Sunday, 30 December 2012

Gracias and MIAMI BABY

Before I begin, I want to just say thank you to everybody who read and responded to my previous blog post. It was so reassuring to discover that my career and life dilemmas were not unique to me, and I massively appreciated all of the advice! One friend in particular had been in a very similar situation, and her advice was so useful that I'm sure she won't mind me sharing it on here.

She got a gap year job with Deloitte after she'd finished sixth form, a scheme whereby she worked for them for half a year and earnt money, and they'd then pay for her to go travelling for the rest of the year. They then paid for her university fees as long as she worked for them in the holidays. And she hated it. She hated it with a passion that meant she'd often pretend to be ill so as to avoid going in to work.

She rebelled against the corporate world, and vowed not to become one of the miserable people she worked for, who hated their jobs but felt they couldn't leave because they, or their families, had become accustomed to a certain sort of lifestyle that the salary afforded. She saw her other option as to keep travelling, move to Australia and pick fruit in various places and move from job to job and project to project. Needless to say, the Durham careers service were appalled to hear about her life plans, and she herself began to think about the life of a nomad- freedom perhaps, but insecurity, no roots, no real chance to establish relationships, have children.... Things that might not seem important to some people but mattered to her, and that matter to me.

She now has a job at Marie Curie and is loving it. I fully expected her to tell me to sack off my job and go right into the charity sector but interestingly, she didn't. She told me there were several important differences in our situations. Firstly, I didn't hate my internship with kpmg, in many ways I enjoyed it. Secondly, she was working in the tax department which is pretty evil, helping companies avoid paying tax etc. My sector can, perhaps, be justified ethically. Thirdly, she said one of the major reasons for her securing her job at Marie Curie was because she did have corporate experience and certain useful skills from Deloitte. She advised me to take up my job, see how I found it, save up some money and then reevaluate. But what was most important was to never feel as though I couldn't leave if I wanted to. To never feel trapped in a job because it was easier, or it paid more. I think this is such excellent advice, and it has made me feel so much better and more at peace with myself. I can now go into house hunting in London with a happier heart.... Although of course things may well change after South America, after all, 6 months is a long time....

So yes, this is stage 2 of the adventures!! I'm currently on my couch for the next 3 nights, in MIAMI BABY...!! I'm not afraid to say that I'm pretty terrified about this next stage of my adventures. Scandinavia was a doozy really, when you think about it. Part of the EU, one of the lowest crime rates in the world, police you can trust and a short hop home should anything go wrong. South America is none of those things. Venezuela, where I'm spending the first 11 weeks, is known as the kidnapping capital of the world, and the police are notoriously corrupt. When I called up to get travel insurance, I had to inquireinto their kidnapping and hostage cover. Apparently they don't pay the random, but they'll pay for my parents to come out a negotiate with my kidnappers (I kid you not). Oh but apparently I shouldn't be too worried- they usually only keep people for a day or two. Great. If you want to see what might happen to me watch a film called 'Hostage', I haven't watched it as I'm afraid it'll make me overly paranoid but yep, that's where I'm headed....
Nah I'll be fine, they usually only kidnap rich Venezualan kids apparently- I'd like to think they'd avoid me as if I were kidnapped it would cause somewhat of a stir in the British press (I hope).

Anyway, plans. 3 nights here in Miami (new years eve woop woop!) and then flying to Venezuela to take part in an intensive Spanish course, which also includes getting my next scuba diving qualification (Rescue diver), hikes in the national park, kayaking expeditions and travelling to Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall (and where they go to in Up!) I'll be doing the course with about 10 other people on a stunning Caribbean beach and it will hopefully give me the language skills to be able to get by on the rest of the continent. I hope Spanish is easy!

So my plans after Venezuala are pretty loose, I'm hoping to just meet some cool people and head where they're headed. On my to go to list though are:

Lost city trek (Columbia)
Amazon rainforest (Ecuador or Peru)
Maccu picchu (Peru)
Cuzco and allequipa (Peru)
Lake tititca (Bolivia)
Buenos aeries (Argentina)
And I'm flying back from Rio (Brazil)

Anywhere else I should definitely hit? Let me know :)

So here I am. A little tired, a little jet lagged, a little traumatised after having to tell American customs my life story about 3 times (seriously, do I have a suspicious face?!) but unbelievably excited. My CS host is just getting ready and then we're off to some crazy party cruise round the islands. It's 26 degrees here and sunny.
Bring it :)

Monday, 10 December 2012

Home, sweet...

Stepping outside at Gatwick airport my parents were shivering in minus 2; I was peeling off layers. A wave of noise, and light came over me. The air felt thick with pollution. Driving back home, my neighbourhood, which I've always thought of as quite leafy, struck me as crowded and cramped. The next day I was almost run over cycling into town (yes, I was on the wrong side of the road....) One week later and I'm still trying to adjust to life back in England, and trying to remind myself that there aren't any horses to feed, no puppies to cuddle, and that when I step outside I can leave the thermals behind as my breath isn't going to instantly freeze to my scarf and form icicles.

Visiting friends at my university in Durham has helped me adjust, but given me a disturbing feeling of deja vu. Nothing here seems to have changed, and I feel that I have regressed 6 months to my final term at university. Regression can be a wonderful thing in many ways; I have fallen back into old friendships and university life; we've had crazy nights out fuelled by Finnish vodka. I've given them Norwegian brown cheese to try, and hot Finnish spiced drink to taste (Glögi!) and yesterday me and friend found ourselves jamming in the bar only to have the porter come in and request 'Blowing in the Wind' from which we discovered he had very impressive tenor voice. But in such a regression other feelings and relationships have emerged under their layer of Scandinavian experiences, and I have found I was wishing not for a regression but signs of a progression that unfortunately hasn't happened in some areas.

I'm viewing South America now with much more apprehension. I was insanely lucky with my placement in Finland; but I think regardless of that luck, Scandinavia was a place where I felt comfortable and at home. South America will be somewhere of countless contrasts. Quite aside from the obvious (the climate) I will be travelling from places of endless lakes and forests, clean living and clean energy, to slums and sprawling cities. (Amidst stunning beaches, mountains and rainforests I'm sure..!) Norway is among the richest countries in the world (per capita): most countries in South America are among the poorest. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to respond to the continent. But I guess we can only wait and see.

What is perhaps a more worrying notion is the thought that after my year of travelling I will working in Canary Wharf, London, for a corporate machine. Do I really want to work and live in a huge city? Joining the daily crush of people on the tube? Working in an office, breathing in air thick with car and bus fumes? Undoubtedly not, but I simultaneously understand how lucky I am to have a graduate job in this current climate, whilst many other university graduates are finding themselves twiddling their thumbs at home, or ecstatic to have been moved from a part time to a full time job at Starbucks.
My job is working in the Forensics section of KPMG, so will be dealing with fraud and anti- money laundering (ie: fighting fraud rather looking for ways for companies to avoid paying tax) which really doesn't sound as dull as audit or tax, and I didn't hate the internship I did with them. I will also have lots of university friends moving into London, I have two amazing friends who want to live with me, and I could see myself enjoying the buzz and excitement of the city.

The idea of jumping from workaway project to workaway project is a tempting, but romantic one. Whilst money would not be a major issue as I could jump from temporary jobs to free projects, I think I would crave some kind of stability. And whilst I loved my life in Finland, and the physical activity of working on the farm, I'm not sure if I could have stayed there for years and years without missing some intellectual stimulation; I would have felt I was not using my full capacity. And regardless of everything, to travel to South America I am borrowing some money from my parents, which is something they only allowed me to do because I had a job to come back to, and the means of paying them back. The option of giving up my job is seeming more impossible my second.

I'm trying now to view my job as not me selling out to them, but a way of me taking their money, allowing them to pay for my exams and qualifications, giving me the experience I need of business and corporations and then, just as they have invested into me, getting the hell out of there. Taking the ACA, taking the knowledge of accounts and businesses, and doing something in a field that I actually care about, like conservation. Setting up my own charity, or my own business. Perhaps moving to Scandinavia, or anywhere in the world, as having the ACA I would be a 'skilled professional' which, along with a British passport, gives me a route to anywhere I might like. Can I get through that 3 years though? And should I feel I have to? And am I just saying all this to try and convince myself as it's an easy option? I don't know. Comments help and advice are more than welcome.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Puppy mania!

I've been planning to do a blog post dedicated to the puppies for a long time now. I am now back in England, and have just sat down to begin it. And then I hear some terrible news which has made me see the birth and growth of the puppies in a new light.

We had been waiting for Leako, a pure pedigree Siberian husky, to give birth for some weeks now. She is very timid around humans, especially men, and had been ill at ease in the Mummy/ Puppy enclosure since we put her there. Finally, last night, she couldn't hold on to them any longer and she gave birth to 6 little puppies. In minus 35. 3 survived. The other 3 were frozen solid.

I felt so angry, and so sad when I heard this. We'd had a hunch that she would give birth that night; she'd been circling and pacing in a way that was indicative to beginning labour, but we were told that we should leave her alone. As I said, she is timid around humans, it was sensible to give her space to give birth in peace. And she is a real dog dog- she doesn't like being inside with humans, she prefers to be out with the pack. But that night.... it was the coldest it has been for us. Minus 35. And she hadn't been eating for a few days. If she was inside, those puppies would have survived. The owner loves his dogs, he treats them incredibly well, but he is a man of the wild. He sees the death of the puppies as natural selection. The way of nature. But, these dogs aren't wild, they are domesticated, and we do have the power to intervene with nature. And sometimes maybe we should. Even if the worth and beauty of the life of little puppies is disregarded, those puppies, being pure bred with perfect papers and incredibly clever parents, would have been worth about 1000 euroes each. What a waste.

So, it is with a slightly less upbeat tone that I turn to talk about Livza's puppies, a husky who I saw give birth to 6 weeks ago. Because now, when I reminisce and look at pictures and videos and think about how they've grown I can't help but think of Leako's three dead puppies, and how they never will. This is tough.

Livza is an Alaskan husky. The difference between Alaskan and Siberian huskies is one that not many people are aware exists (at least, I didn't before I arrived). A Siberian husky is what you would probably think of when someone says 'husky'- the classic white, grey and black colouring, the bi- colour eyes:

Lobo- part wolf and part Siberian husky.

An Alaskan husky is not a breed, but rather (as Wikipedia helpfully informs me) "a type of dog (...) defined not by its ancestry but by its purpose, which is that of a highly efficient sled dog". So, an Alaskan husky can be any size, any shape, any colour, it is simply a dog which has been bred with many strains of dogs (including a large amount of Siberian husky) to create the fastest, strongest, most intelligent racing dog. So all of the below dogs, whilst looking very different, are all Alaskan huskies:

I digress.... Watching the birth of Livza's puppies was one of the most wonderful things that has happened in my life. Livza was bought shortly before I arrived, and we (and the previous owners) had no idea that she was pregnant at the time. We thought it strange that she suddenly lost interest in running, but thought maybe she would get better again. We got worried when we saw her belly starting to swell, but thought perhaps she had just got a bone stuck. We kept an eye on her. And then we noticed that her nipples were starting to swell with milk. Unsure whether it was a real pregnancy, or a false one, we took her home with us just to keep an eye on her. (The owner was away at the time, otherwise I suppose we wouldn't have been allowed). I guess she recognised a safe place when she saw it as within a few hours of brining her into the hostel where we lived, she circled around, and quietly and without any fuss, began to give birth.

Newborn puppies suckling!
Tiny puppies began to pushed out of her. For each one, she carefully bit off the birth sac, cut through the umbilical cord, and licked each one dry. She then pushed them towards her nipples to feed, and calmly produced the next one. The first five were born within about 10 or 15 minutes of each other. The 6th appeared after an hour, closely followed by the seventh. Time passed, we started to go to bed, and then suddenly number 8 appeared. And then number 9. Outside, a blizzard was raging and temperatures had dropped to minus 17. If we had left her at the farm, and she had given birth, we almost certainly would have arrived to dead puppies in the morning. Hearing about Leako's three dead puppies has reinforced, for me, the absolute relief in my mind that we took Livza home with us that night.

Nine beautiful little puppies spent two and a half weeks crawling and squeeling about in the hostel. We took Livza for lots of walks, gave her lots of food, and spent so much time cuddling and stroking the puppies. 4 of them were black and white and resembled her, 2 were blonde and looked like little Polar bears, and 3 were a beautiful shade of grey and white. Then came the task of naming them, for which we were lucky to have the help of one of our boss's beautiful 5 year old daughter.....
Sofia with Livza and the puppies!

So, we had five little girl puppies.....

Sydan ('Heart') is the blonde one. Otivar (the place in Spain where our hosts have an olive farm) is the one who is almost entirely black apart from a tiny tip of white on her tail. Kukka ('Flower') has a patch of white on her neck that looks like, well, a flower. Tahti ('Star') has a long patch of white on her neck that is pointed like a star. And Aussie is for my fellow workawayers Pam and Belinda, from Australia. We like to fancy we can see a patch of white that looks like Tazmania on her back!
And four little boy puppies.....

Stadi ('Helsinki')'- a long strip of white on his head that looks like the road into Helsinki! Klovni ('Clown')- Patches of white and grey and clown like eyes. Granada (the place in Spain where out hosts met) and finally 'my' one... Big Ben (also known as Champ(agne), the light blonde one who looks like a baby Polar bear.... He was going to be called Piggy as he was the biggest of the litter. This was then changed by little Sofia to 'Mr Big'. We then tried desperately to think of an English-y name for a puppy to represent me, which is when we decided to change 'Mr Big' to 'Big Ben'.
Now for some cute sleeping puppies......


Sydan, Kukka and Klovni

 Milestones for the puppies: Day 12- they began to open their eyes.

Me and my beautiful little Big Ben

Day 15- they began to walk, slowly, stumbley, carefully.....

Stadi, walking!

Day 18- time to take the puppies back to the farm..... Heartbreaking but time for it to happen....

And then they got in their new house......
And the bets were on as to who would be first out the house! We each chose a puppy, and if we were right everyone else would have to buy us a beer or a bar of chocolate.... I chose Tahti as she seemed to be the most curious.....

And then this happened....

Woop woop!

And then they all came out.... and wanted some of their Mummy's food.....

And then I had to leave them, with a variety of promises and threats for my friends to send me regular updates, pictures and videos of them. And I will definitely be going back to visit.

I'm not completely sure what their future will be. I think it was said that they will definitely keep the males, and maybe two of the females. They will then find homes for the others. Usually, in Lapland, most of the female puppies are killed. Definitely so if homes cannot be found for them- there are so many dogs and so many puppies and they are too expensive to keep. Thankfully, it has been very firmly repeated that no matter what, these puppies shall not be killed.
I can't help but think of all the others though.