Archive for September, 2015

September 20, 2015

Arrival in Exeter

My lanyard: Proud to represent UCBC!

My lanyard: Proud to represent UCBC!

The one downside sometimes to couch surfing is that it isn’t always possible to find a host for all of the days. I had this problem for my trip to Exeter. Two weeks before I left I sent out requests and only found a host for the last three nights of my stay. By the time I tried to contact additional couch surfers it was too late. Then when I called a hostel in Exeter upon arriving in London I found out that it was full and that it was the only one! What I should have realized is that other conference attendees would be couch surfing and staying at the hostel. I called the hostel again the day I was to arrive in Exeter, and luckily there had been a last minute cancellation! The hostel was called Globe Backpackers and it was a very charming, gezellig sort of place. There was a common area with a large table and couches, free wifi, and a fully equipped kitchen. I was happy to be able to cook for myself for the first two nights and I met a lot of friendly people from around the world. What was interesting about this place is that it had a lot of permanent or semi-permanent residents of all ages that had become like a family. It totally made sense because the weekly rate was cheaper than what you would pay to rent a place. It was also cool to meet conference attendees at the hostel, especially since I didn’t know anyone attending the conference.

The conference didn’t start until the evening the following day and so I spent that time honing my presentation and getting feedback from Archip and Othy. I was nervous for the presentation especially because I feel like I faltered so much for my thesis defense back in June. At the same time though this felt different. Here people assumed I was already a master of my topic and I had nothing to prove. What was funny is that most people I talked to thought I was presenting doctoral work!

On Tuesday afternoon I walked over to the University of Exeter campus with Somo, a fellow conference attendee from India who was also staying at the hostel. We picked up our conference materials and hung around in the building until the plenary lecture started in the evening. The hub of the conference was in a building called the Forum, which is a beautiful atrium addition that has a fantastic undulating timber gridshell roof with scattered triangular skylights. It was designed by WilkinsonEyre beginning in 2008. The building looked very familiar to me and then I realized that it is cast as the court house in the second season of Broadchurch that I saw on the plane on my way to Nepal.

The Forum

The Forum

The first plenary lecture was given by Will Steffen and Jamie Lorimer. Will Steffen is performing climatic research that is trying to prove the concept of the “anthropocene”, that we are now in a new geologic era (that has replaced the holocene) where humans are now affecting the the geological make-up of the world. Some argue that this era began with the industrial revolution in the mid 17th century, but his hypothesis is that it began in the 1950’s with what he call’s the “great acceleration”. It was a very interesting talk! Jamie Lorimer approached the same topic  from an ecological standpoint and addressed some of the ideas from his book called ‘Wildlife in the Anthropocene’. He talked about the concept of “rewilding”, which is essentially the recreation of “natural” habitats and presented the different sides of what it means to live alongside nature in this era. He referred to some interesting case studies coming out of the Netherlands such as the Oostvaardersplassen, a large manmade nature reserve that is re-introducing wild-life, and Ecoducts that are wildlife corridors that bridge the highways that cut across the Veluwe.

Following the lecture there was a reception. I psyched myself up and managed to approach and talk to a few people who weren’t talking to anyone. What did I have to lose? On the way back to the hostel we passed the Exeter Cathedral that looked very beautiful by night. What a full and interesting first day in Exeter this had been!

Exeter Cathedral


September 13, 2015

Warmly Welcomed in London

One thing I love about traveling and making friends abroad is that it makes the world feel like such a small place. When befriending other travellers you also know that you are always welcome, even if you give them a shout a few years down the road. I seem to have a habit of doing this…

This time I arranged to visit a friend in London who I had met a month ago during my trip to Nepal. Ben works for Tearfund and was on a short communications assignment at the same time we were there. He then proceeded to take on other roles, one that involved being a bit of a casual host for the EMI team. When he learned that I would be coming to the UK, he generously invited me to stay for a few days with him and his wife Rachel.

A few days before I was about to fly out, they asked me what time I would be coming in so that they could pick me up at the airport. This was such a treat since I have never been picked up at the airport by anyone during my travels. They came and picked me up on Saturday morning and I enjoyed a relaxing two days with them. It was a rainy weekend so we mostly hung around the house. On Saturday they had friends over for lunch who also had an adorable baby girl. Then later we went for a nice walk along the Thames. The next day I joined them for church. They are a young church that have moved back into a beautiful old church building and it made me think of Grace Toronto. After church I joined a group of young people to lunch and then we came back to Ben and Rachel’s flat and played a great game of settlers. I love that a good board game is universal! On Monday morning I left early to get to Waterloo station to catch my train to Exeter! It was a relaxing start to my trip!

An intense Settlers game

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September 12, 2015

Ann Arbor Reunion

The final week of August I went to Ann Arbour to reunite for two days with my international “family” that I lived with for a three months in DR Congo and Uganda last fall. We got to know one another very well during that time because the insecurity led us to pray daily together, address deep questions, and make difficult corporate decisions. I was so excited to have this opportunity to see them all again, and all in the same place to boot! I came home to see my folks and pick up the van on the 23rd and then the following morning I drove to Windsor to spend the night with Mike and Katelynn (this is not before having to drive all the way back to Toronto because I forgot to bring my passport with me!). It was nice to be able to stop in on the way since Windsor is rarely on the way to anything. It was also nice to see Melody who has already grown so much and is adorable as ever! That evening I shared in a delicious BBQ that Mike and Katelynn hosted for the colleagues in Mike’s research group. The next morning Katelynn and I took Melody and went for a walk along the river where the Detroit skyline can be seen on the other side. Then I continued on my way to Ann Arbor.

Katelynn and Melody

Every time I travel to the US there seems to be a good story. This time was funny because I got a full vehicle search including my bags. I guess a girl driving alone in a minivan might not be normal behaviour? The questioning went like this: “Where are you from?” “Toronto.” “Where are you going and why?” “To Ann Arbour to visit some friends.” “Where did you meet these friends?” “I met them during some time I spent in Africa.” Then I had to go on to explain what I was doing in Congo and that lead to the question of what I had been doing more recently in Nepal…. etc. etc. I should have just told them that I was going to check out the University of Michigan or something!

I made it to Ann Arbour and we had a fabulous two days together. Even though Jon and Kate and their kids had only been moved in for one week in their new apartment, they once again opened up their home for us. Here are a few memorable moments from the visit:

  • Getting delicious soup at this amazing little indoor food stand called ‘Le Dog’
  • Walking around with the whole gang and getting the tour of the town and the campus
  • Getting treated to a breakfast of pastries from the ‘Pastry Peddler’
  • Enjoying Jon’s coffee in the morning just like old times
  • Playing a hybrid football game outside with the boys
  • Discovering that there is such a thing as fairy doors that are somehow a fad in Ann Arbor. They are these tiny little doors that storefronts sometimes install and hide little trinkets for children to go and find.
  • Walking the campus with Lauren and Jessica and visiting the architecture and music schools and catching up on life.
  • Eating at a cuban inspired restaurant called Frita Batidos. I had a fish frita with tropical slaw and french fries on top, and a coconut cream batido (milkshake). Yum!

City bus

The legal research library at UofM. I wish UW had such inspiring spaces!

The legal research library at UofM. I wish UW had such inspiring spaces!

El, the lawyer to be (he pulled one of the books off the shelf and started gingerly flipping through it)

El, the lawyer to be (he pulled one of the books off the shelf and started gingerly flipping through it)

In general it was just really great to catch up and see where everyone was at. It was also really cool to hear how the different projects are going with the UCBC community in Beni. In the eight months since I was there, the solar panels finally arrived (they were a long time coming), a business idea for a coffee company called Café Kivu became reality, and the Sharing the Land project (mapping land conflict) has taken leaps and bounds and is opening up to more partnerships and funding to increase the scope. It made me wish I was there to be involved in all of these exciting initiatives! On the morning of the 27th we said our farewells and I made the long drive home. One journey would move right into the next because the following day I caught a plane to London to attend my first ever conference! That will be for my next post!

Fairy door?!? I want one!

Fairy door?!? I want one!