Monday, August 28, 2006

Cross-cultural Missteps

Below is an article that I submitted for EWB's Long-Term Volunteer newsletter... it's in the same vein as the previous entry, but hopefully you'll enjoy it nonetheless...

Upon my second arrival to the Philippines – I first came here as a CIDA-intern on a large bilateral project in 2004 - I was once again struck by how seemingly similar the Philippines was to the West: fried chicken and spaghetti on the menu, Pantene shampoo and Kraft singles slices on supermarket shelves, English spoken by just about everyone, and a very high awareness for all things ‘American’. Indeed, if you traveled to the Philippines in that way that many Westerners do, you could easily miss the fact that the Philippines is an incredibly Asian country, with a very unique history and fascinating culture.

But how could this happen? There are a number of reasons, I suppose: first, there is a definite veneer of Westernization that coats the Philippines like icing on a cake. If you’re used to only being served the highly coveted icing, as many Westerners are, you might not even recognize that there’s a delicious cake made of strange and unheard of ingredients lying directly underneath.

Another reason that Westerners may miss the uniqueness of the Philippines is that they’re often just not required to look. Because most Westerners are able to live in absolute luxury with a fairly modest Western salary, they can afford to live in the most developed, Westernized parts of the country. Further, the Philippines is different from many developing countries in the fact that everything from home, and I mean everything, is available: bratwurst Sausages from Germany, wildflower honey from Austria, organic whole wheat pasta from the US, wine from France, sour cream from New Zealand, olive oil from Italy – it’s all here, provided that you have the money to pay for it. Because many of these imported items are still in the price range for most foreigners (costing about the same or maybe even less than at home), many never bother to shop in the wet market or eat local foods. After all, why would you ever take Filipino transit through the dirt and mud, cramming your big Canadian butt into a seat the size of a postage stamp, when you could take a taxi for the same price as transit fare in Canada?

What does all of this mean, you’re asking? Well, it means that if you’re not required to look, you might actually think that Filipino culture is comprised of only fast-food chains and shopping malls. In this way, foreigners may be lulled into the understanding that ‘it’s not that different here’. Because many foreigners are often afforded the luxury of living like they’re still at home (in neighborhoods with paved streets and sidewalks, in apartments with toilets that have seats, insect free nooks and crannies, constant power sources, and refrigerators for storing all of your fruit and veg, as well as support staff that speak impeccable English, etc), they potentially are misled into the belief that home isn’t so different from the Philippines after all.

This assumption can be highly problematic because under this veneer of Western consumerism, the Philippines is undeniably different in its values, traditions, and sensibility. As my for myself, even though this placement hasn’t given me the ‘privilege’ of living in luxury (I prefer to view the slightness of my EWB stipend as a good thing in itself, as it has allowed me to gain so much more about this country than I did during my first trip in 2004), I have nonetheless found myself in situations when I thought that I was on the same page as my Filipino partner, when clearly I was not. Indeed, there have been numerous instances in which the cross-cultural filter between myself and those with whom I was working with created massive miscommunications.

For example, in my work to sustain ably phase-out EWB’s Canadian volunteer sending activities in the SCALA Project, we have trained Filipinos to become ‘SCALA Volunteers’ – individuals to essentially replace the need for Canadian EWB volunteers to set-up the ICT centers. SCALA Volunteers have been sourced from existing SCALA Centers, and are accomplished SCALA computer trainers and/or center managers who are then trained in how to set-up SCALA Centers in other communities. During the first training that I was involved in, I contracted former SCALA Volunteers to act as resource persons for the training, and requested that they prepare a number of sessions to facilitate for the group. Since they had experienced the challenges of ‘living away from friends and family’, I thought the group would benefit if they shared their insight and experience.

However, when we all arrived and discussed the forthcoming sessions, it became quickly apparent that they were not prepared to facilitate. Indeed, when I brought up the subject, they looked at me with blank, almost scared expressions, like it was the first time they had heard about the request. In my own mind, I’d thought that I’d been explicit in my requests to facilitate, but it became fairly apparent that what I thought was sufficient to prepare them, was quite obviously insufficient to prepare them.

In Canada, we often work from the principle, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. As I have discovered during my time in the Philippines, however, this strategy just doesn’t work when working in a cross-cultural context. The reason it doesn’t work is this: all people operate from different, often unspoken, principles. Add to this cross-cultural differences and you have a context in which people’s underlying motivations and values are markedly different from one another. So long as you provide only what makes sense to you from your Western perspective, you’re likely never to really understand the needs of your partner, let alone have your needs understood by them.

Your main task as development worker, therefore, is to figure out what your partner’s needs are and what motivates them: what makes sense to them, what makes them comfortable / uncomfortable, what is repugnant to them, etc. In sum, you are not to ‘do unto others not as they would have them do unto you’, but instead ‘as they would like to be done unto’!!! But how do you achieve this in a meaningful way? As I have demonstrated in my own cross-cultural mishap above, it’s a LOT harder said than done. Not only does it require patience (which, let’s be honest, is often in short supply when you’re working against deadlines and challenging project objectives), but it also requires lots of time, as well as room in which to make mistakes and learn from them. Only by continually making mistakes, forgiving yourself for making them, making them again (we’re often not as smart as we claim to be!!!), and eventually learning from them, will the process of true understanding begin.

This blog has literally been months in the making, - it's taken me approximately 10 re-writes to get what I've posted below, and to be honest, I'm still not entirely happy with it. But I suppose it's better to post it as a work in progress than to post nothing at all!!!


Ironically, I never expected to wrestle with the ‘big things’ during my second trip to the Philippines. I suppose I figured I would have gotten all of those questions out the way during the first 30 years of my life, and that I could spend the next part of my life enjoying the knowledge that I was on the ‘right’ path. However - and I’m not sure if you’ve been able to experience this for yourself, but expectation has a nasty way of biting you in the ass, and this case has been no exception. To my credit, I did expect to wrestle with the not-so-big-questions – issues relating to the job, or to my personal life, but I’m afraid that I didn’t leave much room for the possibility of still being bogged down by the stuff that has you questioning your life, and re-evaluating all the ways in which you’ve been approaching it….

And what exactly is this big stuff that I’m talking about, you ask??? Well, to start, I had absolutely no idea how much my parents getting out the wine business would affect me. For those of you don’t keep up with Canadian business news, my parents are now neither involved with Vincor, Jackson-Triggs, nor Delaine Vineyards. The American wine giant that launched a hostile takeover of Vincor before Christmas came back with a higher offer this spring, and because it was much higher than the last one, the shareholders were fairly happy to sell their shares to the bidding company. Because the shareholders agreed to the new price offered, Vincor was sold to Constellation Wines within a matter of weeks. Further, because my parents’ vineyard had an exclusive selling contract with Jackson-Triggs, Delaine Vineyard ended up being thrown into the pot so as to avoid an uncomfortable selling arrangement with the new parent company. So, within a matter of a few weeks, not only were both of my parents out of the wine business, but they were also out of a job and essentially staring retirement in the face!

So why did this all of a sudden start me thinking about my own life? I suppose it was because I hadn’t realized exactly how much wine had shaped who I had become as a person. Just as large parts of my personality have formed in the gay ghetto, the electronic music scene, and on the West coast, so too has it formed growing up around wine. Not only were all of my summers in University spent working at the Wine Rack, but wine has also been present at every dinner, holiday, and celebration in my adult life. I realize that it’s strange to say it, but I didn’t grasp how much wine had shaped me as a person until its influence was essentially out of my life.

And so where has that left me? Well, it has certainly left me questioning things – about the private sector verses the voluntary one, and where I perceive there to be the most possible impact for my life. And what exactly do I mean by impact? Well, as many of you know, the reason that I decided to go into development was because I wanted to somehow create a counterbalance to all of the exploitation that is occurring on the planet. Why such a dramatic statement and strident goal? Because I honestly believe that if we don’t change the way in which we live and work, quite simply, our children and grandchildren’s futures will be at stake. And how does this relate to everything that’s been rolling around my head lately? Well, let’s just say that I’ve come to understand that neither international development nor the private sector (aka the wine business) is an inherently good (or bad) vehicle for positive change to occur.

For example, if Engineers Without Borders has taught me anything, they have made me realize that how one lives on a development placement is almost as important as the work that is being accomplished. This is because the lifestyle of many development workers overseas far exceeds their lifestyles in their home countries. Although I am representing the extreme case, many development workers employ drivers, maids, and rent houses in the most prestigious parts of town. Why is this so reprehensible? Well apart from the obvious fact of using public funds to support extravagant lifestyles, living like a Westerner in a developing country removes the development worker from the everyday reality in which he or she is working within. Because their reality is so different from those they are trying to reach, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to understand the nuances of the culture that they’re working in.

This is where it gets a bit fuzzy though: development workers draw upon the comforts of home because quite simply, it improves their ability to do their job! Working cross culturally can be emotionally exhausting and development workers prevent burnout by surrounding themselves in a familiar atmosphere – one with refrigerators that are never turned off, air conditioners that run 24/7, rides to work in private or project vehicles, stays in business hotel, and laundry done in automatic machines and dryers. In sum, Western development workers often retreat to what’s comfortable rather than trying to find local equivalents for the things that they have at home. Afterall, it's much easier to recreate your old life in a new place rather than to discover new ways of fulfilling old needs.

This all being said, I have also come to recognize that living the way that EWB prescribes is not sustainable. Because I am still single and don’t yet have any real life responsibilities (aka mortgage, ailing parents, etc), I can afford to live more in line with how everyday people in the Philippines live – taking Jeepneys and tricyles and not taxis, living in a rented room rather than in a furnished condominium, etc. I also recognize, however, that if my life ever changes (i.e. if I get married and have children, for example), that what was once a simple matter becomes a great deal more complicated. For instance, if I have children, will I want to live in an area of town that is ‘closer to the people’ or an area in which my children will be guaranteed of their safety? Will I send them to local school or send them to an International School where they can be sure to get a good education? Will I work in development for my entire life, only to come back to Canada at 65 without a home, savings, or retirement fund?

Added to these realizations about development have been my new reflections about the private sector, as spawned by my parents leaving the wine business. Granted, the private sector has certainly been responsible for the exploitation of much of the world’s social and environmental resources, but I’ve come to realize that if changes are made in the way that business is run – if it is made more accountable to the communities and environments in which it is operating – there is enormous potential for positive impact to be had. I should point out, that these ideas are by no means revolutionary; many thinkers and activists have been heralding ‘corporate social responsibility’ as an important mechanism for positive social change to occur. What is new, however, has been the idea that I could personally be apart of this process. As such, my childhood vilification of the private sector has subsequently matured into the understanding that positive change is neither the exclusive territory of either the private sector nor international development.

So as much as this understanding is at some points disheartening - I think it’s a lot easier to go through life thinking that one thing is inherently ‘good’ while others are inherently ‘bad’ – it is also empowering. It has made me realize that there’s opportunity to postively change things outside the international development sector. While all of you are gasping in shock at the mere suggestion of a career change, I should add that this doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m off the development track, but rather than I’ve opened myself up to more possibilities. I’ve realized that there are many ways in which to make a difference in one’s life, and as such, I’m content to do what I'm doing, but remain open to opportunities that I may have been closed to in the past.

Sunday, April 30, 2006


So it’s been over 2 months… two months and two measly blog entries!!! “What the heck has that girl been doing over there?!?!”, you’ve probably been asking yourselves… “She goes overseas with some dodgy little NGO, gets paid a pittance to live in some god-forsaken country, and doesn’t even have the decency to let us know what she’s doing over there!!!”

Okay, okay… so I realize that I’ve been a little bit under the radar as of late… but to be fair, my life has been a bloody three ringed circus for the past two months. I’ve been traveling around the country like mad, organizing meetings, drafting proposals, and trying to absorb as much of my predecessor’s understanding of the project as I can before she leaves for Canada in a couple of week’s time. As I write this, I realize that many of you probably don’t have the foggiest clue about what type of work I am doing here. On this note, I’ll try and summarize the project and how I’m involved, and do my best to keep your eyes from glazing over!!

To start, the project that I am working on is called Scala. Scala was the brainchild of a couple of EWB Engineering students from McGill, who had the idea that they could create opportunities for Filipino youth by providing access to non-formal computer training. To make a long story short, EWB (by way of these students) created a partnership with the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the Philippines in order to set-up Computer livelihood training centers around the country. To date, there are 23 such “Scala” training centers around the country, offering basic computer training and life skills classes to Out of School Youth and Youth with Disabilities. If you’re wondering why this project is housed within a Social Service department like the DSWD, it’s because the project also offers ‘life skills’; it not only hopes to not only create livelihood opportunities for youth (aged 15-24), but it also aims to arm youth with social skills the will prepare them to become contributing members of society. (Life skills content include topics such as reproductive health, entrepreneurship, leadership training, public speaking, high school equivalency, etc.)

Anyway, all of the existing Scala Centers have been set-up in cities or provinces around the country (provinces are considered ‘local government’ in the Philippines), and are managed out of city or provincial DSWD offices. Where I work, on the other hand, is at the National DSWD office, or the Social Technology Bureau. The STB’s role in all of this has been to coordinate the expansion of Scala to new Regions and to offer 'technical assistance to the Regions and Local Governments that require it. (Fyi, "Regions" are more similar to provinces in Canada).

My role within this strucutre has to support the replication efforts of the STB, as well as ensure that there is institutional capacity at both the national and Regional levels to implement the project after 2006. (To provide a little bit of background, EWB will no longer send volunteers to work on Scala, as they have done since the project began in 2003. The reason for this is that EWB has focused its volunteer sending (and organization) efforts to rural development initiatives in Africa. Since 2006 is the last year that EWB volunteers will be supporting the SCALA project, much of our efforts have been on ensuring that the DSWD can continue to do what has successfully been done over the past three years.)

Sounds easy, right?!? Uh, not exactly….The work here has been VERY challenging, largely because SCALA is lodged within a government department. As many of you may have already surmised, working in government is VERY trying, and not because the people aren’t dedicated or committed to positive change…. It’s challenging because of the level of structure and red-tape tape that every piece of information must pass through before being actualized… Add to this the Filipino tendency to leave decision-making to those at top levels, and you have a situation where bureaucracy is RIFE. Despite all of this, however, this project has seen some great results; over a 1200 Out of School Youth have been provided with basic computer skills, life skills, and career opportunities, and local governments and communities have rallied behind Scala centers to ensure that they are able to train youth in the long-term.

So that’s what I’ve been busy with…. I wish I could go through every detail of my time here, but time being what it is, I’ve compiled a list of ‘milestones’ for the past two months instead!

  1. Travel to numerous parts of the countr so that I'm able to get to know the project better
  2. Organization of a multi-stakeholder meeting that invovled all of our partners so that we could collective understnad where we were, how we'd gotten there, and what needed to be done as a result
  3. Planning of the year's activities with our partner
  4. Visiting two new regions in Mindanao and being overwhelmed by the need in this underserviced area of the country
  5. Writing a proposal for funding for the year (and re-writing, and re-writing, and re-writing!!!!)
  6. Navigating the challenges of working at the DSWD given the time it takes to even write a memo!! (literally 3-4 days)
  7. Going to the Bureau of Immigration for the 5th time and still not coming home with a visa/work permit
  8. Discovering that I actually like durian (the stinky, frightening looking Asian fruit that looks like it should be attached to the end of a medieval mace, and not eaten by hordes of faithful enthusiasts!)
  9. Slowly but surely learning Tagalog - or at least picking up more "taglish", anyway!
  10. Having days where I am completely overwhelmed by the fact that I few friends here, only to meet a lovely new friend on a public bus and be overhwhelmed by the universe's reiteration that everything does, indeed, happen for a reason
  11. The difficulty and beauty of the realization that my knowledge of Filipino culture was and is not as vast as I thought
  12. The uncomfortable realization that I’ve been going through culture shock (with no real ‘honeymoon’ stage!!), and that this is still ok – it’s all just part of the learning process
  13. Turning 30 and not realizing how much of a milestone this was until I was smacked in the face by it (oooh, that sneaky little bitch of a number!!!)
  14. At the same time, letting go of society’s timetable and timeline and recognizing that my life will unfold in its own time, and nothing will speed it up or slow things down

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Limbo, interrupted:

For almost an entire year, I have been preparing to leave. Prior to getting accepted as an EWB volunteer, I was essentially only half-home. Because I was so focused on my goal of getting another overseas position, I found myself almost in a state of limbo – not entirely laying down roots where I was, nor looking for alternatives elsewhere, whether it be working outside of my field, or seeking out new friends or relationships. Once I had been accepted as an EWB volunteer, however, it seemed as though my in-between status had finally been relieved.

Following the completion of Pre-Departure training at the beginning of February, however, I was once again thrust into a period of stasis. I had technically already said goodbye to my friends and family prior to the start of training, but now I was back at home for an undetermined amount of time. Since most flights to the Philippines were oversold as a result of Chinese New Year (people were finished visiting their relatives elsewhere and returning back home), both Sarah Grant (the Project Coordinator who I am working with for the next two months) and I would be stuck in Toronto until the organization was able to get a couple cheap flights out.

Not surprisingly, it was a very strange feeling to be back at my parent’s house and not know when I would be leaving. Further, because of this, I wasn't really able to make plans beyond the next few hours – whether it was reconnecting with friends, or going out for dinner with my parents, I was pretty much locked into the moment. As a result, I ended up spending the remaining time with my family and with people that I’d met during training. I should probably apologize at this point to those whom I didn’t get to see or talk to during my final days in Canada, but as you can probably imagine, my body and mind were definitely focused in a different direction. As a result, it was hard for me to continue to look back to those of whom I'd already said good-bye – doing so would’ve only made leaving more difficult.

In a very short period of time, however, my ‘it’s-still-so-damn-comfortable-to-be-Canada-state’, was almost forcefully interrupted. With an email and a phone call, I was on a plane in what felt like the snap of someone’s fingers. Even though I had been preparing for this trip for months, I still felt oddly caught off guard in the 48 odd hours prior to my departure. Perhaps it was last minute jitters, or some weird unresolved separation anxiety from friends and family. Regardless of the cause, however, it was all a bit unnerving.

And from here, I arrived into another girls’ life. Even though I lived in the Philippines for 9 months a year and a half ago, somehow everything felt different. For one, I was returning to the Philippines to replace someone. Not only was I the next EWB volunteer to work on the SCALA project, but I was also the next ‘Sarah’ to work here! (Ironically, there have been two other Sarah’s to work on the SCALA project over the past three years. I’m positive that our partner, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) must think that Canadians are completely incompetent when it comes to creatively naming baby girls!!!)

I think these feelings were also contributed to by the fact that I was also returning to a place that I had already gotten to know (likes, dislikes, people, food, places, etc.) I’m not sure if many of you have experienced this, but it is a really strange feeling to go back to a place that is already filled with memories, knowing that you will be soon leaving again. I know this sounds dramatic given that I won't be leaving for another 10 months, but it doesn’t change the fact that after my contract is finished, I will not be staying in the Philippines. Not surprisingly, this knowledge makes reconnecting with old friends an interesting exercise. With every interaction, there’s a definite joy in the meeting, but there’s also a nagging sense of decay and melancholy, however small that feeling may be…

Despite this oddity, it has nonetheless been great to reconnect with old friends. My former friends and colleagues from LGSP have been a wonderful support for me here, if only through the odd text message, dinner out, or strategic planning session. Indeed, it’s been definitely nice to know that they’re around. I haven’t been able to see as much of them as much as I used to, partly because I have been super busy settling in, orienting myself to the project and my new office, but also because I live in a totally different area of the city. As I said before, though, it’s been nice to know that they are there when I need them, and that I won't be alone when Sarah leaves in a few weeks’ time.

Not that I currently need their support though!! With Sarah Grant still here, I have certainly not been needing things to occupy my time. From setting up our little apartment, to making numerous trips to the visa office across town (almost an entire day affair!!), to visiting Computer Training centres around the country to orient myself on the project, to getting to know the DSWD staff, to devising strategic plans for the year, to taking Tagalog lessons once a week (the Filipino language), and to getting comfortable with my new life back in the Philippines, my days (and nights!), have certainly been full. If anything, my only complaint is that I have had little chance to reflect on what has happend over the past few weeks. Regardless, I am happy and looking forward to the next couple of months, with all of the challenges and joys they will bring.

The Training house:

In all honesty, I thought that I would intensely dislike having to live in cramped quarters with 9 other overseas volunteers for the entire duration of my Pre-departure training. I’m sure that part of this was due to the fact that I already lived in Toronto, and as a result, I didn’t see the point of sharing bunk beds with a whole bunch of other kids from across the country. Granted, I was told that this was an important means for building group cohesion, and that trust needed to be built between EWB and us overseas volunteers, blah, blah, blah, but seriously! ( Let's just say I wasn't entirely sold on the whole idea...) Despite all of my reservations, however, I made the decision to be positive and to make the best of the situation.

What I couldn’t predict, however, is how much I would actually enjoy the experience; I had absolutely no idea of what a pleasure it would be to live with the other 12 volunteers in a overfilled 2 bedroom house. Granted, there were elements of living in the house that I didn’t always enjoy, including the need to share 2 bathrooms with 15 other people (at our highest count), nor the constant state of quasi-messiness that abounded as a result of so many shoes, jackets, papers, and belongings all being stored together in the same place. Regardless of all of these daily irritations, however, my experience ended up being immensely positive.

You may be asking yourself why I experienced such as turnaround in sentiment. Well, the answer is actually quite simple. If I took anything away from living in that house, it is that beautiful things happen to you when you challenge yourself to live outside your comfort zone. When you challenge yourself to do things that may not necessarily fit within your usual means of thinking, acting, and reacting, you not only give yourself an opportunity to learn, but you also give yourself a chance to find your own strength. And while this happened on a fairly small scale in the house, it probably prepared us better for living overseas than any component of the actual training did.

Granted, the living situation in the house may not have required the other participants to stretch themselves as much as I was made to. Living in the training house required me to make some pretty substantial adjustments. As many of you know, I am a fastidious person. Thanks to my parents’ influence, I tend to like things neat. I also like my own space. I like structure, but I also like to be free to enter into that structure on my own terms. I don’t like being manoeuvred into situations, and I certainly don’t like being told what to do! (Old habits die hard, eh mom!) Funny thing is, is that I usually tend to these character traits when I’m most uncomfortable in situations – when things are new, when I’m feeling timid, when I’m lacking confidence, or when I’m scared. So why was it that I ended up giving up all of these old standards?

I suppose for a number of reasons… As I mentioned before, I made the decision that training would be a positive experience, so as much as there were things that were irritating to me, I decided to push myself, and to try and enjoy things that I might not have previously enjoyed. I allowed myself to fully embody the experience, and as a result, many of those little irritations just fell away into insignificance. Further, by allowing myself to be challenged, I ended up gaining so much more in return: a lovely new set of friends; a multitude of late-night giggle sessions; an ability to appreciate "organic" decision-making processes; a variety of collective and creatively-made meals; memories of late-night sing-songs, hacky-sack sessions, paper-shredding, and puddle-jumping; a left-brained perspective; a new view of my old town; and a renewed desire to continue learning about development and my place within it.

Pre-departure training was obviously not, however, just about living in the training house. Indeed, the training house was where (you guessed it!) we participated in a number of training sessions to prepare for our overseas placements. For me, it served the additional purpose of allowing me to get to know EWB and their approach. (Every organization approaches development in a slightly different way, which is probably why poverty still exists – no one can agree on how exactly the ‘problem’ should be framed, nor how it should be solved. This ambiguity is why working in development is such a challenge. There aren’t any easy answers, and no one can really say that their 'answer' is better than anyone elses.)

So what did we end up doing for almost a month? Besides heading to the organization’s annual conference and Annual General meeting for about a week (quite an EVENT – over 500 engineering students or full-fledged engineers brought together from across the country to learn more about development and how technology can be used to reduce the poverty of the South through sessions lead by EWB volunteers and practitioners/academics in the field), we stayed in the house and learned. We read a bunch of case studies, discussed a number of ideas and frameworks, disagreed on a fairly regular basis, took things a bit too personally, and finally after more discussion and constructive feedback, we came to a place of mutual respect. Even though it was not always a comfortable setting to learn in (not because the material was particularly difficult, but because the material will always be difficult), it nonetheless allowed for great learning to happen – more of it in the soft skills category than any other. After all, if we are able to live outside our comfort zone, create a safe place for learning, and challenge ourselves to listen to feedback and incorporate it into our personal practice and approach, we are much better prepared for the challenges of overseas work than any framework will ever provide us.


I’d thought that I’d begin this blog by sharing the horoscope that I read just after starting Pre-departure training with Engineers Without Borders Canada at the beginning of January. I know that many of you might not put too much credence towards horoscopes (and to those who read them), but please keep your sighs of exasperation at bay until you’ve actually finished reading it. For those of you who know me very well, you cannot deny its uncanny appropriateness to both my current situation and my previous struggles. It’s both strange and intriguing how something so generic could somehow describe my wishes, fears, and challenges for the following year, all within a single paragraph. So with that, I give you Rob Brezny’s reading for the first week of January 2006 (and his subsequent fire-lighting under my ass):

I’m hoping that in 2006 you will work your ass off with great ingenuity – not just at your job, but in every area of your life. Do you have it in you to break all your previous records for brilliant diligence? Are you willing to summon fierce discipline and crafty willpower not only to pump your career ambitions, but also to refine your approach to intimacy and increase your command over your own emotions? Are you finally ready to master all the excruciating but crucial details you’ve always avoided? If so, you could generate years’ worth of blessings.

Word!! And from there, where do I begin with this whole blog business?? Well, I think that part of the reason I’ve had such a hard time getting it started (apart from the lack of internet access and limited funds), is because I just haven’t had any clue about where to begin… SO much has happened since I started training almost 6 weeks ago, and as a result, it’s been really hard to nail down and articulate the thoughts and ideas before the experience has gone and mutated into something else. Because I’ve been experiencing so many ‘big’ things right after one another, they’ve all started to meld into one enormous experience...with numerous 'themes' turning into one gigantic mass of thoughts, emotions, and experiences. That said, I’ll try and do my best to compile a retrospective account of the past 6 week’s ebbs and flows...