Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Mary's Meals, AMECA and adjusting to Edinburgh


I keep being asked how long I've been back for - eh I got back on the 20th Sept - is normally the answer. Time just flies past, not necessarily because I am having fun but because I am constantly working on something.  I knew I would start to get more stressed as I began writing and trying to balance my PhD with working for the IAD. What I didn't really bargain on was Kate going on maternity leave and Fiona leaving us to move to London.

I attended the Mary's Meals Open Day on 4th November. There was a 5 minute film about Mary's Meals over the last ten years (it's on the Mary's Meals Facebook page) and then the showing of Child31. Child 31 is an OSCAR nominated documentary about Mary's Meals in Malawi, India and Kenya. It was nice to see the Malawi staff (mainly Panji) talking about the benefits of Mary's Meals. I'm waiting on the application forms to become an official speaker  - although I think I'm currently an unofficial speaker as Mary's Meals manages to find their way into all my discussions of Malawi.

Another organisation which creeps into the discussion is AMECA. It normally starts with stories of my crazy (in a good way) friend Ruthie Marcus and the wonderful work she is doing!  The AMECA wind is a two-storey building comprising a private day surgical ward, training facilities and a cafe...the cake in the cafe is really good!...The revenue from these facilities are used to fund free orthopaedic treatment at Beit CURE International Hospital for the children of Malawi and also contribute to the Malawian National Club Foot Programme.


So I've been back for more than a month but I still miss bits of Malawi - I miss Fanta Passion,  I miss having onions in my boiled potatoes, I miss Chez Maky steak and Axchelle's Bonafi (Banoffee) Pie. I miss the sunshine and that it's warm enough to wear flip flops. I also miss the people and going for walks around Blantyre. I miss the Kwacha and not having loads of coins to carry around. Then again, I like having my own kitchen and being able to cook and bake as and when I wish. I like that I am able to go out at night, without worrying about getting home after dark, and I like that there is no 4am wake up from the Mosque.

So i'm now going to stop blogging and get back to writing up my PhD... after all the sooner I get it finished the sooner I can go back to Malawi! :D

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Last Morning in Malawi...

It's just after 6am here and I've been up for over an hour (thanks to the prayer call from the Mosque).  Louis appeared about 15 minutes ago and opened the doors, went away and then came back to offer me tea! Henry (the Gardner) is wandering around with a watering can making sure all the plants on the deck are watered. Apart from the guard the rest of the dwarfs (sorry i mean staff) will be here sometime around 7am.

I had no intention of being up so early this morning but clearly someone else had a different idea - even if it was the prayer call that woke me rather than church bells. Everyone keeps asking me how I feel about leaving - I don't think it's sunk in yet (even though my cases are packed and i'm essentially ready to leave). It just feels like I'm going on a holiday and not actually leaving after 5 months of work/research and lots of laughs.  I was asked yesterday if i've cried yet  - I haven't but no promises that I won't! 

Maybe because I've left before and been back within a year - it feels like I will be back in Malawi again! I hope I'm back soon. There are positives about leaving  - I'll have clean feet! and the water and power won't go off every time someone decides they want a pay rise! 

Over the last week, I've said goodbye to people, met them again, said goodbye again! Well you get the idea! Joe did say until you are on the plane, the chances are you will keep saying the same faces until you leave! He was right! I also keep meeting people who are leaving on the same flight as I am - I have a feeling the flight for Chileka (Blantyre) to Jo'burg is going to be full of people I know. Tony and John have the same connections all the way to Edinburgh!

Well soon it will be time to say goodbye to Malawi... :-(


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Lilongwe to Blantyre: early starts, bus crashes, good conversations and meeting new people...


Imagine its being 5.30am - you're up just as the sun rises and getting ready to catch the early (7am) bus to Lilongwe. Up early enough to get ready and sit and watch Lilongwe come to life as people start t make their way around the city.

6.45am  - I'm at the AXA bus depot. To begin with the Executive Bus is not running - so it's the "Deluxe" coach we are getting on. The main difference is the lack of air conditioning which means it's going to be hot on the bus!

7am  - The bus sets off via the AXA workshop for Blantyre

7.20am  - Finally out of Lilongwe and on the road to Blantyre - the driver is going really fast to make up time, half the bus are Mzungu's and don't look to comfortable with this! Thankfully I'm sitting half way up the bus and have my earphones in.

9.15m - we stop at Ntcheu for a 10 minutes to let people stretch their legs, go to the toilet etc!

9.25am - we finally leave Ntcheu heading for Blantyre

9.45 am  - the bus hits a car! The car was slowing down at road works but the guy changing the go and stop flags didn't give the driver enough warning and so the car did an emergency stop as did the bus! The bus still hit the car, blowing out it's back window. We now have to wait on Road Traffic Police, to arrive, assess the situation before we can go anywhere. There are several first-aiders, a doctor and a nurse on the bus! Between us we are able to check no-one is injured.

10.30am - we are on our way back to Blantyre - the driver is again going fast! You would have thought he would have learned.

11.20 I finally know where I am - not far from the bus stop - I let Moffat know to come and get me.

11.30 - Bus arrives at the bus station, i get my first look at the front of the bus, I'm glad I didn't notice before how bad the damage is - everyone who wasn't on the bus wants to know what happened.

11.45 - arrive at Makys! Steve takes one look at me and reaches for a glass without even asking what I want! I say hello to Maky and the staff before finally managing to say "pineapple" to Steve - in other words fanta!

Noon: Start to think about food!

The afternoon I spent checking emails, texting and phoning people and I also managed to re-organise my cases etc!

Now its Saturday, I'm meeting Kirren in 20 minutes and will be spending some time catching up with friends..









It's time to say goodbye...



This week was the start of the goodbyes. I don’t like saying goodbye but I think having to say it to people you have spent time with is much harder. It started with the staff at Minga CDSS. I’ve spent so much time with the staff, teaching the kids, emailing and phoning Gilbert and Happy.  Of all my research participants I think I spent the most time with them and had the most distant communication as well.

Then today I met up with William, a really good friend that I met in Edinburgh earlier this year. He is Malawian and I study Malawi so a mutual friend (Mupu) introduced us – it felt like we had always been friends after about ten minutes. He’s been a really good source of information and support as well – saying goodbye was rather sad. Thank God there is Email and Facebook now – keeping in contact shouldn’t be too hard. Actually it’s thanks to God we  met – Mupu, William and I all attend the same church in Edinburgh and had I not met Mupu at church, I would never have met William (oh and thanks to CSU for the cheese/wine/cake nights that were planned – they also helped).

It’s made me think about the Goodbyes to come! The Mary’s Meals staff, Axchelle & Maky et al, Jo and Clive, Joe, Michael & Karen et al (though Karen is currently in South Korea), The Beehive volunteers, Open Arms kids, volunteers and staff, The staff at Chez Maky, Florian and Mary, Davina, David, Thomasina, Katie and the list goes on and on!

I suspect the next week or so will be just as full of tears as they will be happy moments...as "I'm leaving on a Jetplane"




Monday, 20 August 2012

Finally: A Blog Update!'


I’ve got just 4 weeks left in Malawi now and it is going so quickly! I’ve not been very good at keeping my blog up-to-date but that is mainly because I have been so busy! I’ve been doing some work for Mary’s Meals Malawi whilst completing my research. Everything here seems to take much longer – even ordering a drink seems to take an age!

I’ve also been able to have some time to visit different places and meet new people. A few weekends ago I visited Majete Wildlife Reserve. It takes about an hour to get there from Blantyre and the journey down is lovely. When we arrived we picked up a scout and set off to find some animals. Our scout was really good at explaining things – every time we spotted a baboon he would shout “Baboon Baboon.” If you have ever seen the Stephen K Amos sketch then you will understand why this made me laugh.

In between work and well work, it feels like I’ve not done very much! Two weeks ago Mary’s Meals had visitors from the Scottish Government and from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Malawi). I didn’t know who the Malawians were until they were leaving and I was handed a business card. Turns out; Mike is the Assistant Director and after a few emails he has agreed to be interviewed as part of my research.

Last weekend I met up with my friend Kirren, after we wandered around town, we met the other volunteers from Beehive to go to a play. The play was put on by prisoners from Zomba Prison and Chichiri Prison. It was manly in Chichewa and although I didn’t understand every word I was quite surprised at how much I did pick-up.  After the play there was a live band and lots of dancing. We started off dancing at the back and by the end we were in the middle of all the Malawians doing some of the more traditional dances.

After much dancing we returned to Chez Maky for some dinner. The idea was to eat dinner and then go to a house party along the road which we had been invited too. However we were all so tired there was a decision just to go home (which for me wasn’t difficult as I was already home). The house party was close to Maky's and the music was so loud it felt like the party was just outside my room. I did manage to get some sleep although between the music and Mosque I was awake for a good part of the night. – I’ve never wished for a power cut so much! Unfortunately we did have a power cut – just mid-morning!

Today is a public holiday in Malawi (Yesterday was Eid – the end of Ramadan). It feels strangely quiet today and even though there are people around it reminds me a bit of the Mdina in Malta (known as the silent city). I will be back in the Mary’s Meals office this week, although I have submitted the draft of the report I was working on, I suspect there will be more work to be done.

Anyway, I'm off to have some lunch and enjoy the rest of the afternoon! 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Open Arms Foster Houses, A Wave from the President and playing catch with Rebel! the German Shepherd

It's Saturday morning and there is rest for the wicked! I asked about visiting the Open Arms foster houses and Enefer agreed to take me with her. There are four houses, Rose's House, Rosemarie's House, Richmond House and Sekwe House (soon there will be a fifth house called "Annie's House - After Annie Lennox who is helping to fund it). Every weekend one of the Open Arms staff go and visit the foster houses. Each of them are so different, although all the children had one thing in common, they wanted a hug and to show me their rooms. The children and so happy and it was especially nice to visit Rosemarie's House where Joseph now stays. I met him last year when I was here, when I asked him if he remembered me he replied with "Ice Cream" in reference to the trip to Makys where some of the older kids had ice cream.

Going round the foster houses is actually quite tiring so I was quite relieved to be heading back to Makys after spending time with all the children. On our way back, we were stopped at the bottom of Victoria Avenue by traffic police. We were able to work out that the President would be passing soon. Luckily we were right at the front of the traffic which had been stopped - a prime viewing location. Although we didn't see them clearly, both the President (Joyce Banda) and her husband were in the car and waving at everyone.

So finally making it back to Maky's no sooner had I sat down than Jo and Clive came in for lunch. I quite regularly sit with Jo and Clive at lunchtime (they are here almost everyday) - we do have a good laugh and Clive always has another funny story to tell. Well as it's Saturday - Jo invited me back to their house for afternoon tea. I knew they had cats and dogs and this didn't particularly worry me until Jo casually says as we approach the house - "when you get out the car, just stand with your arms folded and let the dogs sniff and bark." Barney (the smallest dog) did most of the barking.

Nala and Rebel had a good look and decided I was a friend (thankfully). I did make one mistake - I threw Rebel's ball for him. For the rest of the afternoon I had a German Shepherd staring at me, with pleading eyes to throw the ball. Every so often Nala would come to get a scratch behind the ears. There are also several cats - the smallest of which is Biscuit the kitten. She is very cute and is making her mark among the menagerie of animals. 

My Saturday was well and truly packed with things to do and I got back to Maky's in the evening, totally exhausted and wondering what I would be doing for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully not very much and I have a very relaxing day sitting around the restaurant reading my book.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

I've started with Mary's Meals...

I've started working (on a voluntary basis) for Mary's Meals. I thought the Country Director had something up his sleeve and after a meeting with him last week, he finally put his cards on the table! So I am working with some of the staff on Monitoring and Evaluation for the Under Six Programme!!

Lots of people in Malawi know what Mary's Meals does - or at least know there is porridge involved.  I experienced how excited the children for the first time on Friday when I visited a school in rural Blantyre.  I was along with a school group visiting from Scotland. When we arrived at the school many of the children were already outside and there was singing and dancing from the children and the volunteers as we climbed out of our car and the visitors who were with us got out of their minibus.

We made our way through the crowd to the Mary's Meals kitchen where some of the children were receiving their porridge.The picture below shows some of the volunteers explaining what they do everyday and how many children they feed.



I knew there were lots of children there as I had told some of them to behave (in Chichewa) when making my way through the crowd. I hadn't quite realised just how many had actually gathered around the kitchen. I had been so focused on the children at the front, he visitors and volunteers (I was even holding a volunteers baby at one point) that I hadn't really looked up.

When I did...




There were so many children (this photo doesn't show them all) - so many inquisitive faces! They recognise the Mary's Meals logo and I just happened to be wearing one of the unmissable blue t-shirts.  It took us quite a while to get back to our car at the end of the visit, the children were so excited that they had us surrounded - some even followed us as we drove away from the school.

It was quite an experience to visit a school as part of Mary's Meals. I've been in lots of schools (some of which have Mary's Meals) as part of my research and there is always a degree of excitement when there is a visitor at the school. I just had never experienced anything of this scale.

last week was my first week with Mary's and Meals and Friday was my first day "in the field". I can safely say I was totally exhausted by Friday afternoon!  I'm back in the office tomorrow and probably back in the field over the course of the next few weeks.

I'll try to update the blog next week with some more stories of my time in Malawi!

Monday, 21 May 2012

A day spent at the Road Traffic Offices!


Last Tuesday morning about 9am and I set off with Juma to the Road Traffic Directorate.  Juma is one of the drivers at Chez Maky and one of the “fountains of knowledge” when it comes to getting through driving related bureaucracy.  I thought it would take a few hours, I didn’t think it would take the whole day.  It starts off with Queuing at “Room 2” - none of the rooms are numbered or in any particular order so having Juma at this stage was essential. The queue didn’t take too long and after been given the one form to fill out we had to go and queue at another room to get the form stamped.

Finally it was stamped! Next room- where there is a really long queue. This is where you have to get your photo taken, fingerprints scanned and signature copied. The problem is there is only one computer, with one camera that works and that camera sometimes refuses to work! After lots of queuing and shuffling, and sitting and shuffling, we eventually get to the front of the queue! Then the woman goes on her lunch break! At this point, I gave in and Juma and I took the numbered cards we had and went off in hunt for some chocolate! I’m pretty sure I was the one in need of the chocolate, but at least we got to stretch our legs and get out of the cramped corridor.

After a 20 minute walk around Ginery Corner and dashing in and out of the shops we headed back to the Traffic Office to the long queue. Well no quicker had our backsides touched the seat than the woman shouted next and we were inside another room waiting for me to have my photo taken. Most of the process is done in Chichewa, which meant translation was Juma’s main task for most of the day. Well inside the room, the woman was just plain rude (mainly to Juma).  When I left, I’m pretty sure she was aware I wasn’t pleased with her, the rest of the room certainly knew, even if they didn’t quite get all of what I said.

Next we had to join another three queues so I could pay for the conversion and we then went to another two offices! By this point I was annoyed, so when an English woman thought it was her right to jump the queue because she was English (Several Malawians had already said there was a line) I got a tad annoyed and pointed out I had been in queues for most of the day so she would just have to suck it up and get to the back.  I don’t think I was quite so polite and by the look on some people’s faces, they may not have understood exactly what I said, but they knew that it wasn’t good. The people sitting either side of me looked as if they would be happy for the ground to open up and swallow them whole.

The final hurdle was to get it printed! That was the easy bit, although I was asked what side Scottish people drive on and what type of car I would normally drive. I assumed I was being asked Manual or Automatic so I replied with “normally manual but my UK License allows me to drive an automatic.” The question I was actually being asked was what make/model do you normally drive! “Eh – Suzuki“- the whole time I’m thinking – well whatever my mums has!! Thankfully the guy just nodded and didn’t ask any more probing questions. As soon as I had thanked him for the bit of paper, Juma and I got out of there as fast as we could.

Well what random facts did I learn on Tuesday? I don’t mind queues - I hate people who duke (jump the queue). I can actually understand more in Chichewa than I thought!!  Juma’s actual name is Peter. Malawian’s have difficulty in pronouncing my name – they get “L” and “R” mixed up!!  Comparatively I seem to spend less time in Immigration and Road Traffic combined than most people just spend with the Road Traffic Directorate alone!  


Saturday, 5 May 2012

Blogging for Breakfast...


I may have had some French toast (with Maple syrup) for breakfast but I am sitting watching Blantyre come to life this morning as I update the blog. This is probably my favourite part of the day, listening to the hustle and bustle as people go about their daily business. Sun rises about 5.30am which is when the city starts to spring to life for another day. Luckily I'm not normally up-and-about until about 7.30am. -that is unless I go to 6am mass.

I’ve been here more than a week already.  I have spent the last two days in the immigration office. Yesterday I completed the forms and submitted them to the immigration office for the attention of the Chief Immigration Officer. On returning today I was told my application has been accepted, I pad for the processing and now I‘ve to go back next Friday to collect the actual piece of paper. My challenge once I have got my temporary residency sorted is to get a Malawian driver’s license – no test involved (thankfully) but everyone tells me there are lots of doors and that it’s a bit of a nightmare. I’m glad I have plenty of books I can read.

Whilst I’ve been filing in forms, trying to get car hire sorted and reminding myself of how to get around Blantyre, I’ve been visiting Open Arms to lend a hand (mainly at lunch/dinner time). On Wednesday, I had a little boy decide to use me as crutch as he toddled around the playroom. He’s just starting to walk. I’ve so far managed to feed multiple small children without being covered in porridge although I’ve had nsmina thrown at me! (it’s texture is similar to mashed potato).  I also learned it generally a bad idea to sit on the floor unless you want all the toddlers using you a climbing frame – for some reason pulling my nose seems to be a popular pass time).

Well as Axchelle tells me she has been reading my blog, I am going to give her and Maky a well-deserved mention. Along with their cohort of staff, they run Chez Maky where I’m staying. With such good service, amazing food and a laugh-a-minute atmosphere there is always something happening.  There is such a happy buzz about the place and I would certainly recommend Chez Maky to anyone coming to Malawi!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Edinburgh, London, Jo'Burg, Blantyre

So I left Edinburgh on Tuesday at lunchtime for London Heathrow. Having spent the minimal amount of time in Edinburgh airport, I had 4 hours in Healthrow. What I hadn't bargained on was the pilot gaining time during the flight meaning i had five hours in the airport. Well what do you do with 5 hours in heathrow?  - After locating some lunch, I wandered in and out the shops (i did by a pair of shoes) then I found a chair and started to read from my new kindle.

I was surprised how quickly I got through the introduction and first chapter of the new book I'm reading! Then it was time to board the flight to Johannesburg. South African airlines are really efficient and as the flight was only half full, I managed to get a window seat and the seat next to me all to myself. I slept for most of the flight and was only sleepily aware of the turbulence, I don't think it lasted long.  I did manage to stay awake long enough to eat dinner and watch the newest part of the Twilight saga. Unfortunately I fell asleep during Iron Lady.

The wait at Jo'Burgh wasn't very long and I was soon on a flight to Blantyre. It was nice to watch the approach into Chileka and know that the easiest thing to do was to sidestep the tourists taking photos of the flags and make a dash for immigration. I wasn't quite front of the queue but I was close enough. Thankfully my bags arrived intact and I was able to meet with Moffat (taxi-driver). The drive to the airport hasn't changed  and the road to Makys is still in the same rough condition it was when I left last August.

Food as ever at Chez Maky is lovely, I had time to unpack, get myself sorted and have some lunch before Juma (one of the drivers) walked with me into town. It was thought best, so I wouldn't get lost or in-case I forgot my way around. Juma, wanted to know if I thought the walk was a long distance, I think he thought i was walking really fast.

So now I'm sitting in the restaurant, contemplating what to have for dinner, before I head for an early(ish) night and try to get some decent sleep.




Monday, 2 April 2012

Flights booked, I'm going back to Malawi for 5 months!

I've booked my flights and started packing, I'm off to Malawi on the 24th April for 5 months! This time there is a bit more to do before I go, I have to pack up my belongings and put them into storage (namely at my mums) for the 5 months away, plus I need to look for a new flat in Edinburgh! Julian at Ian Dickson was so helpful (once again) in getting my flights booked and as always made the whole process so easy!!

I'm looking forward to going back to Blantyre, despite the shortage of fuel and now sugar in some parts of the country. I'm looking forward to Passion Fruit Fanta and being able to eat Pork which actually tastes like Pork and watching the sunset from Chez Maky. I'm not really looking forward to going back onto Anti-Malarials or having to put on the mosquito repellent every night, but I'll get used to that again!

I'm sure there are a few things that I'll miss about Scotland, decent chocolate for one, the walk across the meadows, my friends, work (or rather the people at work). I won't miss the weather that's for sure!

This year I'm more prepared for having some sort of hay fever which basically means I'll wake up every morning with a blocked nose, it clears before breakfast but is highly annoying (probably more for other people rather than me).  Stocking up on tissues and water will be a priority when I arrive!! I'm taking my supply of olbas and vics with me! I'm already thinking about what weird and wonderful things I'll find in Shoprite and at Peoples!

My friend Becky has been getting me sorted on the first aid front (I've even been on a course) and thanks to Iain I am now able to use a triangular bandage for multiple first aid related issues. I thought I took a rather comprehensive kit with me, but apparently not, I just hope I don't have to use any of it!

So room nearly packed up, desks packed and cleared away and the supplies of suntan lotion have been purchased!...


Monday, 12 March 2012

It's week 8 and that only means only one thing:MARKING!

Okay so week 8, Isn't always about Marking, sometimes it happens in week 7, but mostly it occurs in week . It takes over everything else you thought you were going to do during the week.

Well the weekend before last, I made a break for it and went to Oxford for the Researching Africa Day Conference. It was actually really interesting and despite my total lack of sleep and lack of food, I survived with few awkward questions and was able to spend some time exploring (what I mean is I got lost, walked round in circles and happened to come across some of the places I was looking for). I did however find the fudge shop and managed to work out how to get access to the Bodleian Library.

I knew I was coming back to Marking, lots and lots of marking, it seems never ending and every time I think I've finished there is another bundle to get done. I like the teaching part, not so much a fan of the marking part. So glad I'm out of the country when it's exam marking time.

So last weekend I escaped to Glasgow on Saturday for the day, had pizza in DiMaggio and spent ages going from Argyll St to Buchanan St to Sauchiehall St and back again! It was worth the walking even if I didn't achieve me objective of buying new luggage, I did get a replacement jacket for the one that was beyond repair. I have since found and purchased luggage.

So this week is more marking, and meetings and learning to juggle, yes I said juggle. It can about because someone in my office is learning to juggle, it's linked to work in some way (i have no idea how) and since having a mini-lesson in the office I've found the juggling balls (yes i did own some) and I've started to practice.

So this week is made up of marking and juggling...












Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Abstract accepted: Yay - Time to write paper: 2 weeks: aaaahhhhh

So at the end of January an email was sent to the usual CAS folks about the Africa Day Conference taking place on the 3rd of March at St Antony's Oxford. Now this isn't unusual as it's the 13th annual conference. What is unusual is that I in a moment of complete madness decided to send in an abstract.

I wrote what only can be described as 300 words of an off-the-cuff abstract which roughly relates to my PhD. Submitting it, I thought it would have limited chance to get accepted and therefore forgot about it. Today I got an email of congratulations - the abstract was accepted.

Oh no, now I actually have to write a paper, one that relates to the abstract, which is sort of linked to my PhD. Why didn't I just focus on something which relates to the chapter I've already written? Common Sense  - what's that again?

The good thing is the paper links to some of the issues that I came across during fieldwork.  - good excuse to write up the interview transcripts (not that these have been sitting in a file in my desk or anything).  I suppose it will give me a reason to write and I think I may just have to try out the "WRITE OR DIE"  software which Louisa who I work for was talking about a few weeks ago in the PhD workshop for SPS).

I doubt it will improve the quality of my writing, although it may increase the quantity somewhat. There is (conveniently) the CAS PhD retreat/away weekend at the end of February, which I will be required to present at (guess what I'll be talking about). It should hopefully also give me a chance to hide in a corner away from all walking/hiking/sports based activities to finish off the article.

...powerpoints and actual presentation will of course be written en route to the conference....


Monday, 6 February 2012

Making time for other things....

So I'm always busy, I've always got 101 things on the go and I'm always open to take on another challenge - whether that is convincing the dog not to raid the bin or taking on another job. I've been working for the Institute of Academic Developments for a few weeks, it's week 4 of the academic year and I'm balancing tutoring two different courses with trying to work on my PhD. 

I knew at the time that I was taking on a lot (nothing new there) and I was going to be busy. I was made to promise that I would take a day off a week - so the designated day is Sunday. I realised on Sunday though that I was so tired by Sunday evening that I actually dreaded the thought of having to go out to go to church - something which I normally look forward too.  I've not been around St Albert's for a few weeks (a combination of illness and being away from Edinburgh), which was highlighted by one of the chaplains saying they thought I'd disappeared or something similar.

It got me to thinking about how much time I spend doing things not related to my PhD, work, tutoring, Guides and choir. Discounting playing whichever games console is now in the flat (shows how little I play), watching TV and generally falling asleep on the couch, I don't do very much that's not in the above list - I just don't have time! I could probably make time to fit in another social activity that involves me going out, but the thought of it makes me want to curl up and read the book that I've been meaning to start since Christmas Day.

So maybe I should be making time for other things? Well maybe if there was another day in the week I would, but until then, I will generally be found in an office somewhere, working on something or other...

Friday, 20 January 2012

Going Backwards In Order To Go Forwards....

Today I helped facilitate a workshop on how to manage your PhD, something I've attended at least twice if not three times in different roles. This time i was facilitating but as a result of my work with the Institute of Academic Development.

It was a bit like taking a huge leap back in time and thinking about the expectations and the goals I set myself when I first started my PhD. According to the "hours formuala" there are 168 hours in the week, we spend 100 of them doing things like sleeping, eating, walking the dog and all the day to day tasks we do to be able to live. The other 68 hours gets split into two - 34 hours for work and 34 hours for play. Now when you calculate the hours it basically comes down to Mon-Fri 9-5 working with an hour for lunch and time for a break - so a bit like a normal working day.

But then you add in barriers, working, tutoring, facebook, email, blogs, meetings, office hours etc and these all eat into your time. So how much time do we actually spend working on our PhDs - well the conclusion is a lot less than we probably should.  Then it got onto managing your supervisor - in all honesty I put the handbook in the bin about 20 seconds after I was given it. I came to the conclusion that the best way to manage my supervisor was actually to get to know them, be able to say no (which admittedly I struggle with) and not be scared to ask for help.  

Everything discussed, I was familiar with - but then I realised that I actually don't really follow my own top tip to keep my bibliographic software updated, I'm not very good at giving myself a break and I'm terrible at turning off my emails and ignoring them. - So actually going back to the beginning in a way, has made me reassess where I am in the middle of my PhD and the expectations I have of myself and of other people.

So I'm writing a list of all the non-urgent tasks that I have to do before the end of February and I am going to work through them, starting with updating Mendeley....





Saturday, 14 January 2012

Saturday Afternoon and I'm in the office!

It may not seem like a big deal to be working on a Saturday,  lots of people work on a Saturday - in fact I used to work every weekend in a clothing store we all know well! My  days of shifting boxes, organising stock rooms and serving customers may be behind me but working on a Saturday is clearly not!

Considering my future weeks basically consist of working (actual job) 2 days a week, tutoring (other actual job)  1 1/2 days a week and PhD (the reason for the 2 jobs) the other 3 1/2 days a week, I suspect I'll be spending a but more time in the office. I've discovered today that actually working on a Saturday can be quite productive. As it was once said "this place would be OK if there were no students". The cold building, creaky lift and the dodgy energy saving random-dancing inducing lights aside it makes for a good time to get things done.

So I don't spend, nor do I intend to spend all weekend every weekend in the office working. I may however be making a more frequent appearance over the next few weeks. At the moment my aim is purely to get this chapter off my desk! So much for the Christmas Deadline!

Getting my desk reasonably clear for Monday will also be helpful! I start my new job on Tuesday and tutoring gets into full swing the week after. (I'm not even thinking about the essays I'll have to mark! - at least a couple of weekends worth). For the moment though it's back to writing for me....

Sunday, 8 January 2012

It's 2012...

OK, so it being 2012 isn't exactly a surprise to anyone or at least I hope it's not!

Talking to a friend who made it her New Year's resolution to start a blog made me think about how sporadic my posts are when I'm not in the field! It also made me think about all the things I've got up to since the beginning of the year. I'm not sure I can remember January 2011 but I do know I wasn't far into my PhD.

Jan - April  - I was probably writing and readying a lot, oh and tutoring, I remember tutoring. I was preparing for my transition board paper, forgoing to Sweden to the ECAS conference and going on fieldwork.

June - August  - I went to Sweden in June and had a very quick turnaround before flying out to Malawi, now that journey I will never forget - delayed at Edinburgh, broken plane windscreens whilst in air, running through Heathrow like a mad woman, just making the flight to Jo'burg, getting lost in Jo'Burg airport, being so excited on the flight into Malawi and a bumpy landing at Chileka.

I was in Malawi till the end of August - I ended up coming back earlier than planned. A combination of demonstrations and it taking so long to set up school visits that it made sense to return and go back at a later date. I did really enjoy my time there; exploring Blantyre was certainly interesting and visiting some of the schools made me feel really lucky!

Sept - Dec.So starting back to Uni in Sept and to tutoring, is not the most exciting thing. In fact it sounds pretty mundane! Starting 2nd year of PhD just sounds scary *hides behind chair*!  I also joined Edinburgh Girl Guides as an Assistant Unit Leader - that may not sound much fun to some of you, but I was a Brownie and a Guide and I missed being involved with the organisation. Choir Rehearsals must have started around Sept - although I have no idea when!

The year ended with Christmas with the family, some of whom I only see on an annual basis. It was nice to catch up with family and friends at home, who I don't see very much these days. New Year was spent with my flatmate et al, dancing 2011 away and celebrating 2012. New Year's Day and the start of 2012 was spent with friends from CSU on a walk to Dean Village and lunch in a restaurant in New Town.

So what next for 2012! Lots more reading and writing for the PhD, more tutoring and marking, starting a new job with the Institute of Academic Development, Guiding Leadership Qualifications to complete, numerous choir rehearsals to attend, re-learning to play the clarinet and a fieldwork trip to Malawi to plan!!