Sunday, February 6, 2011

Feeling full

I'm starting a new job tomorrow.

Oh yah, there have been some changes since I last reported about the water outtage at the Kabwata Flats. Some things have happened.

in Sept 2010, after 3.5 years with EWB in Zambia, 3.5 years of 75 hour weeks, of living, breathing my passion, , of struggling and learning, of succeeding and failing, I had reached a point when I realised I needed to make a change. It's not that I had lost any more passion, or conviction in the necessity for more investment in business growth in Africa - on the contrary --, but it was that I found myself out of balance; I found myself no longer being able to think, to write full sentences, to analyse or process information in an intelligent way. I found myself without the energy to help others in a way they needed. More importantly, I found myself without the resilience you need if you're in the business of change.

So, I left my job with Engineers Without Borders. I packed up my life in Zambia, Malawi, and EWB. I moved back to create a life in Vancouver. I did what I never thought I would do, what women like me, who are raised on the principles of independence, ambition and professional success shouldn't really do: I moved for love. And I moved for the opportunity to spend more time with family, friends, people that matter. A much as these were the most drawing of forces, it was also not without tension. You see, in my choice to move for love, I also chose to moved away from a path of certainty in my career, to a life where I would have no job, and to a city in which agribusiness in Africa is relatively far off the radar. I took this leap with a fear that it would take me down a slow slide, and 10 years down the road, I would realise that I am part of the reason why change doesn't happen - complacency.

So what did I do after I arrived in Vancouver? I baked. I struggled to be ok to not doing anything or to not have a plan. I fought the idea that I was wasting my time by not being productive, until I let go of that notion and realised how much I needed it. After learning concept shared by a friend: to chop wood and carry water - I found pleasure in the mundane. I loved cleaning dishes. I slept in. In fact, I struggled to wake up because the sun doesn't actually rise until 8am. I yearned for the sun. I really yearned for the sun, and the heat. I realised that I no longer needed to boil water in a kettle in order to do dishes with hot water - hot water came out of the tap. I cooked, and grew a big fat gut. I scowled at the pet store down the road that offers 15 types of dog dishes. I vowed to myself I would never ever stop scowling at the excess of that, I vowed to myself that I must never forget how this life I have in Canada is merely a bubble of luxury within a world that has far less. I felt my chest tighten when I noticed that maybe I'm losing touch of that - my desire to buy white towels for the bathroom, or scented hand lotion. I felt guilty. I rationalised. I felt fear that I was sliding slowly into why change doesn't happen - complacency.

I laughed. A lot. From a place of joy. I fell more in love and feel a sense of immense fortune to have found someone who inspires me to be a better person and anchors me in the values that matter - that who you are, is more important than what you do, what a family means, what appreciating the moment means. Don and I also went through the process of putting together a home. We bought a couch, made a fir table, started a story board and have had many friends over for dinner. We had our first debate over buying jars while in IKEA. I realised how lucky I am to feel safe to have these debates because communication is the cornerstone of strong relationships. I have slowly reconnected with friends, choosing to spend more time with fewer people, and cherishing the long personal relationships that are based on things outside of what you do.

I tried to avoid the trash in the magazines lining the grocery store check out, and found myself not being able to fight the sound bite headlines - holy crap! a t.v. show on teenage pregnancy!? and yes! you're right! I do need a new phone every year. I felt a sickening feeling come on when I realised how much effort there is behind the news, the products to breed a generation of passive citizens.

I spent a lot of time with my brothers and their families, and have been re-inspired by my little nieces and nephews Izzy, Dante, Jada and Kayden who's curiosity, imagination and ever present laughter grounds me in the simple fact that potential in people here in Canada hasn't changed, even if the world around them is changing. My admiration for all my brothers and their wives grew as their parenting styles have given me hope that this potential in people will translate into responsible, engaged citizens through loving, supportive parenting based on values. And I felt fortunate to have them as role models for creating a life in which they are each living their passions and have healthy loving relationships. I got to hold my new twin nephews Max and Logan when they were just a few hours old, be amazed at my sister in law giving birth, at the support of my brother as a dad. I was also peed on as I gave my nephews their first bath as they were just a few days old, and I also witnessed one of my nephews pee in his own mouth. That is a memory I will never let him live down ( now, if only I can remember which twin it was...)

I learned to cross country ski - it is amazing when you get your body to move in a new way. I remembered how even though it is damn cold here, being surrounded by the beauty of snowy mountains on a sunny day is a gift. I spent time with my parents, and enjoyed having them come over for dinner, lunch, an afternoon. I bought rainboots, and laughed the first time I had to wear them, because it was not nearly as close to when I had to wear rainboots in Zambia. I have gotten used to using toilet seats because here, you can't really avoid them - but I still hold true to the belief that they are mostly overrated ( if you live by yourself or only with women).

I went to the EWB national conference last month. I reconnected with friends whom i have known through my years working there, and have an immense sense of excitement for what they will do - in business, in government, in leading change. More importantly, I have an immense sense of repsect for who they are as people. I became obsessed with what's happening in Egypt. I cried when reading the stories of citizenship, of courage, of a population finding their voice and demanding something better. I wondered, and continue to wonder, how I would have acted. I was facinated by the pace of change, and the power of social media. And I reminded of the bubble from which I was following the developments here in Canada, and how I want a life that is global, or where you stand up for what you believe in, and one where you believe something better is possible.

Yes, a lot has happened and this is just a sampling. There is much to share. Maybe one day, I'll take the time to write about it all, with more detail. Maybe one day, I'll write about how in order to help me think, work and start contributing again, I needed to take time to feel again, to be in the moment and to experience the things that will pass us by when we are so focused on that thing called change. Yes, maybe one day.

But for now, as I started out this note saying, I just wanted to say, tomorrow, I'm starting a new job here in Vancouver. I am starting a job that somehow is letting me work on Agribusiness investment in Africa, travel to Africa, and learn a lot - an absolutely incredible opportunity. And while I'm still trying to sort out life in Canada and Vancouver, I am doing it full of the things that matter - love, family, opportunity - and with no less ambition and passion for change, than when I took the leap back in August.

I feel like I'm the luckiest person alive.


Erin said...

This is a beautiful, honest post Ka-Hay. Your blog (and your wonderful writing) has always been one of my favourites. I hope this means you'll be writing more often again!!

It was great to see you at conference. Good luck with your new job, love and life!

Mina Shahid said...


Thanks for being so honest in this post! I second Erin, and hope that you post more often and fill us in on your new job! Your post makes me want to slow down and reflect, thanks a lot! much love to you, and thanks for the Worthers Originals haha!

take care


Josh said...


Thank you for sharing. You've captured so many of the feelings that many of us who 'move on' seem to be going through. You've put words to a lot of my feelings. Thank you.

Good luck with the new job! Very excited to see that work, love and life can be combined!

kahung said...

What a wonderful post!

You are right...we DO live in a bubble. But we live in a bubble where ever we go, however far we travel by the virtue of our skin colour, our language, the words in our passport, our place of birth.

The fact that you and I have the means to go home to a 'better place' after we are finished with our travels or work is a product of this bubble. It doesn't matter whether you are in Canada, Zambia, or Central America-you'll always be in a bubble.

In the end, I think it's about choice. We have the luxury to make choices (whether we deserve it or not) in our lives in a world where many do not.

It sounds like you are, again, making choices, now with balance and an eye towards love and family.

And that is never a bad thing...

Welcome back!

Claire said...

Ka-Hay, I'm late in reading this but I want to wish you congratulations on all the new developments, and on your choices, led by your heart. Your words are stirring and your passion is so invigorating. Santé!! xoClaire