggage about an hour later.  It will be fantastic to see the family, and amusing for them to watch me try and stay up all day to beat the jet lag, I’m sure.

See you back in Canada.  Large double-double with sweetner…here I come <grin>.

Visit to MM Univeristy

Sean Yo's blog - May 7th, 2009 12:39 AM

Yesterday I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Universitas Muhamadiyah Malang (MMU), the largest university in East Java.  I was invited by Prof. Soeparto, the head of the International Studies department, and a friend of my Uncle An.  After my teaching was finished, MMU sent a car to pick me up and take me to their beautiful campus.

I met with a visiting scholar from Sudan and his son, which was fascinating.  Our news coverage of Sudan is defined by Darfur and the conflict there.  It was enlightening to learn more about Sudan and very nice to be invited to visit his school, which is an International University.  I have to admit, if Indonesia is almost too hot for me, I might just melt away in Sudan. :)

I then had lunch with the MMU IT Staff – primarily their web development team and networking analysts.  They asked me to give a talk on web development strategies and provide an assessment of their new website.  It’s always hard to give this sort of advice, but with the added mixture of not being from Indonesia and the challenge of communicating in Second Languages, this was a difficult task.  However, the MMU staff were very gracious and I think they understood that I was humbly offering one perspective with the hopes that it could help them.

It was a lot of fun to talk shop, even if we did it in half-English and half-Indonesian.  It’s good to know that Geek is a universal language.  Once we started talking about JQuery and XHTML/CSS validation, I knew everything was going to be okay.  I used the University of Guelph website and the still-in-development Agapé Social Foundation website as examples to compare with the MMU website.

I also asked the MMU staff for some assistance with researching the best option for installing internet at the ASF.  They were very kind and immediately offered to help.  Here’s hoping this project moves forward soon.

After my meeting with the IT Staff, I was surprised with a visit with the University President (referred to as a Rector in Indonesia)!  He was very welcoming and shared stories about his time in Canada, including his time at University of Victoria in the early 90s.  I was given some wonderful gifts of a MMU tie and batik shirt.  I handed out pins from City of Guelph, Province of Ontario, Canada and U of G.  However, since the visit with the Rector was a surprise, I was all out of pins!  On the drive home I remembered that I actually did have 1 more pin…the U of G pin I was wearing <smile>.  So I asked the driver to wait (an impressive task considering I still haven’t figured out how to say “wait” in Indonesia :) and I wrote the Rector a short note and sent the letter and pin back as a gift.  Better late than never…<smile>.

All in all it was great to visit MMU and make some new connections.  There is something very special about working at a University, something about working to educate and make the world a better place that is very rewarding.  It is also something that is especially apparent when you meet with people who are pursuing the same mission…even if they are 15000 km away and speak a different language.

Many thanks to Prof. Soeparto and Om An for this incredible opportunity.  It is something I’ll never forget.  Here are some pictures of my visit:

For those of you wondering how I happened to have a shirt and tie packed and ready to wear on just such a visit, I must give credit to the fantastic training I received for Leave For Change.  I was told to alway bring a tie and always be ready to give a speech because international visitors are often invited to speak when abroad.  It was true in Nepal and it was true in Indonesia.  Thanks to Leave for Change for the great advice that is continuing to pay off. <smile>

Field Trip!

Sean Yo's blog - May 6th, 2009 9:14 PM

I’ve wrapped up the classroom teaching at Agapé.  It has been a fantastic experience.  It went very smoothly – of course there were the required technical glitches, but it wouldn’t be IT Training if everything worked the first time <grin>.

As part of setting up the new website for the ASF, I have also set up their site with Google Apps which will give them access to GMail, GCal and GDocs all with their Agapé email accounts.  It’s a great package for communication and collaboration and it’s free, which makes it just about perfect for a non-profit like the Agapé Social Foundation.

However, since there is currently no Internet at the ASF office, I can’t train them on how to use Google Apps there, where I have done the rest of the training.  So, today we’re off to an Internet Café and we’re all going to take a test drive of GMail and the rest of the GApps tools.

Hrm…maybe I should have got permission waivers from their parents.  <grin>.  Well, it’s the Internet…I mean…how much trouble can they get in?

Wrapping Up

Sean Yo's blog - May 5th, 2009 9:24 PM

Today is my second last day teaching. I’ll be showing the Agapé staff how to use WordPress as a Content Management System to run a website. After class I will be visiting a local university to meeting with their web development team and Networking Services group to provide some advice and share my experience at a Canadian University IT department.

Yesterday afternoon and later this afternoon I am meeting with past participants of the Agapé programs to put together some Success Stories and photos for the new Agapé website.

Busy, busy, busy! And I’m off to hop in the shower and get ready.


Gold Star!

Sean Yo's blog - May 4th, 2009 11:26 AM

I received a very nice compliment today.  As we were wrapping up our lesson for today and I was heading out, my students told me I they didn’t want me to leave Indonesia this week – because they need more time to learn. “You can’t go home!” <grin>.

I was already lucky and very happy because everyone here is so eager to learn and works very hard.  It was amazing to be told that they think they have so much more to learn from me that they want me to stay.  It’s always hard to know, as an instructor, how successful you are in teaching your students.  So this was a very nice way to mark the half way point of my teaching here.

Incidentally, I didn’t say “No”…I told my students they had to call my wife and tell her I wouldn’t be coming home on the weekend <grin>.


Sean Yo's blog - May 4th, 2009 11:14 AM

I was lucky enough to find a Baskin-Robins yesterday.  I’ve been jonseing for mint-chocolate, however this is a flavour combination which is less than popular here in Indonesia.  It was heaven!

I was chatting with my wife tonight, online, and I started talking about the food I missed and list got longer and longer…so clearly I needed to post about this <grin>.

I am really looking forward to Antipasta; good crusty bread, italian coldcuts – capacolla, calabrese salami, mortadella – olives, grapes, some nice cheese.  This is about a far from Indonesian food as you can get <grin>.  I know antipasta is normally served with melon…but I’m not a fan…Jen can have all the melon; she can’t get enough of the stuff.

I have to admit I am missing my Tim’s.  It’ll be great to order a good ole Large Double-Double.  Coffee here can be great…but it also is often instant.  I’ve found it’s better to stick to tea, which is always fantastic.  Especially Es Tea Tawar – plain iced tea.  Just tea, over ice – or if you’re lucky chilled tea.  Fantastic.  You have to be clear and say tawar…otherwise you’ll get Es Teh Manis, which is almost the national drink here.  It too is tea over ice, but its also powerfully sweet with a generous helping of palm sugar mixed in.

Another guilty pleasure I’m longing for is a Bic Mac and fries.  They have McDonalds here…and I haven’t tried it.  But I’ve already been told it’s different. It’s on the list to take the Pepsi challenge with the local McD’s before I return home.

I am also longing for Angels.  It’s a local diner I frequently haunt.  Good food, big portions and reasonable prices.  It’s also one of the few places in the area you can get a decent Montreal smoked meat sandwich.  To be fair, I’m not sure if its the food I miss or the company – since I almost always go with friends and family <smile>.

Anyways, we’re in the home stretch now.  Just a few days before I leave Malang and head to Jakarta to catch my flight back to Canada via Hong Kong.  This is the trip of a life time and my work has also been really great.  Still, I miss my family and as amazing as the food has been here, it will be nice to return to some old favourites as well.

Week the Second!

Sean Yo's blog - May 3rd, 2009 9:35 PM

My first week at Agapé was great. After working out some communication issues – my Indonesia isn’t good enough to teach in and my English is very fast – we had a great week.

I taught IT Training Strategies, PC Security, PC Troubleshooting, Web Fundamentals and HTML. This week we will be covering CSS and WordPress, both as a blogging tool and as a Content Management System.

I had a nice, quiet weekend. My family offered to take me on a day trip to Bromo, a nearby mountain, but I took a pass. Instead I rested, checked out some PS2 games I picked up and worked on the new website for the ASF. I think it’s coming along really well and it should be done before I leave.

I have two other projects I’m working on as well. I’d like to install AVG Free Anti-Virus, Deep Freeze and Anti-Executable on the lab machines here. They often have problems with their computers and I think this combination will do a good job of locking the lab down. The second project is I’m trying to get high-speed Internet installed here at the ASF. Currently they have no internet at all. It’s been a challenge navigating my way so far, but last night I got the number of a direct sales rep for a major ISP so I’ll call today and hopefully get the ball rolling.

Hope your all set to have a great week too!

Family Road Trip!

Sean Yo's blog - April 29th, 2009 9:25 AM

On the weekend of April 11th I arrived in Malang, where I am now.  Originally the plan had been to land in Jakarta and then travel by bus and train to Malang, while visiting Indonesia along the way: Bandung, Pekalongan, Borobodur, Surabaya and then Malang.

However, because of the election – which is a national holiday – everything was all booked up.  So, instead we flew straight to Malang right after the election.  After a lovely day of rest, we packed up and headed off to Pekalongan, the city where my father was born and raised.  It was a long 12 hour drive to Pekalongan, but it was a fantastic way to see Indonesia.  After Pekalongan we visited Borobodur, Prambanan and Jogjakarta before heading home.

The reason I wanted to travel by bus and train was to have a chance to really see the country.  Airfare is relatively inexpensive, so we could just hop over the island, but all I’d get to see that way is the inside of airport and planes <grin>.  Taking the road trip was fantastic, because not only did I get to see Indonesia up close, but we stopped at every town to try the local food.

Indonesia is very regional and every region is fiercely proud of its food – it’s fresh produce and the local specialty, often Soto…a type of soup/stew that is eaten over rice.  It is very common to see Soto named after a place, like Soto Pekalongan or Soto Madura.  Also, every town has it’s own snack – seriously – it’s amazing.  It seems like every town has a store advertising Oleh-Oleh Khas Pekalongan, or whatever the city is, which sells and endless variety of snacks which seem to only be available in that one town!  My Aunt Lan called our trip Culinary Tourism <grin>.  It was fantastic.

I had a great time taking photos on this trip.  I love my new camera a lot :) .  I’m so happy I managed to get a hold of it before this trip.  This camera makes me look great, even when I’m shooting through a windshield :) .

This is a good example of a quiet Indonesia highway here on Java.  Beautiful, lush and open.  The roads here are quite good – I mean…at least as good at Québecs <grin>.

The countryside of Java is filled with farms: rice paddies, corn, sugar cane and more.  I managed to catch a tired farm hand taking a break from the sun and the field on a hot Javanese afternoon.

Cities here are a charming mix of old and new.  You can see the history everywhere you go in Indonesia, in the buildings, streets and faces…and you can also see glass buildings, billboards for Blackberries and iPhones and shiny new Toyota Kijangs, a 5-door car built here in Indonesia.

The mix of old and new always seems starkest to me in the streets, because there are motorcycles, WWII era VW jeeps, giant passenger buses with Spiderman painted on the back, bicycles, gleaming black Mercedes, vintage Vespa scooters, rickshaws, carts and sometimes even horses…all jostling for position as they dash madly off in all directions.

Crossing the street is a very special skill here, requiring keen eyes, nerves of steel and a profound faith that you’ll make it to the other side.  Sometimes, you even need to take a bit of break in the middle <grin>.

A curious, but common, occurrence is that the front of traffic at stop lights is always motorcycles.  It took me awhile to figure out, but its because there’s always one or two motorcycles at the front, just by sheer numbers.  And then, while the light is red all the other motocycles sneak up and line up waiting for the light to turn green.

It’s amazing what people fit on a motorcycle here. Especially the number of people.  I have seen a family of five on a motorcycle – but I didn’t quite managed to get a picture of them <grin>.  This is a good example of what I mean; kids often sit in the front.  I really like that his family is all wearing helmets.

My Uncle has a really nice van that we took on our road trip.  There was lots of room and glorious, glorious air conditioning.   However, what my dad really liked was that we put the seats up in the back and turned it into a bed.

I’m not saying he used it…because I don’t have to :D