Friday, January 30, 2015

'Ofa atu Nuku'alofa

In somewhat sporadic blogging style - an update!

I'm in Tonga, I think that deserves a quick post. Its my last day and I'm sitting in a cafe drinking cold coconut while waiting for my ride to the airport this evening. I've bought 75 Mb of data - we'll see how far that gets me.

I'm here for work - basically a repeat of what I was in the Cook Islands for, but with a Tongan context. Helping the coordinator over here to set up her data collection protocols, meeting the teachers involved in the project again, meeting people in the Ministries for Education, Health and Finance, and today - a meeting with the Deputy High Commissioner. That meeting was really good - so fascinating to see the whole diplomatic side of government.

The Tongan teachers have been fantastic. I sat in on a meeting welcoming the new entrants to Tonga High School on Tuesday, the new Form 1s. This is their school hall - a open fale style building that was really pleasant to sit under in the heat.

You can see some of the kids in the front row of the picture above are holding brooms - this is part of their entrance fee to the school: a broom, and a pack of toilet paper. The brooms and bog roll are stacked up in a room and used to supply the school for the year. The brooms are made from strips of dried coconut leaf, bound onto a pole. When all the bits fall out - you just fill it up again. We've also been round to Tonga College and Tonga Side School, the other two schools involved in the project.

I stayed at the NOA Guesthouse and would definitely recommend it to people visiting Nuku'alofa. It was clean and tidy, safe and very friendly. They make you breakfast every morning if you stay in a en suite room, and while heavy on the white bread (my gluten and dairy-free guts are killing me, this latter end of the week) and egg it was completely lovely. The fridge was also always full of coconuts to drink whenever. Diana, the host, has her son jump up a palm to get more whenever needed.

Sunset from the porch of the main house. Tropical Islands do do sunsets remarkably well. I had an airconned room, and thank all of the many many gods that I did so. Last night I was convinced to try a Tongan drink of cold milk (from the Kings own royal cows) with coffee and sugar (I'm guessing the contents) which was lovely (you know, bar the whole dairy issue) but which kept me up past 2am this morning. 

Today the teachers were finishing off their planning week for the year (think; a week of teacher-only days) and celebrated the new year with lunch at Vakaloa, a resort out west on Tongatapu. This was the first beach I've seen all week - Nuku'alofa is very much a port - no beaches around the capital, though they have built a kind of sea-wall to make an area where kids can learn to swim.

 The water looked sublime and felt like a tepid bath. It was blistering hot and I could only stand to be on the beach for about 5 minutes to take photos before heading back inside to the shade and about a gallon of water.

Its Dealing with bureaucrats to make a project run is apparently always a nightmare but jeeeese - my skill-set has certainly taken a jump up this week. I'm quite ready to get back home to cooler nights, my own bed and non-developing-nation-comforts (the shame).

We'll be back in March for teacher prof dev workshops and to work on data with the Ministry of Health. I'm hoping it'll be much cooler! In the mean time the teachers at Tonga High School have decided they are going to find me a Tongan husband. Hah. Good luck.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Life, the Universe and Everything

One of those days. Quiet, cold, introspective.

Cold.  But - only Auckland-cold, which makes me feel pathetic for feeling it.  But - acclimatisation. Damnit.
Life is so crazy full right now.  I got a grant!  My first grant application, which went in the week before I went to Rarotonga, the week before I started my postdoc, and was written in 2 days.  I'm riding the wave of 100% grant success rate right now (sardonically) - I know it will be the one and only time such a thing will happen.

Of course it also means that in addition to my postdoc project I now have an extra project of my very own (grin) to organise and run, and maintain a budget for. Speaking of which - had a crash course in grant budgeting this week past, where I had to rebuild the budgets for the major project.  Hellish.  So much money - so many cost streams, plus three countries - not easy.

So work is crazy-nuts but awesome, we're putting together the draft of a teaching module book for the Cook Islands at the moment - so scicomm writing and design which is my perfect sweetspot. Doing it in a hurry, which sucks - but is the reality of our work model. I've got a new work computer on order, with a suped-up hard drive etc, the desktop I've been using cannot handle the design programmes and large files. Can't wait.

Book club is brill - a great group of people, I'm so pleased I joined. This week is The Rosie Project, which I've already read but can't wait to discuss. Highly recommend it, if you haven't read it yet. I've just finished re-reading His Dark Materials trilogy again, a bit of comfort reading. The last couple of months were This is how you lose her (disliked it), Wolf Hall (liked it), If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (disliked). Next on my list is A Study in Scarlet (book club, next month most likely), The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Three Bags Full, and The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Silkworm (via The Farm Girl). Just you know, an easy casual list.

Saw The Volcano a couple of weekends ago with random peeps from a movie club. French film, very light hearted (shallow? I certainly wanted to smack the female lead - definitely watched like her part was written by a man), would recommend if you had nothing better to watch, but not something to go out of your way for.  Its been so long, I'm sure there have been a bunch of other movies past. The Fault in Our Stars was beautifully done, as expected. The latest Transformers movie was underwhelming - so much so that I can't honestly remember how it ended (the dinosaurs were cool though). The new Xmen movie was fab - loved it. So much better than the Wolverine. Can't remember what else has been out this year. I missed the Divergent movie due to crazy work sitch - will see it on DVD no doubt.

I moved house! That happened. The new flat is at the top of Parnell and is freaking gorgeous. I have a decent sized room on the ground floor with my own bathroom and a car park in the garage. The kitchen is all granite bench tops and gas hobs - gorgeous. Wood floors and massive bifold window doors onto decks across each wall.  Can see the Sky Tower out one side and the museum out the other. Am loving it.

Have been going to an obscene amount of live classical music. The NZSO, the Auckland Philharmonic, The National Youth Orchestra, a random Organ recital. There was a Jake Bugg concert awhile back. Want to go see The Good Soul of Szechuan by the Auckland Theatre Company, this month coming. So many things! Auckland is fabulous. A work colleague has been in touch with the organiser of the Opera Supper Club (ooo pinkies out) and I'm keen to get in on that too.

Went to visit the parents and animals last weekend, was perfect timing - had been missing the furbabies like crazy. My Auckland life is pet-devoid and it sucks.
The Father has just sold his boat, first time he's been without a boat since before I had the ability to remember as a child - but, onward and upward with different hobbies (they're out in the camper truck all the time). The weekend before I caught up with the Financial One, we went to the World Press Photo Exhibit (not as much blood/guts as I was expecting) and then had brunch at the Food Truck Garage. Pretty good, certainly a refreshing take on most menu items.

I was resisting buying a coat since I had a perfectly good one - but its wool and long and very Dunedin. Its gotten cold here, but not that cold. So I got a purple trench. Like a human-sized blueberry. Not at all subtle and I freaking love it. (cheesy bathroom selfie, coming right up:)
An old friend was in town this last week for an art teachers conference. We lived together some...8 years ago? Crazy. Was brill to catch up. A new element of interest too, since I've been working in the education-science meld space. Made it to the Parnell Chocolate cafe finally (hadn't been) and it was not nearly as good as I was expecting. A bit...too much chocolate? God, am I getting old?!

The last couple of weeks have been fantastic re news overseas - The BigSib's fiancé is in negotiations for a new job - in Sydney. Much more convenient for visiting than London. A friend in Ireland and a friend in Australia handed in their PhD theses (so proud!), a friend in Thailand got a job, and homegirl up north is moving into a newly bought house with her partner (ok, so that one's not technically overseas). Good things! So much change and happiness and excitement.

I am, of course, procrastinating other tasks, but its been good to chat. How've you been? It's been ages. Lets brunch. *Auckland grin*

Peace out homies, its time for soup and hot buttered dinner rolls.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Aere ra Rarotonga

I'm in the Rarotonga Koru lounge with free wifi - what is one to do in such a sitch except use it?!  The boss is working - gross.  To be fair I did catch up on all my emails first (the urgent ones, at least) but still!  Its early morning on a Saturday!

That date-line crossing thing sucks.  Leave Sat morning, get back Sunday - stink weekend.  Good timing for a bank holiday though - washing/life catchup on Monday.

We went for a last-gasp snorkel at Fruits yesterday late avo, even dragged the boss along to show her the wonders.  Was murkey 'cause its been shitty weather for most of this week, but was a bit clearer further out.  I saw giant clams!  Hadn't seen them last time.  So cool.  So cool.  Got fish & chips for din since our supplies were down to rice and one wilted bok choy.  The fish was a huge slab of solid fish-flesh and was delicious.  Nothing like what we get at home.  Better.

The Little Brother demanded a coconut bra (don't ask) so he now owes me $10 for the purchase and a years worth of shame.  I'll add an extra years worth of shame depending on how it goes tripping through customs at the other end.  Urgh.

I'm happy to be getting home to sort my life out (3 weeks to find a new flat and move!) but it is beautiful here and I love the atmosphere and the people.  The people are brilliant.  I shall have to come back for a holiday proper, at some stage.

Homes James, and don't spare the horses.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fieldwork is Equal Parts

Epic and Horrid, when it occurs in Rarotonga.

Took the weekend off, Saturday was spent swimming, reading and sharing food & drink.  Sunday I went snorkelling at the part of the island/reef called 'Fruits of Rarotonga' with the bungalows' caretaker and it was amazing.  I didn't want to get out.  Fish and coral and omg it freaking blew my mind.  I practically live in the water over summers anyway, but this.  How do the people retired here ever spend any days on land?!  Bill was quite frank - he goes at least 4 times a week.  A cool old kiwi guy burnt brown as a nut.  I've been helping him set up his new computer, and him and his wife came over for dinner with us & the boss's visitors on Friday.  Very funny evening.

Yesterday (it is now Tuesday here) I went for a quick swim in the lagoon at lunch time and saw an octopus hiding in a hole.  So cool.  And an eel further out.  Of course when I tired to go back I couldn't find him.  Probably the best protection they have.

Last night we had dinner at Tamarind house - a beautiful old plantation-style villa that looks out over the ocean.  One of the few remaining original houses left on the island.  Perfect ambience and the food & wine were sublime (it might have been someones birthday, though not mine).  We watched the sun go down behind the coconut palms (photo on right).

The Admin local and I are doing the third school assent and pre-intervention questionnaires tomorrow and then it'll be a whole bunch of paperwork sorting and data logging and urgh.  This afternoon we are running a resource development training session at the big school, I've written and designed a 4 page narrative resource on energy efficient light bulbs to use as an example and template.  Not an easy task when the virtual network link to our files back home either keeps breaking or is too slow to bear.

We went to the market on Saturday - a relatively massive affair with fruit, veges, cooked foods, drinks and souvenirs.  We got some veges for the week, apparently the good stuff is sold out by 7am - the locals all go early.  I picked up a couple of coconuts to pop in the fridge, so my afternoon yesterday was spent working with style.

I'm still stressing about my living sitch back home, which sucks.  Anyone looking to go flatting in Auckland?

Back to work!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gettin' my Bogan on in Rarotonga

Confession time:  I have high suspicions that I'm a dirty bogan speed freak at heart.  I can't help it.  I like going fast, and being high.  High up off the ground, I mean.  Of course.  *cough*  Open air train carriages, boats, convertible cars (always been a dream, though now my guilt says I must get a hybrid, should I ever have enough cash to upgrade), bridges, balconies, up towers or tall buildings, glass bottom lifts...

Which is relevant currently, because apparently learning to ride a scooter in Rarotonga brought it back out.

Mean beast

Fond memories of quad bikes and ride-on lawn mowers in my past were awakened and I'm finding it hard to stick to the speed limit of 40km/hr for non-helmeted tourists.  I say specifically tourists, because it would appear that no locals obey that particular rule.  It becomes a bit frustrating when you're not working to island time, kicking your heels in leisure - but trying to get to the Ministry of Education building or the three schools we have in our research program for work.  And the locals zip past you, and the tourists hold you up.

Excuses - I leave early enough to get there on time at the safer speed limit - but that doesn't have to mean I like it.

Today, the project admin based here, a lovely Cook Island local women, and I got assents and pre-intervention questionnaires done at Titikaveka (all year groups in the study) and Nukutere (year 11's) Colleges.
Titikaveka Year 11's

The schools are very different in that the buildings and resources are somewhat...stuck in the 80's, but then also modern in that the teachers are pretty much the same with regards demand of standards, and there are random tablets and laptops sprinkled about.  So - half the class might not even have an email address, the other half are sneaking in a quick check of facebook on their tablets at the back of the class (I totally snapped a dude).
Some Nukutere Year 11's

The questionnaire takes a good 40 minutes to complete, so we took over a class or two for each school.  I hadn't realised how much I missed teaching/working with kids actually, they were pretty great all round.  The younger years asked lots of questions and were pretty chatty, while the year 11's were quiet across the board.

Nukutere was hit by an arsonist last year and they lost a whole block of classrooms - including the science lab.  So the above pic is of the class in their temporary room, part of the Catholic church on the school grounds, which is also the oldest (Catholic?) church on the island.  Nukutere is a Catholic school, and like Titikaveka only runs up to year 12.  If the students want to sit for year 13, they all go to the main school on the island - Tereora, where we will be doing the questionnaires next week.  Back to Nukutere tomorrow to finish off the other year groups.

Both of the schools we went to today use pate (slit-gong) instead of bells to signal the end of class periods/recess etc.  It seems to be a bit of a treat to get to be the drummer and the kids go nuts on them - making up their own beats etc.  Very cool.

The temp science classroom at Nukutere was pretty much a sauna, and storm clouds were rolling in which upped the general humidity by about a thousand percent.  Urgh.  I really, really don't know how people survive here in either the 'rainy' season, or during summer proper.
I've managed to sneak in a squick snorkel each day, and am looking forward to going all the way out to the reef over the weekend.

I'm also considering parting with some cash to see a 'cultural show' at the weekend, since while I'm getting to know the locals pretty well, they're nothing like the coconut bra-wearing, dancing, frantic-drumming travel brochures.  Had a middle of the road-stop the car and scooter-conversation today with one of the Ministry of Ed staff, it was hilarious.

Something which I do find frustrating is the lack of fresh fruit and veges available.  Apparently the Saturday market is where you stock up for the week, 'cause the limited selection at the supermarket is ridiculously overpriced.  So I'm hanging out for Saturday.  There are not nearly enough coconuts in my life right now.

The geckos were a bit of a surprise, but the little buggers are just so cute.  And they go out of their way to stay out of yours, so you couldn't ask for a more pleasant house-pest.  I have a big'un in my room called Jim, we've been having great late-evening conversations.  The smaller one in the kitchen/lounge is called Tama but he doesn't like chatting so much; a bit shy, is Tama.  Rubbish pic on iPhone with flash, but Jim is the one on the left.  The boss has a wee enclosed porch-type situation and when we sit out there working later at night they come in droves.  I guess tourists are good for keeping the lights on to attract dinner, if nothing else.

The local paper is completely brilliant and everyone seems to read it to keep up with the news - I saw 2 different students reading it after they'd finished their work with us.  The local TV station is equally hilarious but I haven't really spent any time watching it.

I started on the stock-image taking today on my big camera, but just discovered the Adobe creative suite on my new comp was never activated properly and is currently licence-less.  Edits will have to wait till I get home.

My fro is loving the salt, I'm keen to not bother washing it at all for 2 weeks and just see how much of a beach bum I can become.
Nothing like snapping a selfie while working at a deck table (yesterday).

Speaking of 2 weeks - I've had word that The Flatmate is abandoning me for greener pastures and when I get back I will have 20 days to find (and move in to) a new apartment, and a new flatmate.  Bit of a freakout there, but there's nothing I can do from the Pacific Ocean, so will leave it for when I get home.  Rubbish timing, fo'sure.

I picked up a couple of boys on my way back into town to return the rental car, they were hitching in to pick up scooters too.  Turned out - one was from Opotiki and the other had an Aunt in Ohope; we decided we were practically neighbours (The Mother and Father live in Ohope).  Small world, this.

And now - bed time, I think.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I'm in Rarotonga!

Got off the plane into a freaking bath of an atmosphere.  It is so hot.  Even the locals are saying how unseasonably hot it is - its supposed to be winter here.  I should say, "winter".

Got off the plane, cleared customs with our 5 bags (2 massive crates of sci equipment for the schools here and printed teaching resources) shoved it all into our rental car and then drove to our accom, which is a fairly unknown wee set of beach bungalows at Muri Beach.  We took a stroll along the beach, bought some water and bread and then got dinner at the local market - basically a bunch of locals cooking different foods for far cheaper than the restaurants and resorts.  I had a coconut to drink, it was awesome (can you sense my childlike glee?!)

Then...we worked till half 9pm.

This morning we got up with the dawn, the boss went kayaking while I went snorkelling - it was low tide so pretty shallow in the lagoon, but very warm and nice and clear.  I saw some cool fish, though didn't go all the way out to the reef.  The rest of the day has been spent trying to sort shit out: like getting internet to work, a sim card for me, checking a bajillion emails once the internet was sorted, getting groceries, visiting the schools and meeting the principals, meeting the people at the Ministry of Education and my getting hopelessly disorientated- a ring road is all well and good, but if you go first one direction, then another, then change again to go back to a govt building, then again to go to a different school - I was sure the sun was setting in the exact spot it had risen from, by the end of the day.  The boss is pretty much a local - it seems like everyone knows her.  And of course - everyone is ridiculously nice.

Tomorrow the car is returned, now that all the printing and equipment is delivered, and I get a scooter.  Hilarious times to come, no doubt.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wait, you're making me go to Rarotonga for 2 weeks?

I'm channelling Gandalf this evening.  Three hundred lives of men I have walked this earth and now I have no time.

Melodramatic, I know.  And not in the slightest bit ironic, considering I am taking the time to write a very overdue post.  This year has been full on.  Like the start of a completely new chapter in my life and now the font is changing too.  So many new things.

After my big revelation last year and subsequent decision to ruthlessly abandon academia, I find myself 4 days away from officially being a Research Fellow - a full 6 weeks ahead of schedule, with regards the 'altered plan' of things.  Sure, the field is entirely different (entirely), but all the underlying issues with a career in academia remain.  Lets shelve those for another discussion.

So - in addition to official postdocdom starting on Monday, I am flying out to Rarotonga with the boss for 2 weeks of...lets call it 'fieldwork', though I suspect the more accurate description would be 'administration, organisation and teaching'.  Two weeks, from Monday.  One weeks warning.  I've never been before.  I'm hoping the holiday destination sitch doesn't make it horridly impossible to work, because I suspect I'll be doing the afore-described 'fieldwork' during the day, and the current to-do list of tasks in the evenings.  There will be liberal application of 'swimming breaks' first thing in the morning and hopefully late evening.  And I am determined to flesh out the stock library of usable pacific island images.

I love what I'm doing currently, as Science Writer & Designer, though I don't spend nearly enough time on actual science writing nor design; but the postdoc plan is to combine it with research.  We'll see how well that workload pans out.

Anyway - back to the time thing.  I have no time (does anyone?!).  There are so many things to do, so many directions of work tasks - how can I possibly get everything done?! Not to mention the various delightful social life exploits *big cheesy grin*

But, overall - cool directions.  I've met more people though networking in my current field than I think I ever did in my old one, and the meetings involve epic exciting conversations of which could stretch the entire day.  That is a good reason to be.  I'm so excited.

My mind is all over the place this evening.

I made tentative enquiries a couple of months ago about volunteer work up here in Auckland which I need to get back on track.  Holistic, well rounded existence for the win.  I've also joined more work-related associations than is probably healthy, but gosh the connectivity is fantastic.  And my new book club is a brilliant group, and I have new indie-film buddies, and my apartment living/flatmate sitch is an oasis of calm.

And - a gold fish.  I want to get a gold fish.  I miss my animals.

I'm currently trying to finish off a first draft of a grant application due Friday, which I got on Monday.  Its so exciting, planning out your own research.  If I can think of it, and justify it, and get it funded - there's no reason why I can't do it, right?!  That is so cool.

A spot of work writing went up last week.

Lets all go and pretend to be adults now, yeah?  And maybe have some more chamomile to settle this crazy mind down (can you blame me?! effectively a new job, and, well - Rarotonga.  Arghh!)