Be here, be present: thoughts from Nairobi

Kewa hapo, kewa sasa, popote ulipo, kewa hapo

Be here, be present. wherever you are, be there.

Those are the words etched in the travel journals given to us by our trip leaders, Meg and Josh. And those are the words that opened up OG's first ever Gender and Human Rights program.

I've been with OG now for almost a year and as one of the very few staff who has never actually been on any of our programs, I'm filled with a sense of great anticipation, nervousness, and excitement. My journey with OG has been a constant unfolding throughout the year and I find myself with a number of questions: Will I be impacted in the same way our participants have been? What new things will I learn about development, travel and tourism, and ultimately, myself? How will this change my perspective of an organization I've come to love and admire so much? It's an odd position to be in: to know the inner workings of OG so well and to know what to expect from these programs and yet, to know nothing at all. You can't ever really predict what happens on the road anyway.

Three days in and I find myself viewing this experience from the point of view of a participant, a trip leader (from the bits of training I picked up during our trip leader retreat), and of course, as my usual OG role of Communications Coordinator. My mind is always on the go and it's going to be quite the ride to have all these perspectives floating around somewhere in the back on my head.

But as the lovely and always wise Jo Sorrentino emailed me this morning, "there are a million perspectives, but Justine is #1. Don't get caught in analysis paralysis".

After all...kewa hapo, kewa sasa, right? Be here, be present!

The temporary, the fleeting, and the momentary

Le sigh. I'm back from my two week getaway and already that all too familiar melancholy is setting in. It was a lovely escape from the hustle and bustle that was the past few months...but alas, all good things must come to an end. C'est la vie, n'est pas?

And though we often express disdain for this rather well known fact, isn't that what makes those times so special? The allure of the temporary, the fleeting, and the momentary...the knowing that it will end, when it will end, and setting your expectations accordingly. There is no dancing on the roofs of hope or thinking about the long term...just enjoying the ride for what it is and relishing in the series of extraordinary (and not so extraordinary) moments we encounter along the way.

We say we wish we could be on vacation everyday...that it could all last "forever" but isn't that the very thing that makes life so mundane? If every getaway, every stolen moment lasted forever (the way we often say we wish they would), wouldn't it lose its very appeal? Isn't that exactly when it becomes the permanent, the expected, the routine...and the everyday? Doesn't it then become the very thing that we so desperately and so often want to escape from?

So though I'm sad to have left Europe, I happily return to my home here in Toronto, not with despair that I won't get those moments back (as I felt last year), but with appreciation and gratitude that I was lucky enough to have experienced it all in the first place...

The Journey vs. The Destination

St. Peter's Cemetery

 Today I took a trip to Salzburg, ready to be charmed by this Austrian city. Unfortunately, my expectations weren't met and I was left rather disappointed. I mean, it wasn't horrible, but I wasn't blown away by the place either. I spent a nice afternoon taking in the main tourist spots in the city. I got to see where Mozart lived and indulged in a super delish ice cream sundae at Cafe Tomaselli, a cafe he frequented during his time. I also walked St. Peter's cemetery, which was seen in one of the last scenes of the Sound of Music. Oh and of course I was amazed by the fact that this was an entire city way up on a mountaintop. Pretty cool stuff, but other than that , it was, for lack of a better word, shmeh.

What I did enjoy, however, was the ride en route to Salzburg. Our tour guide brought us to all the different little villages in the Dachstein Salzkammergut area. And let me tell you...the view was absolutely phenomenal! We stopped at the small towns of Traunkirchen and St. Gilgen and I was simply in awe of the grandness of the Alps and the 20 some lakes that could be found in the region. Now I've mentioned this before...I am not, by any means, a nature or outdoor person but damn...when you're right in the midst of all of it, you just can't help but be captivated. There's a certain calm...a certain serenity that just grabs hold of you. I could've spent all day at Traunkirchen, just sitting by the lakeside doing absolutely nothing. So grateful to have experienced and witnessed that even if each of the stops lasted only a short 15 minutes.

At Traunkirchen

So though I didn't quite fall in love with Salzburg, the journey there made the trip more than worth it. As the Austrian empress Sisi once wrote, "A destination is only desirable because a journey lies in between"...and today could not have been a better lived example. After all, isn't it more often than not that the journey proves even greater, even more fulfilling than the destination itself? Isn't it in the journey where the magic lies?

Ahoj kamarád!


bar belowmacocha abyssgroup shot


Dobry den! Greetings from Brno, Czech Republic!

Finally got the Internet connection in my room working yesterday and as you can see, I've finally found the time to give an update on the trip. It's been pretty kickass so far. Nothing but cheap beer, good people, and gorgeous weather out here! Except we had our first class today and I realized that I, unfortunately, actually have to study out's gonna be a serious struggle focusing! But's what I've been up to the past few days...

Left on a jet plane on Saturday and headed over to London. Met the people in the program at the airport and got to know each other on our 6-7 hour flight. Then from London to Vienna where ladeedah, I met mother dear at the airport's baggage claim area. You know how we do, just randomly meet up in Vienna whenever. ;) Anyway, from Vienna, took a bus down to Brno!

Got to Brno, checked into our residence, met up with my roomie, Martyna, who you see above! We have the most gorgeous view from our balcony! I love it! The air is better here and I swear the birds sing better too.  It's absolutely gorgeous.  We had our welcome dinner that night too and quickly got our education on how to order beer, an absolute must when you're here in Brno--pivo, proseem (beer, please) !

On Monday, we had a tour Masaryk University and downtown Brno. Had dinner outside in the perfect weather, sipped on some lattes, and had (my staple so far) ice cream (zmrzlina!). In the evening, we went to some super sketch laundromat in Gypsy town. I know what you're thinking...why the hell did we go to a laundromat on our second night in Brno? Okay so let me explain...down here in Brno, they apparently like to combine their facilities/services. Soooo not only was the place (Clubwash) a laundromat, it was also a bar/movie place/pool/poker place. Yeah, again, sketch!

Tuesday -- went to Macocha Abyss, which is a cave down here. Took like a 4 km hike, which no one was prepared for considering we hardly slept the night before! Ummm can't say much about that cuz I'm not exactly a nature person. Can't be swooning over some stalagmites and stalactites. It was excruciating exhausting walking up those hills! Martyna and I had practically 3 hrs of sleep the night we were ready to collapse. After the caves, visited the Cerna Hora brewery...saw how they made the beer and taste-tested a bunch of the different kinds. I'm telling you, it's all about the pivo down here! Hung out at the bar next to our if you're looking for anyone, basically go to the bar next door and they're probably there. Mmm I think that'll be the spot for the next 5 weeks, no?

Wednesday-- first day of class today, everyone was practically falling asleep. Um not much to report about there. Went to Tesco, which is like the Wal-Mart equivalent, apparently. Also went grocery shopping...seriously hating the fact that I can't cook for the life of me. Life would be so much easier! Hmmm, never thought I'd be saying those words. Weather was gorge again today...its all sun and blue skies over here!

Anywho, I'm off to meet up with some friends in a bit. Toodloo!