Saturday, September 18, 2010

"So, how was your trip?"

This is the question I keep getting asked since returning home. How do I begin to answer? Going to South Africa was so much more than a trip, it was a journey.

I have tired desperately to cling onto the feeling of peace, calm and euphoria Africa gifted me with upon landing home. It's hard to do in this hectic, fast-paced North American lifestyle we all lead.

I STILL can't quite get my head around the fact that my time in SA has come to a close. Did I ever enjoy my vacation at the end. Words will not be able to do justice to the beauty of nature I have seen and experienced and breathed in. South Africa is truly stunning. As are the people I met; their friendliness will never escape my heart.

I spent another 5 days in Cape Town - my new favourite city. In the whole world. It has everything. I hiked Table Mountain again to savour the view, went shark cage diving, visited Robben Island and went to Cape Point (where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet...another 'In Between' moment) and Boulders Beach where there are loads of penguins. SOOOOOOOO much fun!

Then, we set off on the Garden Route which is all beautiful - from start to finish. Instead of the dirty, hustle-bustle, big city life, I drove by coast after coast and did hike after hike from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. The Garden Route itself starts in Mossel Bay and ends at Storms River. Here is a map:

Since arriving back from this magical place and time, I have been full on with 'stuff'. I managed to finish my final academic presentation and give it to a panel of professors. I ended up passing and completing my Masters' as a result. I have also landed a new job with the City of Calgary for 6 mos. dealing with low-income recreational programming. I am also hoping to teach and keep working for Michelle's speaking business. I have so many ideas, visions and dreams to pursue. It's like I've been reborn.

I would also really like to take my writing and blogging further - with the hopes of writing a book one day. This particular blog has given me some insight into how I write and how others respond to my writing so I think all of you who fed back to me.

This is it for now regarding this expedition. Stay tuned.

Expanding with love,

Saturday, August 14, 2010

That's All She Wrote.

I'm sitting here in my room in Pretoria for the last time writing today. It feels surreal to be saying that! It's been an emotional week full of relief, sadness, pride, happiness and both a sense of loss and gain. My final day of practicum was yesterday and I cried a lot! I couldn't help myself mid-presentation when speaking to the entire team about my time with the Department. It all just Hit Me. Hard!

Then I had my two supervisors write in my final evaluation. Carmen's comments in particular were so poignant and moving. Here is a snippet:
I believe attitude determines altitude. Life shrinks and expands in relation to one's courage. Brianna's can-do attitude combined with her courage to challenge herself and others shows a very strong internal locus of control. This not only makes her resilient; but also industrious, creative and brave. She will add value to development work and will change the world one step at a time.
I was so touched. She is a brave and amazing woman herself. Here is a picture of us at my going away dinner on Thursday night:

Now I can relax a bit! I am heading to Cape Town tomorrow to spend my remaining days on the coast. I am not sure how much I will blog next week, but I will certainly comment on my holiday once I get back to Canada.

Signing off from Pretoria one last time,

Thursday, August 12, 2010


The past few days I have been working on my final evaluation for the University. This was a difficult and emotionally draining task. It was the first time I actually sat down and tried to articulate the growth that has occured within. Not easy. I believe I will continue to learn and grow beyond these four months inside the borders of South Africa and that I will be processing this experience for many years to come. Here is a snapshot of my response to the question below. (I must also give credit to my friend Leilani, who, without realizing it, helped shape a few of my sentances with her insights.)

STUDENT: Please provide a summary of your own perceptions of working in an international/cross-cultural setting and your personal growth experience. What have you learned through this experience?
I have been on a long journey since I started my Masters’ in September 2009. After initially turning down this practicum placement for personal reasons, I look back with gratitude and fondness on the path I have traveled and indeed embracing this opportunity. Despite the obstacles I’ve had to overcome prior to my arrival and during my time in Pretoria, I don’t regret a thing. I didn’t think it was possible for me to be stretched in THIS many new directions, having many independent foreign travel/work experiences already under my belt. The continent of Africa is unique, however, and I now better understand why I instinctively felt so strongly to make it my destination.
Moreover, I have not, until this practicum experience, been exposed to the highs and lows of humanity in such a short span of time, minute-by-minute. From the highs of the FIFA World Cup and the direct exposure to wildlife to the lows of encountering death regularly and seeing such extreme levels of poverty, I have witnessed this and all that lies in between. I have been made aware of the fragility of life itself and the delicate balance between living and dying we all walk with grace. There is a certain amount of surrender and faith that has therefore accompanied my process, building with each day that passes. I feel more certain of my own identity and how I want to live my life.
Working internationally/cross-culturally has been what I expected in many ways – full of baggage to overcome and work with by my difference and ‘foreignness’. I feel I adapted well here based on my preceding experiences and was able to not get ‘stuck’ as quickly as I have in the past. I only really felt suffocated and homesick near to the end of my time here and that shows confidence and stability. I was able to nurture myself in this time and still do the job to the best of my abilities. I believe I was able to honor my values and the community’s values during my time here and work in a collaborative way – each party learning from each other and working from a place of respect. This, I believe, is true international development.
Being in South Africa has been rewarding professionally as well. I feel I was truly able to contribute to the SACPSS (aka research study) and that my small voice was heard. I felt a sense of responsibility to the children of this country almost instantly, and fit into the structure of the department and project with ease. I have come to know policy as an evolving social benchmark, not a distant object. I believe I am a better project manager, researcher, writer, communicator, thinker and social worker as a result of being placed in the DSD and with Carmen specifically. She has taught me a lot in such a short span of time and really allowed me to fly with unchained wings. I will always be grateful to her.

With love,


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SA is Not for the Faint-Hearted's cold here tonight!

I came back to Pretoria yesterday after spending 6 days in the Eastern Cape province. The views and countryside were breathtaking down there. The sun cooperated too which was a bonus; my very pale, white skin needed some sunshine. I stayed with Nicki, an old friend from London. It was so great to see her.

I feel that as my days are limited, I am absorbing more and taking longer breaths and deeper inhales. I think my body knows soon we are leaving this beautiful country and is responding accordingly. My eyes ares also seeing and noticing more detail than before.

I had a crazy week, however, leading up to the relaxing weekend. Last Wednesday morning (6 am) I left Pretoria for Jo'burg to catch a flight for Kimberley. We landed and immediately had to burn rubber for 250KM to a small village called Britstown for a research interview. Upon arrival, we realized our interviewees had not really arranged a place to meet. We were in RURAL Africa. Nothing for miles. Nada. So, me and my research team of 3 others quickly had to think on the spot. We found a local pub attached to a gas station and sat down at a small round table outside of it, like, in the yard. (The inside of the pub was too noisy with loud men and music. I guess they don't work.) The people in the pub didn't seem too bothered by our presence so we carried on with our questions. Suddenly, a cat appeared. Then, in the background, cows mooing and hens cock-a-doodle-do-ing. Oh my. Only in Africa would you conduct research near a farm, outside, under blowing trees! An hour later, we had to quickly drive back to Kimberley to catch a connecting flight through Jo'burg to Port Elizabeth.  By the time we landed in PE, it was 9 pm.

The next day (Thursday) we had another interview scheduled just outside of PE, in a town called Uitenhage. We drove there and back, getting lost quite a few times. Street signs don't really exist here. Nor do office numbers. The joys!

Friday: another early morning. We were on the highway by 630 am to get to East London by 900 am for yet another interview. We quickly discovered the road was in terrible condition and there were roadworks and accidents everywhere. Oh and cows grazing the pavement. We arrived at East London very late (11 am) to find a boardroom full of very disgruntled staff who were waiting there for 2 hours.  THAT interview  was a bit of a bomb, and I was very frazzled from the drive in. No, this day was far from over.

The district had arranged another site visit and interview in a town 2 hours away called Queenstown.  Meaning, we had to drive two hours in the opposite direction to PE (where we had to eventually end up by the end of the day). Meaning, a 5 hour drive back. Sigh. We were back on the road, frustrated and annoyed, and in Queenstown by 4. This interview, despite being out of the way, was more than worth it. I went from feeling hopeless to hopeful. This little office of social workers were doing wonderful work for children in the district, despite their many challenges and lack of resources. Check.

By 6 pm, it was dark and we had to drive all the way back to PE. What a stressful drive. Carmen did exceptionally well to keep us on the road and away from any farm animals. We were back in PE by 1030 pm. I slept like a baby, that night, thankful to be in one piece.

The end. Here is a map with our destinations marked:

Alas, I came to the conclusion that this country is not for the faint-hearted. You have to be determined. You have to be a finisher. You have to persevere to get things done when time and the odds are stacked against you. And you have to be OK with taking risks.

More soon,


Monday, August 2, 2010

Inspiring Each Other

Ola friends,

My horoscope this past week said, "Share what you’ve found inside your heart." Interesting, because I think I have been doing this. Writing this blog has become a very therapeutic experience for me. I feel like I'm talking to YOU....somewhere, out there! I'm getting a bit sick of myself so this outlet is crucial!

What I didn't realize, however, is that it has also become helpful for others. I got the most touching email from a dear friend this week. By sharing what I have found inside my heart, I have somehow encouraged her to let go of a bar she had been clinging to for quite some time. Amazing! She has given me permission to put her message in my blog. Here it is:

I'm so sorry that I've been so absent in contact in the time that you've been gone. I really wanted to stay in touch and hear all about it, but I feel like your blog has let me experience it all along with you!! I have been 'In Between' my own bars in the last few weeks and that has been holding most of my focus. Reading your experiences and fears and growth and fullness of what you've been doing has not only given me added strength at a time of some uncertainties in my life, but given me hope that we all have a place and a path, if we just listen to what our heart is telling us. I've let go of one 'bar' and quit my job!! I'm really not sure what's going to happen next, but I'm looking forward and open to the next path that opens up to me. It really is a scary place to be, but I know that I have to take that risk to really move forward. I am so proud of you and proud to call you my friend in all that you have done and experienced and all of the challenges that you have thrown yourself head first into! I can't wait to see you in person and 'see' how much you have grown, stretched and changed!!
With a full heart,

After I initially read this, I started to cry. How beautiful. One of my friends is now flying through the air! I'm so proud of her. This got me many of you, in addition to D, are in between? If you are, send me a note....let's inspire each other. We could form our own 'in between bars' support group! :) 

Whoosh....I'm really flying now too, there is very little foundation left underneath these feet. Soon my practicum will be over and I'll be looking to see what happens next. What will the new bar look like?

Spring is in the Pretoria (polluted) air,

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why I Can't Sleep

Here is an overview of your average night in my room as I try to catch some zzzzz's:

10 pm: Crawl into bed. Panic button beside me? Check. Alarm on? Check. (And no, not the alarm clock per se, alarms for outside/inside the house.)

11 pm: Just as I have dozed off, police sirens one street below. It's a busy road. Maybe the odd gun shot to boot.

12 am: Neighbor's house alarm has gone off. Eventually it stops. But I stay put, despite their need for help.

2 am: Dogs barking up a storm. They have seen a bird they don't like. Or a cat. They carry on for quite awhile, causing a stir with all neighboring dogs as well. It's a big ol' dog party out there.

3 am: Landlady's son has eventually come home from a night out. He accidentally sets of the outside alarms. I make sure nothing else is wrong by peeking upstairs. Phone also rings as security company calls to check on us. At least they're prompt.

5 am: Housekeeper's husband goes to work. Dogs bark at him and sometimes he forgets to turn off the alarm. It goes again.

6 am: Sunrise. The birds start to chirp/squawk. They, too, are excessively loud.

6:30 am: The radio blares. Time to 'get up'.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Circle of Life

In true "Lion King" fashion, this song came to mind today.  And no, not because I'm in Africa. Because I have been personally confronted with the very delicate circle of life this month. Just within my little tight-knit group of girlfriends one dealt with the death of her mother and another has just given birth to a girl. We live in such a fragile state.

People in Africa balance between life and death...I don't know...with less balance. If you picture someone walking on a tightrope, they would be wobbly. They walk a finer line between life and death. The best example I can give of this is on the roads. People keep crossing at a 'crosswalk' (and I use this term loosely) even though you, as a driver, have a green light and the right of way. This makes for the dodging of cars by people and the dodging of people by cars. It's like the tempting of fate. They see you going, make eye contact as you rev up your clutch, but go anyway. they are off for a Sunday stroll. The other day I saw a man literally strolling across a busy street...while pushing another man in a wheelchair. Oncoming traffic and all!!! Eish!

This fine line creates a certain 'aliveness' that is lacking in North America somewhat. People generally follow the rules where I come from. People do things on time. Get things done. Follow deadlines. Less maneuvering around the 'bending' of regulations. My type-A North American personality has slapped me in the face a few times in dealing with people and institutions here. I don't mean to sound better than, but it can get frustrating when you ask someone to sign a document and it takes 4 weeks....just for it to surface. Regardless, the way of life here is more relaxed, free, less bound, and more forgiving. It's less uptight which I can appreciate. It's made me more laid back. I thought I was laid back before, but not so much. I am grateful for this teaching. My heart is more open and soft.

I'm also being bombarded with other 'realizations'. "Home is where the heart is", primarily. No matter where I go and no matter for how many months, there is a longing for home. The same in reverse. When I am home, I long for travel and to see another part of this amazing world. This can create quite the confusion in my little head. There MUST be a way to satisfy both of these urges, no? 

I think, therefore, that creating a HOME, partly 'on the road', is what I need to try and manifest next. I must admit that being a solo traveller has had many perks in terms of my growth over the years, but, I don't enjoy it as much as I used to. I desire more for these experiences to be shared, and instead I often refer back to people in my life at home via phone, email, skype, etc. to share things with at a distance. This can feel hollow at times. It would be so much better if there was some of home, here, with me. Perhaps the creation of a life with someone(s) who have the same need to travel and the capacity to create a HOME wherever they may land. The worldly life. Yet the consistent life. (In between of course.) And no, this is not coming from a place of fear, this is coming from a place of contentment. Contentment with myself, and being able to love me and what my soul requires.

Let the countdowns begin! 17 days until David arrives; 28 days until I am back in YYC; 10 days left in my practicum!


PS-I have fallen in love with this South African band named Freshly Ground. Enjoy their new song: