Category Archives: travel

To Europe and Back Again

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Last night, I wandered Vieux-Nice and drank wine beside the Mediterranean Sea before going to bed. Tonight, I am watching the light fade in the sky whilst comfortably sitting on my couch inside the yurt.

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I am growing to realize that I live a life of stark contrasts. From our life in the middle of a field where one must carry in the day’s worth of water, to a Mediterranean vacation where one sips espressos in the market square each morning.

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We spent the past two weeks in Europe, revisiting our old apartment in Vieux-Nice and witnessing the nuptials of two dear friends. While enjoying the sights, smells, and tastes of Europe I couldn’t help but reflect on how different my “other” life was in comparison.

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enjoying the museum gardens

My life in the yurt consists of birds singing, minimal water, and listening to the radio. My life in France consisted of tourists, espressos, and live accordion music wafting in from the street below. The yurt boasts an outdoor toilet and a bucket to in which to wash laundry; the apartment boasted a hot shower and a washing machine. The yurt is in the middle of a field; the apartment is in the middle of an old city.

hanging laundry from the balcony

hanging laundry from the balcony

By day, in France, we visited museums, relaxed on the beach, and napped after lunch. When in the yurt, we wash and hang diapers, work in the garden, and nap after lunch. Some things apparently don’t change regardless of where we are in the world.

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The apartment often smelled of fresh bread; the yurt often smells of wool. When I was hungry in France I ran to the market, a mere two-minute walk; when in the yurt, I run to the garden, a mere a two-minute walk. I wore high heels and dresses in France; I wear overalls and rubber boots at home. In Vieux-Nice, morning was heralded by the sound of street-washers, church bells, and espresso drinkers; at home, morning is welcomed by crowing roosters, and singing birds.

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As one would imagine, I love my double life. I enjoyed being at the centre of Nice and able to profit from everything a city has to offer. However, I equally enjoy listening to birds sing whilst nestled in my armchair sipping tea.

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a day at the beach

I relished the constant fellowship that a never-sleeping city offers.

Nonetheless, I also revel in the silence and simplicity the countryside expresses as I fall asleep in my big tent.

Each lifestyle compels me to appreciate its counterpart.

Don’t Settle Down Just Yet

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For those recent high school or university graduates who are feeling the impending pressure to “get a real job” and subsequently venture into their adult lives… there is an alternative to becoming a  grown-up: work abroad. Many twenty-somethings are successfully distancing themselves from adulthood through travel. Working abroad not only provides an answer to the doomed “What do you want to do with your life?” question, but it also gives the opportunity to travel, gain life experience, make a bit of money and add something to a CV. For unknowable reasons, working a minimum wage job in Europe seems to warrant more credit amongst parents and friends than working the exact same job at home.

Nowadays, less young adults have the desire to walk into a full time career immediately following graduation. Most want some time to play, but rarely have the funds to do so. This is why working while traveling is such a great alternative. Most cities are very welcoming to young people who want to see the world and make a bit of money while doing so. With a little research, it is easy to find a job overseas that will pay for food and lodging alongside a paycheck.

There are many options to help minimize lodging costs, such as working as an au pair (living with a family and caring for their young children), or working on an organic farm. In both situations food and rent are provided. As an au pair, one gets paid a salary and oftentimes benefits from luxurious family vacations to warm, sunny destinations. Several au pairs have had the benefit of living in their own private quarter of the house, while others have lived in old French castles. Many times, au pairs are given complete use of a car for carting the kids around, as well as for personal use. Organic farms aren’t quite as glamorous as castles but they provide a unique experience that also does the planet some good. Working on an organic farm is less of a job and more of a way life; in exchange for helping care for the farm, one is provided with fresh organic food, a place to sleep, and hands-on education about sustainable farming.

If au pairing and organic farms don’t peak an interest, there are many more options such as teaching English as a second language or becoming a crew member on a sailboat. Whether fresh from high school with little work experience, or an experienced teacher with a degree, one can find an ESL teaching job in countries all over the world. In many places in Asia, apartments and plane tickets are provided for English teachers who sign a one-year contract. Places such as France do not provide apartments or airfare, but they do provide the chance to live in a beautiful city and eat as much cheese as one can manage. If the high seas spark your interest more than teaching, then consider joining a crew and sailing around the world. There are crew positions available for all experience levels (even for those who have never set foot on a sailboat before).

Any job that provides the opportunity to travel, gain work experience, and enjoy life somewhere new is a good way to be productive without entering a full-time job. There are hundreds of websites to help connect employers to potential employees, as well as websites to simply spark an interest in a certain field. The important thing is to start seeking.

Useful websites to get you started:

My time in Haiti…

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Everyone has become acutely aware of Haiti since the earthquake in January. My husband and I were no exception, so when the opportunity arose for us to go to Port-au-Prince with a disaster relief team, we took it. We found out that the trip was a reality on a Thursday night, one week later we were vaccinated, and one week after that we were on a plane to the Dominican Republic.

We flew into Santo Domingo and took a bus into Haiti. Popey, the Dominican man who drove our bus, is the most talented driver I’ve ever seen. The state of the roads, traffic, pedestrians, and goats that would have caused even the most mature drivers to crash, didn’t even faze this man. He delivered us safe and sound to a church in Carrefour (just a few minutes outside of Port-au-Prince) where we were greeted by a group of men from the church as well as neighbourhood children. We set up our tents on the roof of the church and became acquainted with the area.

We spent our days with Haitians whose homes had become too dangerous to sleep in. While cleaning up debris, smashing damaged cement, and building new walls out of old bricks, we were given a glimpse into the lives of our new friends. We were often met with mocking faces and negative attitudes from the surrounding neighbours, however after an hour or so their smirks would turn to smiles and they would eventually pick up a pair of gloves and join in. As we worked together, each side began to trust the other more, and friendships started to form.

A Haitian man told us that if we could travel all the way from Canada to help his country, than he could help as well. He spent the next 3 days with us working on homes. On our last day, we went to his home. His whole house was demolished by the earthquake. What was once a yard, was now filled with broken cement, rocks and debris. We broke down the remaining cracked walls, removed debris, and leveled the ground so he could put up a tent. Most of the people we met were sleeping under a tarp next to their broken down homes until they could put up something more permanent. Despite having next to no materials, these makeshift shelters were welcoming and felt like home.

Thursday was our most difficult day. It was spent breaking down a man’s home and cleaning up the debris, as usual, except this was the first time we knew that there were people under the debris. An 11 year-old boy was running by the house when the earthquake happened and was killed as it fell. The owner of the house also lost his one-month old baby in the quake. The man was so grateful for our help that he was almost brought to tears. It really affected us to hear his story because it made the deaths a reality. The earthquake stopped being a news story and became personal.

We spent our evenings relaxing with members of the church we were staying at and playing with kids who lived nearby. The kids haven’t had school since the earthquake, so they were usually waiting for us to get home to play games, sing songs or kick a soccer ball around. Most of these kids lost a parent or sibling in the earthquake and are trying to adjust to their new life. Life is not easy for these kids, but they are extremely resilient.

When walking around the neighbourhood, the children ensured we were safe and protected us from cars and mopeds that zoomed by. It was the first time in my life that I trusted a 6 year-old more than I trusted myself. This proved to be a wise attitude to take on, as the next day I was saved yet again by a little kid. While digging through the rubble I uncovered a scorpion, and as I looked at it in fear, the little boy beside me whipped a rock at it and killed it instantly. The kid looked up and smiled at me as I laughed at the irony of being so well taken care of by kids.

We travelled to and fro in a Land Rover Defender. Sometimes we sat on top, sometimes we all squished inside. We drove around for an afternoon with 15 people in a vehicle that fits 9. I would never do that in Canada, but for some reason, it was fine in Haiti. I also would not usually sit atop a truck while driving up steep, narrow streets surrounded by merchants on either side.

Life felt strangely normal while we were there, and it is only now that I’m realizing how abnormal it was. I’m sure this will continue to happen all week, so I will continue to write about my time in Haiti as the stories come up.