I’m losing track of what time it is, what day it is and (almost) where I am. Having been in Haiti covering a team leader gap in our emergency sanitation team there, the volcano eruption in Iceland put a stop to plans to come back home. The end result is 6 countries visited, 9 hotels (or tents) stayed in, and a day lost – sort of.
When news of the volcano reached me I had left Haiti and swapped the discomfort of a camp bed in a mosquito net inside a rather hot tent for the comfort of a hotel bed in Panama – there for meetings at the headquarters of the Red Cross in the Americas. So, unable to get back, I decided to carry on and our excellent charity travel agent, Ian Allen, did a great job of rearranging flights and re-routing me via New York and on to the Philippines.
Not totally random as I was due to undertake a monitoring trip there later in the month to review British Red Cross support to the typhoon response there from October 2009. So, via an overnight in Hong Kong, I ended up in Manila, crossing the international date line going backwards, hence the ‘loss’ of a day – not sure if I will ever get that Sunday back! I can’t say I enjoyed the 16 hour flight from New York to Hong Kong but at least I cleared my email inbox. It’s pretty sad that I got excited about finding a power point in my seat to keep my laptop going. Unfortunately the reality of this kind of work means a constant prioritising, even more so since the Haiti earthquake, that results in less important emails getting put aside for a clear space. For me clear space is often when flying, so couped up with not much room, and with apologies to my neighbours, I tapped away all flight.
I’m now heading home via Kuala Lumpur, home of the Asian Red Cross headquarters, having had a very productive visit to the Philippines. It wasn’t quite a thriller in Manila but very impressive was a red cross shelter programme, where local government was lobbied on behalf of landless, vulnerable people to allocate new and safe land that we could build homes on. These families all lived in very precarious locations, being extremely poor, on the edge of rivers and lakes, and in flood plains. We are building typhoon resistant shelters, complete with latrines, that are definitely a step up from what they had before and, most importantly, are in safe places. I say “we” but actually I should say “they” as they are the ones constructing their own homes, under the supervision of our trained carpenters. To see a tremendous sense of self ownership and pride in their new homes with gardens already planted around was great and helped make the long trip away from home feel worthwhile.
So six countries and six different cultures to get to grips with. Good fun if a little head spinning at time, less fun was being in a wet and cold New York with light clothing designed for hot and humid climes! Oh well, nearly home, though I think my longsuffering family will ensure I stay grounded for a bit at least.