Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ogamba ki from Uganda!!

So I’ve made it! Four days down, 86 more to go. A couple of days ago that would have seemed like an absurd amount of time, enough to make me burst into tears, but I have to say, it’s amazing how quickly this place grows on you! In the weeks that lead to my departure I found myself growing more and more nervous and apprehensive at the prospect of leaving the comforts of home and the familiarity of my family and friends. The excitement and readiness for this experience that I had known at the end of winter term were becoming a (very) distant memory, and I began to wonder if this was something I could actually pull off. Was I just all talk, no action? Of course, I was determined to follow through with this experience because, deep down, I knew that my nerves were getting the better of me, and I would likely be more than okay once I finally arrived in Uganda…or at least that’s what I was betting on.
At the Toronto airport, after I went through the gate, and the moment my father, sister, and Vanessa were out of sight, I felt so completely alone. I just wanted to make best friends with the first person I saw and keep them with me until December 8th, but honestly, I think I would’ve scared off any possible prospects had I tried. I was a pretty big mess, crying and sniffling (and it didn’t help that I had a cold, making me look like a two year old…you know the ones: crying because they’re probably tired or hungry or are in desperate need of a diaper change, with drool and snot running down their face, and you look at them wondering why someone for the love of God won’t get them a darn Kleenex?? Yeah, that was me...okay, maybe not that bad, but I certainly went through a LOT of tissues!)
So, anyway, on the plane, after the disappointment of realizing that I was seated in a middle seat (no good for big girls!), next to a mad professor-looking man who definitely gave me a run for my money in the big girl department (although, I guess he would’ve most likely fallen into the big boy department…but whatever! I don’t judge!), I was happy to see the wide variety of on-flight entertainment. There were a TON of movies, episodes from an array of TV shows, and even games, including my all-time fave, TETRIS! (lol, apparently it doesn’t take much to turn my frown upside down!). So I was able to distract myself for a good majority of the plane ride playing games and watching documentaries (such a nerd! Whoa!) FYI, The Cove, a documentary covering the annual dolphin slaughter in Japan is a must-see, although certainly not if you’re in the mood for a feel-good movie night.
Anyway, during the flight I was also able to chat a bit with my cozy neighbour, who turned out in fact to be not a mad-professor, but a mad-scientist, only not so mad; he was quite nice! We chatted about travelling, books, and homeopathic remedies for a wide variety of ailments. Knowing I was sick, he even dug through his carry-on for an assortment of homeopathic lozenges, energy boosters, all-natural sleep aids, and before leaving the plane gave me a stack of travel Kleenex packages! And just when I thought this man could not get more helpful, he walked with me through the terminal helping me figure out the details of my luggage and my transfer flight. Honestly, this man was a God-send! His help and guidance were excellent, and he calmed my nerves immensely. Before we parted ways, he gave me his card and made me promise to send him an email updating him on my adventures, and directed me to the silent lounge area. What a wonderful man!
Speaking of wonderful, this silent lounge area was the most wonderful invention and should be added to every airport! It is, as stated in the name, a silent area on the upper level of the airport with rows and rows of leather lounge chairs for people to rest. It was exactly what I needed, and apparently what many other people needed too, because at six thirty in the morning an available chair was difficult to come by. Nevertheless, I found an empty lounger, wrapped my feet in the straps of my backpack (wouldn’t want my things to go missing!), and snoozed comfortably for three hours before heading off to my next and final flight.
The flight from Amsterdam to Entebbe was uneventful, aside from my nerves making an encore appearance, this time with much greater force. But, once again I was able to distract myself with movies, games, and sleep; however as the plane landed, all I wanted was there to be some reason it had to re-ascend and take me anywhere but there. I think one of the immediate details that had me most worried was that, for the whole two terms that our Beyond Borders group were in class the most common piece of advice was to never travel alone at night. However, in order for me to get from the airport to the house where I would be staying for the next three months, I would have to travel by myself. Alone. At night. I tried very hard to look calm, cool, and collected, but I am certain the worry was screaming from the expression on my face.
Worry or no, I managed to get my entry visa, my luggage, exchange my money, and find a taxi to take me where I needed to be. The drive was dark and quiet, and as we entered Kampala the streets grew busier and busier. There were cars, boda bodas (small motorcycles that are a quick and inexpensive way of getting around), and people everywhere! It was extremely chaotic and overwhelming to say the least. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced culture shock before, but I think it’s safe to say that I can check that off my list of first-times. Throughout the year of in-class preparation Joanne mentioned several times that we will have moments of thinking “What the heck am I doing here?” That thought certainly went through my mind several dozen times during that hour long car ride, and a few more once I arrived at Comboni House. I felt like I was on a different planet. I’d experienced African culture only through media prior to this night, and it’s clear that media does not offer an effective representation of the culture. That is not necessarily to say that the media portrayals are inaccurate (though, I am sure some are), but there is nothing like the real thing.
As if my nerves weren’t already being pushed to their limit, the driver of my taxi couldn’t find the house where I’d be staying. After stopping a few times to ask for directions and making several precarious u-turns, we finally found the Comboni house…arriving at the same time as the other taxi that had been sent to the airport to pick me up. Unbeknownst to me, the man, Joseph who runs Comboni House had received an email informing him of my arrival hours before I landed and was told to arrange a pick up. They had been waiting at the airport and saw me walk by…not knowing it was me, of course. Anyway, I made it in safe and sound, met a few of the people staying at the house (a guy and gal from Germany, Benny and Karin, and a couple others). Somehow, I managed to put on a friendly face and fain some excitement and happiness to be there, but after about ten minutes I said goodnight and cried myself to sleep. (I know, aw, right??)
I had never felt more alone than in those moments. Leading up to my departure, talking and thinking about the length of time I’d be away didn’t really mean much to me. Three months didn’t seem like a long or short amount of time. It just was what it was. But laying there on my mattress of three inches beneath the foreign mosquito netting, smelling foreign smells, and hearing a foreign language being spoken right outside my door, three months felt like an absolute eternity. All of my hopes and yearnings to one day live and work abroad could not have escaped from my mind fast enough. I never wanted to be away from home again. Ever. (I know that makes you happy to read Mom, Dad, and Rosanna :P)
Feeling the effects of jetlag, combined with the fact of still being sick, I somehow managed to sleep from about 10pm Tuesday night until 6pm Wednesday evening. At one point Joseph and another blurry figure (I didn’t have my glasses on) came in to check that I was still alive! I must say, I think having that time to myself to build myself back up again was really helpful. It’s funny because solitude for me has the potential to have negative effects. It allows me far too much time to dwell on the issues that are bringing me down, which only brings me down farther. But somehow, I got up the courage to finally leave my room just in time for dinner. And I’m so glad that I did! It was then that I experienced first-hand just how welcoming everyone was and how happy they were to have me there.
After dinner, I was invited to join my housemates in the chapel located just off the common room for an evening service. Though I am not what one would call religious (it’s evolution over creation for me!), I obliged…more so out of respect than of want. To my surprise, I think the service was a real turning point for me. There was something so genuine and beautiful about their faith, and I believe that it offered me the same strength in my state of uncertainty to believe in myself and my purpose for being here. This is not to say, of course, that I will be attending church bright and early every Sunday (sorry, Mom!), but it certainly offered me a great appreciation for those and their faith.
Since then my confidence in my ability to live in a foreign country three months has been tested (detailed blogs to follow shortly!). Sometimes I feel very comfortable and sure of myself here, and other times all I want is something familiar, something that makes me feel safe again. I must say, though that this experience so far has given me great insight into how new immigrants to Canada must feel. I hear so many times minority groups being criticized for not properly and fully integrating into the Canadian culture, but now I can fully understand and appreciate their need (not only a want) to hold onto their own culture and heritage. It is all they have left after leaving their homeland. Their identity is at stake, and by maintaining cultural traditions and norms, they are able to move forward in a new and unfamiliar place. I, for example, have been to Red Chili Hideaway (a hostel right around the corner from where I am staying) almost everyday since I’ve arrived. My main motive for this is to use their wireless internet in order to keep in contact with my family; but aside from that, it’s quite refreshing to be around others similar to myself. I’ve not interacted with any of them, but just being in close proximity makes me feel a little less lost. I believe that in time I will adjust to the culture shock, but for right now, Red Chili is a wonderful retreat when I’m in need!

Monday, April 5, 2010


I honestly cannot believe I am here…And, what is most exciting about that is that I mean that in a genuinely positive way! Normally by the end of a term (as Joanne might be able to attest to from last term), I am uttering the words “I cannot believe I am here…again” because I have screwed myself into a position of having to fight for my life. The interesting thing about that is that I am, in a way, fighting for my life right now, vying for that final TWO per cent! But, this time I seem to have a much better handle on it. There is a pure sense of calm about what I need to do to pull myself out of this hole that I dug for myself because I am beginning to learn what it feels like to truly believe in what I am doing, and more importantly, in myself.

Joanne often asks, ‘What are you doing here?,’ ‘What does Beyond Borders mean to you?’ ; questions that have always provoked a lot of anxiety within me. Reflecting back on these questions, I begin to wonder why on earth I don’t seem to get that familiar feeling of panic, and I believe that it has a lot, in part, to do with our last Beyond Borders class. When Joanne asked us to reflect on how much we’ve changed since the beginning of September, I wracked my brain trying to figure out how I had changed. I KNOW that I changed, but for some reason, I couldn’t pin point just how it happened. When Dave spoke up, bravely admitting that he had no idea, I could not have breathed a bigger sigh of relief! I had no idea, either!! I mean, like I said, and also mirroring the responses given by my fellow BB peers, I know that something has changed, but a lot of it still seems quite confusing.

This past weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to really tease out those confusing aspects of change, mostly because I was home with my family. I’ve learned over the past eight months that my family is a true source of balance and stability in my life (no matter how crazy and frustrating they can make you feel!), so being at home definitely helps to put things into perspective. Also, having been with them so seldom in the past eight months has enabled me to gain perspective into how I have changed and in what ways. From my time spent with them, I have been able to recognize the ways I have changed in my confidence: I have found myself learning more about myself because I am actually allowing myself to be, well, me! Acting silly (i.e. dancing crazy and awkwardly, singing in funny voices), not thinking twice before making a joke – which makes jokes much funnier – and telling stories, dramatic or not, and believe in the worth of the stories I have to tell, are all examples of how I’ve noticed change within myself.

You might be wondering how on earth that remotely applies to the changes I’ve experienced from my Beyond Borders journey, and how these changes will apply as my BB journey continues. Well, because of Beyond Borders, I was able to recognize that putting myself off – that is, putting off working out the kinks in my skewed views of myself and my lack of belief in my abilities – was not something I could even consider any longer. When I was interviewed by Joanne and Elyse almost a whole year ago, I stated that I desperately wanted to help others, and that still holds complete and utter truth. But what I failed to realized was that helping other people is only effective when you know how to help yourself, first. Therefore, in order for me to get anything from this experience, I would have to first help myself.

What was different about this realization was that I actually had to put it into practice! As I told Joanne in a meeting with her, I know exactly how to play myself. I know what to tell myself to feel like I’ve accomplished something, to give myself the false feeling of productivity in order to take the stress of responsibility off of me. Instead, this time, because of my desperate need to fulfill this experience through Beyond Borders, I’ve been left with no other alternative than to carry out the changes I’ve been avoiding for so long. I’ve also begun to recognize that I believed taking part in an incredible experience such as Beyond Borders would make those changes for me. This is an extremely important admittance because it’s crucial that I have clear and reasonable expectations of this experience; so recognizing that part of what I was hoping to achieve from completing this experience was a better sense of who I am, I am able to redirect my expectations. That is not to say that expecting to come out of this a changed person is an unreasonable expectation; however the level of change and personal growth I must accomplish goes far beyond the scope of this program, not to mention the fact that it puts me at considerable risk, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and perhaps physically.

One thing that I am considering as I write this comes to me from our last class a week ago: I believe it was Cat (or maybe it was Jacqueline?) who said that she was surprised that at how much these two semesters changed her; how much of an impact these two classes have had on her, which she wasn’t expecting. I can attest to this statement. I have been putting so much emphasis on the experience abroad that I have been ignoring the transformations that I’ve been going through over these past eight months. While it is a shame that I was not able to realize them as they were happening, perhaps this is the way it is supposed to be. And judging by Joanne’s responses to our apprehensive wonderings about how much we’ve changed, this is the way that many students experience their growth. This makes me feel a lot more confident about my progress thus far, and the progress I continue to make.

Beyond Borders means the absolute world to me. I’ve always gushed to others about the program (so much so that I believe I’ve recruited a couple for next year’s cohort), but I was always coming from a place of expected transformation. Now that I am aware of the changes that have already taken place (my increased confidence in myself and my abilities, my recognition of the time and effort I must put into myself to get to where I know I can be, and the belief in the difference I can make in other people’s lives, which has come directly from my brief yet life-changing volunteer experience), I know and accept that the transformation has already begun. I am forever grateful to this program for that. I always believed that this program came to me through some act of fate or destiny. At the time, and up until a few weeks ago, I believed it came to me because it was the opportunity I was looking for to help others in the way I’ve wanted to for countless years; now I believe that it came to me as part of my destiny, it was brought to me by fate, but because it is what ignited the drive within me to change myself for the better. I have already watched my relationships (old and new) blossom before my eyes because of the changes I’ve made, and I can only imagine and cannot wait to see what’s in store for me over the next few months leading up to my time abroad. I am on my way to being ready, and I have true and genuine confidence in myself. I’ve never felt like this before, and I am holding on to it for dear life: mine life, and the lives of the men, women, and children I am going to be serving in the fall. Regardless how emotionally trying these past eight months have been, I certainly would not change one minuscule detail, because they’ve brought me to this point, and I can see a light shinning brighter than ever at the end of this long dark tunnel.

Thank you to the Beyond Borders program, and this year’s group, and most importantly to Joanne. You’ve all given me an opportunity I’d all but given up on. You’ve made me realize that I am more than what I tell myself I am, which is something that I believed to be all in my head and never to be acted out. But I am getting there, and it is THE MOST deliriously exciting thing I’ve EVER experienced. I am SO ready.

Friday, April 2, 2010

volunteering = life changing AND not scary!!!

I cannot believe how much my life has changed in less than a week! I finally started volunteering at St. John's (a place that I had not remotely considered until I heard about all of the other BB'ers doing their volunteer hours there and how positive their experiences had been), and it has certainly been an eye-opening experience! I only spent twenty hours there, but they have been some of the most transformative twenty hours of my life.

I made the decision to volunteer Monday morning, not because I really wanted to, but because it was coming down to the wire for our volunteer hours to be submitted, and I only had a week left to do them. I suppose that's not the most ideal mindset to have going into something that is supposed to be done selflessly, but regardless of the reason, I made it there. Arriving half an hour early, I nervously waited outside the front of the building as the patrons steadily gathered around the corner at the entrance to the St. John's. As I waited and consciously tried to calm myself down, I began to imagine what it must be like for the patrons who need to rely on the kitchen for a daily meal. I was wondering outside the building just as the rest of the patrons were, and I began to imagine myself in their position. My thoughts turned to how people passing by on their way to work viewed those who relied on this service, and I wondered how they might be viewing me. Yes, I was standing there in a relatively new coat typing my thoughts into my own phone, so perhaps their first thought would not be that I was homeless/unable to afford a decent meal; but it was extremely interesting and earth shattering to be able to truly put myself in another's position. I was amazing that I hadn't even stepped foot inside the building, and already my world was changing.

Eight o'clock finally came, and I entered the building, mustering up all the confidence and courage I had. Knowing I had to look for Gretchen, I walked in with purpose. So far, things were going really well: I managed to access what I've learning in my therapy session, maintaining a positive mindset. So, once I was acquainted with Gretchen, within about 30 minutes, my decision to put off this part of the BB process could not have been more regretful. Everyone there that Monday morning was in great spirits, diligently working to get that day's meal prepared. One moment in particular that I believe will remain with me always occurred when I had pretty much just arrived. Another volunteer had asked Gretchen how her weekend was. In a disgruntled tone, Gretchen responded: "It was horrible. I can't wait for this place to kick in!" My immediate reaction to her not having had a good weekend was anxious...I tend to feel that way when others are in a bad mood. But then when I heard her proclamation that "this place" had the ability to turn a horrible weekend into something of the past and insignificant, I was extremely moved!

Just BEING in that atmosphere was like no where I'd ever been. Everyone was working together, doing whatever they could, whenever they could, wherever they could. It was the most honest representation of people working together for the greater good, and I was so excited and honored to be a part of it! I was actually sad (although, exhausted!) when it cam time to leave.

Another aspect of volunteering at such an amazing place was the social skills that seemed to come naturally to me. I felt that, in that environment, there was more acceptance, and it allowed me to be me, even if I am awkward and nervous at times. It felt OK to be that way! And feeling OK to be me made those awkward and nervous moments few and far between, or at least less dramatic. Normally, if I made a mistake or said something that I thought was stupid, I would beat myself up it order to feel better (weird, I know). But for whatever reason, be it the atmosphere, the people, some extremely level of positive energy, or a combination of all, my mistakes and "stupid" comments rolled right off my back. A perfect example of this was on Wednesday when Gretchen asked me to start filling twelve baking pans with sliced potatoes (we were preparing scalloped potatoes for Easter lunch), so I started placing them in the pans one by one. When Gretchen saw my pain-staking method, she grabbed the bucket of potatoes from commenting that I would be there all day, and began pouring the potatoes in the pans. Okay, that is definitely faster. I really would have been there all day!! That is certainly something I would not let myself live down on any other day, but for some reason, I was able to laugh it off. I was laughing at myself, and it felt great!! Not even five minutes later, I made another mistake, and again, I was able to laugh it off. The fact that I cannot even remember what it was that I messed up on is telling in itself. I don't forget any mistake I make, and two days later, I have no idea what it was. This is an incredible feeling!!

Honestly, I just cannot believe what a life-changing experience St. John's offered me, and I am so proud of myself for taking it! I realize what I would have been missing out on had I opted to not fulfill the volunteering experience (nevermind the fact that I wouldn't be able to go on my international experience). I've been on a high for five solid days, and its a wonderful feeling. And one of the most incredible pieces to all of this is how I was able to interact with the patrons. I think that was one of the most nerve-wracking thing for me because I didn't know how I would be able to identify with them. But it just seemed to come naturally. When I was serving the cookies on the lunch line, I seemed to forget, or at least not care who these people were or where they came from. The fact of the matter was that they are just people. Some of them have mental disabilities, some physical, some have substance addictions, and some have just had some pretty shitty luck; but none of it matters. Those are just details. They are real people, they were really right there in front of me, waiting for cookies. And that was all. I learned so much from them, and the extent of our conversations didn't go beyond "Hi, how are you?"

I cannot wait to go back there. I can understand completely, despite the fact that her hours had been completely two weeks into the term, why Cat did not, could not stop going to this amazing, transforming place. It is somewhere that differences don't matter. Just humanity. It's a place to remind us of what it means to be human. To refer back to "Becoming Human," I definitely became human in twenty hours. I will never be the same, and that is the most exciting thing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

i think i can, i think i can...i KNOW i can (?)

The words “I can’t” have turned into my own personal motto. My father would be so disappointed! Throughout my childhood, my dad would not accept the words “I can’t”, claiming that we can do anything we put our minds to. Somewhere along the way, however, those words not only became a pervasive personal slogan, but a source of comfort. It has always been so much easier to admit failure before trying than to fail from trying. Of course this does not really make much sense because how productive can one be if they aren’t willing to actually DO anything? That’s where I differ, and Joanne said it perfectly when she described me as a “frustrated perfectionist.” I want everything to be perfect, and I have visions of pure perfection in my head, but to actually carry out said visions seems literally impossible, so I give up. So far, what I have come to understand is that the idea of perfection is in fact impossible. Nothing can be perfect. So now my focus has to be on eliminating the need to be perfect, which will rid myself of so much frustration.

Ugh, I am just so irritated with myself. I feel as though I have nothing to blog about unless it has to do with what I feel is wrong with me. And if I’M annoyed with myself, I can only imagine how frustrated others are with my discussing the same ol’ topic. Part of my lack of blog topic is due to the fact that I have (still) not started my volunteering. I am not sure what exactly it is about the experience that I am avoiding. Perhaps it’s the level of avoidance itself that is provoking so much anxiety, which leads to more avoiding. I am disappointed because I am most certainly missing out a key element of this experience. While I am still planning on completing the twenty hours before April 5th, I will not be affording the focus and dedication my time spent volunteering requires and deserves because, at this point, I am simply trying to get them done for the mark. In light of that, and to hopefully get the experience that my fellow BB'ers have so far been a part of, I am making plans to volunteer this summer in my home community of Pickering. Perhaps with less pressure, I will be able to enjoy and gain the full experience of what it means to support my community through my offered time.

Wait! I just thought of something that is positive!! This past Monday, as part of my SMF 208 Family, Couple, & Marriage Therapy course, I took part in the annual poster presentation symposium. Me and my group watch the film "Fight Club", and we were responsible for choosing an area of oppression. From that, we had to create an anti-oppression framework from which therapists could apply in their therapeutic sessions. After watching the film, it was clear that we were dealing with the issue of male oppression. Many might be reading that and thinking, 'How on earth can men be oppressed?' Well, we certainly had difficulty articulating that ourselves, but after a month of processing, my group and I, with the help of some outside sources (thank you so much, V!), we finally were able to confidently support and stand behind our belief that men are in fact oppressed due to their need to live up to the numerous, yet hidden expectations of what it is to be male in society. From that oppression, and because men have to constantly defend their position of power when threatened by women, the queer community, and non-whites, men in turn oppress others to maintain the status quo of society. This was a message that was difficult to get across to those who visited our poster, however we were pleased by our conviction and how we were able to articulate a problem that is so pervasive yet invisible.

After the symposium, I began to really think about what our group had just done, and how much sense it all makes. As I reflected, I was struck by how much it applies to my potential experience in Beyond Borders, particularly if I head off to India (oh, by the way, Jenn, if you're reading this, I am interested in going to India in September!!...we'll talk later :P). When I spoke with Joanne the other day in regards to where I am headed in this program, she spoke of the potential difficulties I will face being a woman in India (or any other developing nation, for that matter). In applying my experience of defending men and their own oppression, I feel as though I am able to be more sympathetic toward their social location and their need to uphold their power. (Most) men are not villains who consciously oppress women and other minority groups. Instead, many of them are products of their environments. Like so many of us, men are raised with the hidden message that they are superior and the only way to maintain that superiority is to make others feel inferior. Likewise, the rest of society are raised with the (hidden) notion that men need to be all of these things, regardless of how they actually feel (i.e. some men might be more emotional, but because emotionality is viewed as a feminine characteristic, men hide that part of themselves to maintain the stereotype that men are stoic, non-expressive, creatures, void of any "weak" emotions). Therefore, I hope that my experience on Monday has afforded me the opportunity to interact with all men with more patience. Not only will this improve my interactions with these men, but will also provide me a better opportunity to reach them on a deeper level. This is really exciting to me because this particular placement in India would not only allow me to stand up for the rights of women, but also for that of men. We can't forget about them!

Friday, March 5, 2010

odds & ends

I feel like the only time I have anything to blog about it has something to do with some kind of pivotal moment in my life. There hasn't been anything pivotal-esque in that past week; just really good feelings on the other side of some big decisions. Therapy has begun, and I know it's early to be so optimistic, but I am feeling pretty damn good :D

In light of the great mood and clear mind I've been experiencing in the past week and a half, I've noticed how much easier and less anxiety-provoking it has been to interact with people and express myself. Those who know me well have heard me complain time and again about my difficulty communicating my thoughts and ideas, but this past week has definitely seen a new side of Tina! I feel like a veil has been lifted; it's wonderful! I have spoken up in class on more than one occassion, even with ill-formed ideas (an absolute first), I have given my opinions confidently in class and casual conversation, and I've been a large part in directing many of my group meetings for class projects. It's simply a new and exciting experience. I feel like I've been granted access to a part of me that's been left dormant for so many years. In real-time, it's only been ten days, but it's certainly felt like a lifetime; and that's definitely not meant in an "oh-my-god-I-can't-believe-it's-been-so-long-I'm-so-bored-of-this" kind of way :P.

One of the things about Jean Vanier's book that I was able to identify with so deeply were his notions of loneliness and the need to belong. When I read those teachings, I thought, "I definitely know what it's like to feel lonely, and I too understand the importance of belonging, so I am well on my way to becoming human." The problem was that I had all along been allowing all of the negative experiences in my life dictate how I viewed the world and people around me (predominately in a negative light). So while I had life experiences that lent themselves to the teachings of Vanier, I did not have the understanding of those experiences to learn from them and apply them wholly to the experience of helping others. This is not to say that in the past ten days I've come to know and expertly put into practice everything that Vanier discussed in his book, but I am certainly in a better position in which to tackle such life-affirming endeavours, big or small.

Moving on, as some of you may have noticed I haven't discussed any volunteering experience which, as I've explained in previous posts, is a mandatory component of this term's portion of the BB program. I have had some difficulty getting in touch with the necessary people in order to secure a volunteer placement at locations that would lend to the experience I hoped to have in Ukraine; but, on the suggestion of Joanne, and for the fact that I may no longer be going to Ukraine, I will be contacting the Working Center. Fingers-crossed!

Finally, I learned something appalling today that I wish to share with all of you. In my Gender Relations class, I always find that there are more and more statistics that startle me in the inequality between the genders. But one in particular today that truly resonnated with me was the shift in the salary earnings of veterenarians. In class we were discussing how, in a patriarchal society such as ours, men, who are the dominant gender and rule-writers, re-write the rules when their patriarchy is challenged, or simply to uphold their position of power. An example of this is a typically female-dominated field becoming "masculine", for example computer programming, and the field experiences an increase in salary. Conversely, male-dominated fields that receive an increase in female employment decreases in prestige, and subsequently the field experiences a decrease in salary. An example of this, and one that has me scratching my head, is that, generally, vets in Ontario today are making the same annually as nurses. Vets are making the same as nurses!! I certainly do not intend to offend any nurses...I believe that is an extremely noble and under-rewarded profession (previous to university, I was in college to complete my bachelor in nursing), but in comparison with the amount of schooling that is involved with that of a veterenarian, it is an outrage. In order to become a nurse today (as of approximately 6 years ago), one has to complete a four year university degree. To become a vet, one has to obtain a university bachelor degree, and then complete a number of years to obtain their Doctor of Venterinary Medicine, and even more if they wish to specialize in any particular area of veterinary medicine. I don't know about you, but that's a HUGE discrepency in terms of amount of time and money spent to become a vet versus a nurse. Vets used to be paid on par with medical doctors, but since the field has seen an influx of female professionals, the field has lost it's prestige and apparently it's value. It honestly makes me sick with frustration at the systemic oppression still rampant in our society that prides itself on how far it's come in equality. Yes, we have come a long way, but unfortunately we (those for true and honest equality) have been silenced by band-aid solutions and quick fixes. The wool was pulled over our eyes, but now everyone else remains blind to it.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make the change"

Ok, so, slight change of plans...

As some of you who've read Denise's blog may have already found out, I've made the difficult (and at the same time, not so difficult) decision to stay put in May. This doesn't mean that I am not going on my international experience, rather, I will be departing in September. I imagine that this might be a shock to most of you, so let me explain:

I've been battling a great deal lately with some skeletons in my closet. They've been there a *really* long time, and I can't seem to get them to leave! Over the past couple of years, I've done what I could to manage them, but never really had much success. I've been in and out of therapy, leaving when I thought I had everything under control, and returning when I realized that I didn't. Nothing seemed to be working. I mean, I know that therapy for issues that have snowballed over the last 26 years are supposed to take a lot of time and work, but this was really difficult! (ew! I *hate* how whinny that sounds!)

So, on the suggestion of my therapist, I went for a psycho-educational assessment, which is essentially an IQ test, and focuses on such areas as attention, memory, reading, etc. My therapist seemed to think that perhaps I might be struggling with an undiagnosed learning disability. I thought he was crazy. But, I went for the tests anyway. Over the course of the two months of testing, I began to believe that I could possibly have a learning disability. I think that was more wishful thinking than anything else...hoping that there would be a *real* reason for all of my problems. When it came time for the results, it was explained to me that any presence of a learning disability was doubtful, and instead my academic and social problems stemmed from a clinical level of anxiety and depression.

Some people might be upset to hear those results, but I was actually giddy with excitement and relief! Even though I knew (to some extent) how debilitating my mental state could be, I always discounted it as being "not that bad", always comparing myself to others who suffered more than me. With this feedback, I finally felt like I could own what's been owning me for so long, and take control of my life. :D

One of the solutions that was offered to me was cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), something else I was relieved to hear. Lately I've been pretty hooked on the show "Obssessed" which, for those of you who don't know, highlights the struggles and therapeutic process of people suffering from anxiety and OCD. The therapy that these people go through is CBT, and it proves to be mostly effective. And, it was explained to me that this process could take between 2-3 months, so long as I am committed and focused.

This got me thinking about Beyond Borders and the fact that May is fast approaching. Initially I thought that I could squeeze therapy in before my departure, and be completely fixed. But as I came down from the high of hearing my results, I began thinking a little more clearly...could I actually go through intense therapy, AND get caught up with all my school work, AND make all my necessary preparations for Ukraine all before the end of the term? Would I be risking my own well-being by fast-tracking through therapy just to get on a plane in May? The answer seemed to be pretty obvious: I can't go and help others without truly helping myself first. But, at that point my biggest worry was what others would think. I didn't want others to judge my change of plans as a failure. Luckily I have a couple of truly special people in my life who were able to help me recognize that those were my own judgements of myself, rather than how others would perceive it. If I could be confident in my decision, then those that matter would be as well.

So, while my BB journey has been delayed slightly, my journey toward a new and improved Ti-nina is just beginning. I am so freaking excited, you have no idea!! I've always had glimpses of the *real* me in my head, and now I have the perfect opportunity to turn those glimpses into reality. Here I go! Wish me luck, and to all my fellow BB-er's, I am so proud to be a part of this year's group. I know without a doubt that I will have 100% support from each and every one of you, and that really is a great feeling. :D

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tina vs. Smeagol

I learned something really valuable in these past couple of weeks that I thought I'd share...You know when there's someone in your life that you just can't seem to get along with? Maybe you don't really care whether or not you get along, but it would just make life so much easier if the relationship wasn't so stressful. While there are "just a few" of those people in my life, there is one that I had been having particular trouble with. Well, ok, its not actually a person, but I feel like this scenario could definitely apply to other human interactions I will face in the future.

The culprit of this stress is my roommate's cat, Smeagol. He's a long-haired, ragdoll, with beautiful blue eyes. He's gorgeous! Having had an amazing experience with my old roommate's cat, Dodger (I previously had never lived with a cat...I was always more of a "dog person") I was super excited to get to know Smeagol. Well, let me tell you, Smeagol is no Dodger! Dodger was your typical snobby cat, but he also had an affectionate and playful side. He and I worked really well together because he made you work for his attention, and I am certainly not the type to offer affection upon demanded. It was always really gratifying and heart-warming when I'd be sitting on the couch and Dodger would choose me to nap on! (I know, I know, I'm kind of a nerd...but only kind of!)

Anyway, Smeagol very quickly showed me that he was not the same as Dodger. I guess I shouldn't have assumed that just because he and Dodger were both the same kind of animal that they would be the same kind of cat. Smeagol demands attention, is constantly at your feet rubbing up against your legs (which he sheds long cat hair all over!), and when I finally decide to pet him, he either bites you to stop, or bites you to keep going. It was so frustrating!

Then one day I decided to try letting go of the frustration and make a real effort to get to know Smeagol. And guess what? It worked! I began to understand his body language (which really helped avoid being bitten), and harnessed my patience to give him more attention than I had been. What really amazed me was that the more attention I gave him, the less he demanded! I am beginning to understand that the dysfunction of our relationship was due to poor communication and a lack of effort.

So, I realize that I just devoted this entire post to my relationship with a cat. Seems a little crazy. But I think that it's important that I recognize how using the same tactics (ok, maybe not the petting part) will help me in difficult relationships in the future, and certainly in my placement. In the Ukraine I will be faced with having to build relationships despite a language barrier and differing mental capabilities. Since Smeagol is a cat, and I am not, we had to figure out some way of communicating without the use of verbal language, which will be helpful working the in orphanage with residents and staff who don't speak english. And by remaining open and conscious of the different personalities and characteristics of the people I meet, I will be better able to meet their needs, and hopefully have mine met, as well. Though I understand that humans are much more complex than cats, I think that this will truly make for a more balanced relationship building process. Thanks, Smeagol!