Posts tagged ‘couch-surfing’

November 2, 2016

Uganda Congo Trip 3.0

From mid September until mid October I took a three week trip to Uganda and Congo. The main purpose of my journey was to visit my boyfriend Othy but I also decided to pair it with consulting on the mapping projects that I helped to launch two years ago with the IRI at UCBC. It also felt like a big deal because I took one month leave from my job to do it! But after communicating over long distance with Othy for so long, the time had come to go there! I was thankful that the process of obtaining a visa for Congo went smoothly. I went on the trip with the knowledge that I might not even get to go there despite getting the visa because of insecurity in the region in recent months. Our back up plan was that if I could not travel to Congo, we would spend the entire time in Uganda.

Upon arriving in Entebbe very late on Sunday night I had my first funny moment when my friend Steve from EMI who had offered to host me forgot to pick me up at the airport! Luckily Othy had just arrived in Kampala and I called him with the phone of a taxi driver! I took a taxi into Kampala, met Othy, and we found a hotel for me for that first night. The first few days in Uganda were spent hanging around the apartment of the friend where Othy was staying, or else going on errands or visiting people in and around the city. It felt good to be reunited with Othy and to spend time together! On Wednesday I took Othy to visit and have lunch at the new EMI office in Kajjansi. It was so great to reconnect with the few people I still know there (Phil in particular!) and also see their wonderful new facilities. I saw Steve and he insisted to pay the cost of my first night at the hotel because he felt so bad about forgetting to pick me up! Phil gave us a tour of the office and Othy and I were both impressed by the construction and feel of the space. I left the office a big bag of M&Ms because I know from my time living in Kampala that chocolate is scarce!




EMI office

After that first night at the hotel I was couch-surfing with a Ugandan family in Ggaba for five nights. I had decided to couch-surf already before leaving on the trip and was pleasantly surprised to find a large number of hosts in Uganda. I chose to stay with a Ugandan guy named Paul who is married and has two little girls. He was fun to surf with because he is down to earth, is an entrepreneur who is full of ideas, and has hosted people from around the world for many years already. I enjoyed talking with him and his wife and interacting with their kids. On my final day in Ggaba I walked the short fifteen minutes down to Lake Victoria to see the market and the view of the lake and also to buy fresh fish fillets. I picked out a tilapia fish and then they filleted it in front of me! We ate the fish with rice that night.


Couch-surfing hosts


Lake Victoria

Similar to my last trip to Congo, there was some good timing because of overlap with the travel plans of some friends and colleagues. It so happened that my friend Jessica was in Kampala to run some errands and so on Thursday Othy and I met up with her at Acacia mall for lunch. She informed us that Mary was also arriving in Entebbe and that they were planning to travel to Congo together on the Sunday and that we could join them. Othy decided that he needed to go to Beni early to help out a friend, and so we agreed that I would join Mary and Jessica.  My final night of my first week in Uganda I spent at the EMI intern house in Kajjansi. I hired a driver to bring me down from Kampala because I still had a lot of bags. I had brought very few personal belongings on the trip, but was on a mission to deliver two bags full of gifts to the families of two friends I know from Toronto! At the intern house I got to reconnect with Maggie who is the office grandma and who I knew from my time as an intern. I also gave Brittany, my former EMI mentor, a call, and we went out for dinner with the two current interns. We went to the restaurant at a place called Malakai Eco Lodge. It was typical Ugandan in that it was located in what felt like the middle of nowhere down a bumpy dirt road, but then upon entering you discover a mini paradise. Brittany described it to me as coming straight out of “Alice in Wonderland” and she was totally right! The place had an other worldly, mad hatter feel with gigantic orange chairs, ornate rugs, hedges, island pavilions, and yes…. a giant glowing mushroom.


The next morning I was up at 5am to pull my things together for the next leg of the journey: It was time to head back to Beni! That about sums up the first week of my trip that was spent in Uganda!

July 11, 2016

The Hearn


On a weekend in June I hosted a couch surfer from the UK named David. Hosting surfers always gives me a reason to go and discover the city. On the Sunday afternoon I took David to see some of the LuminaTO festival. This year the hub of the festival temporarily occupied “The Hearn“, a decommissioned generating station in Toronto’s Port Lands. We took the TTC as far as the distillery district and had beers and fish tacos at the Mill Street Brewery. We couldn’t find the shuttle bus that was supposed to come by there and so we ended up walking the rest of the way through what felt like no-mans land. Poor David had worn the wrong shoes and as we trudged along I secretly hoped that it would be worth our while.

It was! The space was amazing. The building was occupied by various temporary programs that complemented the various types of spaces that the building offers. Art installations occupied an area on the main floor that is enclosed by large concrete piers like a long, thick colonnade (that once supported large turbines); a series of prints occupied a long, airy mezzanine that extended the length of the enormous space (the building is a few football fields long and the prints were made directly on the brick walls). Off the mezzanine a restaurant occupied the small operations room that is full of knobs and switches. At the far end of the building an enormous disco ball hung and rotated from an existing overhead crane. The ball reflected dancing light across the space and could be discovered from up on the mezzanine and down below. A large full height space was home to a performance area and there was another space wrapped in black fabric that served as a theatre (unfortunately we did not get to see inside). Lastly there were smaller pavilions, some of which were made from shipping containers: A bar, a cafe, and a set of “situation rooms” that had a kind of virtual reality story-telling.

In general the building had an amazing depth and texture to it created by the layered structures, circuits and ducts that still hang in parts of the space. The only windows are on the two far sides that offer a hazy kind of light that only really touches the first layer of dense objects. We walked around, sat and enjoyed a beer, walked around some more when the building was more deserted, and then grabbed free coffee on our way out. This time we waited for the departure of the shuttle bus that was a classic yellow school bus (David was particular excited about this). It was cool because from our seat on the back of the school bus we saw the sun set over the city skyline. What a fun experience (or should I say very unique? ;)  )! Thanks goes to David for the last two photographs!




June 16, 2016

Small World Moments

This year I have been having a lot of small world moments! They are a lot of fun and make me think that things don’t always happen by accident.

This moment is from before this year but it is such a great story! In 2012 during my time in Uganda I was walking with my friends/coworkers through the fabric district in Kampala when we came across a sign for a shop that had an old photograph of my friend photoshopped on it (this kind of copyright infringement is pretty normal in Uganda). What were the chances that we would come across it?! It all started with one of my friends commenting “There are a lot of mzungus (white people) on that sign…”.

Last year my friend and old classmate Andrea, who now lives in Switzerland, sent me a photo of herself with a girl who looked very familiar. I quickly realized that she was a girl whose couch I had surfed in Boston several years earlier. When I was looking for a place I searched the keyword “architecture” and had found her and her roommate who were Swiss students from EPFL (the same school in Lausanne I went on exchange to in 2010) who were working for a year in Boston. Almost a year later she then came and visited me in Toronto when she was getting her Visa renewed. A couple years later Andrea met her at a house party of a friend in Lausanne and through conversation they discovered that they both knew me. Andrea had thought perhaps I had met her back when I was on exchange, but was surprised to learn we had met in Boston of all places!

When I was looking to couch surf when I attended a huge geography conference in Exeter last fall, I had a few people turn me down before I finally found a host. The reason for this was because other conference attendees had chosen to do couch surfing as well. At the conference I presented work related to my thesis at a small session with an audience of about ten people. I struck up a conversation with one guy afterwards who had some comments about my work. The next morning the same guy came up to me and said that he was surfing on the couch of the one guy who had turned me down! He figured out as much from my uniquely spelled first name. We ended up all going out for drinks later!

In October I moved into a new apartment in the West end. I was moving a few last things in on a Sunday morning and noticed a woman standing with her dog on the front lawn next door. I decided to go and introduce myself. The conversation went as follows: – “What brings you to the area?” – “I got a new job and wanted to move close by” – “What is it you do?” – “I work as an intern architect.” – “My daughter works at an architecture office called Philip Beesley Architect.” – “I work at Philip Beesley Architect!”. Philip Beesley Architect has about twelve employees and yet I had managed to move next door to my coworker!

Just a few weeks ago I attended and helped out at a Friday night social evening at my church. The event was pretty big and a lot of people came who had never been to our church before. I met one such guy and we struck up a conversation. After a bit he says; “You look a lot like someone I know, a girl named Al van Overbeeke”. My response: “No way! She’s my sister!” It turns out he knew her from five some years ago when they both attended UOIT and were on the same worship team at their campus church. I’ve never had a complete stranger associate me with one of my sisters! Crazy!

And now for the most recent moment. I sometimes meet up with a couch-surfer here and there for drinks without always hosting them. This was the case this week with a guy from Scotland. I had given him my number and we were communicating on Watsapp. He reported that he had arrived and was at the airport trying to decide what to do with his time. I responded that he could head into town, but where he should go would depend on where in Toronto his host lives. He responded by giving me the name of the street where his host lives. It was the street that I live on, and it is a very small street! Meeting up later that evening was extremely convenient!

March 27, 2016

Family Day Weekend

Family day weekend was full of activity. On the Friday I met up with Kurian, a couch surfer from India who would be staying with us for a few days. On the Saturday I ran errands and then worked on my wood divider screen, a project I have been putting off for years that I am finally planning to finish! That evening I went to Indie Ale House with Siubhan and Kurian, and later Susan came and joined us. It was below negative thirty on the Friday and Saturday! Sunday was valentines day and Susan had the great idea to plan a love themed worship night. The event was at Glo’s place and the place was packed tight with people from Grace! Monday morning was family day and Jana, who I met through Adam House, invited us to brunch at her place. Then in the afternoon Susan and I finally got around to painting our living room wall! It was something that we had been talking about for a long time and we were very happy with the result! That evening I met up with Vikkie at Finch station and we went for Korean food. The restaurant was super busy but the food was worth it and it was very nice to catch up! Afterwards we went for bubble tea and Vikkie pulled out these amazing rose apple tarts for me to try. She knows that I never mind being a taste-tester for her baking experiments!IMG_20160215_142631IMG_20160215_221026

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Couch surfer selfie


February 7, 2016

Christmas in my New Home


The weeks before Christmas were very busy but wonderful. Everyday on my walk from work I would pass this intensely decorated house, complete with a blow-up Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer! The week before Christmas Susan and I hosted our first couch surfer, a girl named Ashley from Taiwan. I think the favourite part of her stay was that she got to sleep in the same room as our beautiful Christmas tree! This year was the first time that I had my own Christmas tree! I had it easy because Susan already had a tree base and a whole collection of decorations. I think the most interesting decorations she had were these miniature people dressed in costume called Mummers. Apparently “Mummering” is a Newfoundland tradition of making door to door visits in disguise! Susan also had these fantastic outdoor colourful LED lights and i decided to surprise her by wrapping them around the stair banister from the entry all the way up to our bedrooms.

IMG_20151206_211803IMG_20151211_004422On December 16th I went and saw Handel’s Messiah with a large group from Grace Toronto at the Roy Thomson Hall. Then the following evening I had my office Christmas party that was hosted by Philip and Anne. Although I was coming and going a lot, I still found a bit of time to hang out with Ashley and talk about things she should see and do in the city. On the final night of her stay I invited her to come with me to Adam House to make gingerbread houses with the residents. In only a few days she had experienced several new Christmas traditions!



October 23, 2015

Exeter Pub Crawl

The rest of the conference flew by. Thursday was particularly memorable because I went on a spontaneous pub crawl with some couch surfers and conference attendees.  How it happened was that a guy named Chris who I had asked to host me couldn’t because he was hosting other people. He invited me to a meetup at a local bar called the Old Firehouse on the Thursday night. Then I proceeded to invite another CS host, Henry, who had turned me down and the guy he was hosting named Adrien from France. What was even more ironic was that Adrien had attended my panel the day before and I remembered him because he had asked a question at the end of my presentation. The following day he approached me between sessions and asked if I was the one his host had turned down! I guess it helps to have a first name with such unique spelling! Because I had met Adrien beforehand, it was easy to find him and Henry at the Old Firehouse pub that evening. I wasn’t sure if we would find Chris and his surfers because all I was going off of was a profile picture. But while I was sipping a delicious local cider (yum!) and talking to some people, I saw a guy behind them looking my way now and again. Low and behold it was Chris and the two girls he was hosting who were conference attendees from Spain. He had also invited another guy named Sanders from the Netherlands who he also had to turn down and who I had incidentally met a few days earlier at the hostel. Alice was unable to join because she is a nurse and had to work late. We were all famished and one of the girls was really feeling like curry and so we all headed off to a little Indian restaurant. It was nice because the restaurant was almost empty and so we could take a large table and sit and have all sorts of conversation. After a delicious meal we went to another pub called Duke of York because apparently there was some live music. This pub for some reason closed early and so off we went again to a pub called Sorry Head. We had a blast! I’m so glad that I couch surfed on this trip even though ironically it was the folks who turned me down that I ended up having such a good time with! I enjoyed the conference and my stay in Exeter. On Saturday morning I made the half hour walk with my big backpack to the Quay where I met Sanders for coffee and then walked around a quaint little market. Then I made the half hour walk to the train station and was off back to London, this time to play tourist for a day!

Couch surfers

October 22, 2015

RGS Annual International Conference 2015

This post is coming a bit late, but it continues to describe my time in the UK for the conference this past September!

The conference began full swing the following day. I was slightly distracted thinking about my own presentation that I would be giving later that afternoon. One interesting session that I went to was called “World Game”. I knew it would interest me because I was inspired in my thesis research by the work of architect and theorist Buckminster Fuller who came up with the concept of the World Game. Fuller proposed the idea of a game that could simulate events in real time and therefore drive political decision-making and bring about global action. The World Game session at the conference was lead by Anthony Hodgson who is the founder of Decision Integrity, a company that facilitates complex decision-making by applying strategies of holistic thinking, system mapping, and participatory group activities. His game is inspired by tribal “wisdom councils” where elders responsible for specific aspects of a community meet with the chief and he listens to them one by one. The attendees for the session were divided into twelve different world issues such as governance, health, and habitat (I represented trade), and we were provided with assigned “indicators” giving key information for each. We were then placed into groups of four and played out several scenarios for which we had to identify the problems for each issue and come up with creative solutions that benefited all four issues. It was an interesting way to incite creative problem solving and discussion. Here is a similar version of the game that was applied to the city of Glascow. Because there were many people at this session who were interested in system mapping, I discovered that there is a program called Powersim that maps/diagrams complex, non-linear decision paths so that companies can understand the ramifications/big picture before proceeding with a project. The program reminds me of Grasshopper (algorithmic modeling for Rhinosceros) except that is is for general decision paths and equations instead of equations that manipulate digital 3D geometries. It’s the same general idea that you can simulate the path before actually going ahead and “baking” the best recipe. Mapping will definitely begin to use more complex simulation models as we use it to monitor resources and make future proposals/predictions for our growing cities.

World Game


I had my presentation later that afternoon and it went very well! The panel was called GIS and the Anthropocene, Educational Perspectives. Our presentation was called “BeniAtlas: A platform for learning about the city” and it outlined the methodologies that IRI is using in the development of their mapping program, and introduced the Sharing the Land project that has developed from the initial research. Othy and Archip were able to listen in over Skype. After the presentation there was a reception and I talked for a while with the other people from our panel and received really great feedback. I had to leave early though to meet Alice who would be my couch surfing host for the next three nights. She and her boyfriend and another friend picked me up from the Imperial Pub near the university. At her apartment we had home-made ramen and watched Tales from Earthsea, a Studio Ghibli film. I slept on the couch in Alice’s living room and had the company of her three cats!

September 16, 2012


I left on my road trip early Sunday morning in my parents minivan (stylin’ I know) bound for Boston.  The journey was around seven and a half hours – definitely the longest I’ve ever driven on my own.  I felt so strange crossing the border on my own in the van, with nothing but my few belongings in the back.  Some highlights along the way were stopping for Tim Hortons (I had mixed feelings of bliss and resentment), and passing a place called Canadaigua.  I also passed over some crazy awesome old steel bridges.  The toll roads took some getting used to, and I’m glad we don’t have those in Canada.  For some reason my GPS had reset itself or something and sent me to downtown Boston instead of Cambridge.  It was pretty crazy to drive through the downtown of that city, and there were a lot of underground stretches of highway.  Once in Cambridge it still took quite a while to get myself to a parking garage because of road closures.  Students, trees, brick buildings, and narrow one-way streets were EVERYWHERE.  I was disappointed to find that my phone didn’t want to work in the States (a slight oversight), and so I decided to walk to the place I was supposed to meet my CS host and try to call him on a pay phone.  Luckily after a few tries I was finally able to connect with him.  My CS host turned out to be a really nice guy.  I soon met his two other housemates and a visiting cousin who was staying over the same days as me.  That night we met up with a few other people and hit a couple of bars for food and drinks.

The next day we got up pretty early, and I headed out on a day trip while the others went to work.  I visited MIT and Harvard, and both schools were great.  Harvard was my favourite because they actually gave a formal tour and were much more friendly and welcoming, are a much bigger school, and have amazing facilities.  MIT had more the small town feel and instead of having an individual building, were mixed together in a large building with many other departments.  They were still good about answering my questions though and showing me around the maze of architecture rooms and studios.  Both the university campuses were gorgeous.

After all of those tours it was already mid-afternoon, but it wasn’t too late to do a quick jaunt around Boston.  I quickly mastered the subway and managed to see many of the sites and buildings that I wanted to see before I met up with the others again that evening.  I saw the Boston City Hall, a market area, the harbour front, the Institute of Contemporary Art (Diller Scofidio + Renfro), Trinity Church, the John Hancock tower (I. M. Pei & Partners), the Boston Public Library (Philip Johnson), and the Christian Science Plaza (I. M. Pei).  It was an awesome day.

That night our CS gang decided to go grocery shopping and then eat in.  We all chipped in and made delicious lasagna and enjoyed it over good wine, great conversation, and classic rock/pop music that eventually led to an in-house dance party of four.  Good times!