Sunday, March 04, 2012

practical preparation

It's a bit overwhelming at times the number of things you need to think about when going to a country you've never been to before. It isn't something I do very often and each time I feel like it catches me out and I feel really unprepared, which isn't something I'm particularly comfortable with.

In 2003 I got offered the chance to go with my colleagues to visit some development projects in Guatemala. As finance officer I didn't usually get to go on such trips but we had just been awarded an EC Overseas Aid grant which comes with rather stringent reporting criteria so my job was to try to get that across to their finance team whilst Dory and Jake talked project progress with their local counterparts and headed over the border to Belize for a meeting.

I got 5 days notice that I was going! So I went shopping in my lunch break for suitable clothing and got the bus home early and headed straight to my GPs. An extremely helpful nurse went through her stock and jabbed me full of everything she thought I'd need - sadly by then the polio top up didn't come on a sugar cube which would've helped the medicine go down, but she did give me a wine gum afterwards! Apparently one of the jags should've been had 2 months before travel but c'est la vie.

So, knowing next to no Spanish and never having left Europe before, I was off. We came in to Guatemala City over the top of shanty towns and were met off the plane by soldiers with guns, no doubt to escort the 'deportees at the back of the plane' who had been told over the intercom to remain seated until the rest of us had disembarked. And that was just the start of the culture shocks!

Since then I've been to Thailand (to visit my cousin and uncle) and the Philippines (for the FWCC Asia West Pacific Section gathering last year), both of which have also well and truly pushed me out of my comfort zone. I am not what you'd call a natural traveller, at least not outwith English speaking countries (of assorted varieties!). I don't tend to choose to go to such places for pleasure and am full of admiration for those who tiki tour around the world seemingly without a worry, relying on phrasebooks and gesture to solve any problems that may arise.

So, Kenya. I've had various vaccinations with more to come (still dithering over typhoid...). I'm getting conflicting advice from all sides, even within the essential info from the organisors about various health/malaria issues. Being advised not to carry much cash on the one hand and then next thing being given a great long list of things we'll have to pay cash for... My head is spinning! Part of me is thinking that 5 days notice of travel wasn't such a bad thing after all, there simply wasn't time to worry about things - as long as the cat got fed whilst I was away all would be fine!

I got used to cleaning my teeth with bottled water remarkably quickly in the Phillipines, and several holidays in Greece meant putting loo roll in the bin not down the toilet was old hat. I've no idea what plumbing in Kenya is like - hopefully not squat loos as my dodgy joints don't half make that awkward, there are only so many things in a public loo one is prepared to touch to push/pull yourself back up again!

On top of all this I'm still trying to figure out packing - especially given I've got almost a week in one of the coldest cities in this country directly before I fly out! I want to travel light so I have room to take things to leave there (one of my fellow reps is going on to do voluntary work at a project and is taking donated material to them for children's clothing) and room to bring things back - I'd love to bring back some local fabrics if I can but no idea if I'll manage that! In some ways it does seem a bit daft lugging material back and forth like that but there you go.

So there are some complicated calculations going on regarding what I can leave in Auckland between Dunedin and Kenya to collect on my return or from YM two weeks later. Bearing in mind of course that I'm flying on dinky local planes here as well as international jumbo jets, so have tighter luggage restrictions for those sections of the journey.

To those who apparently still think representing our YM overseas is a nice little junket trip I give you the Tui advert response - yeah right...

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