Archive for the ‘Getting Organised’ Category

Change of plans

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I have changed my plans quite considerably since coming to Africa. This entire adventure has been borne out of a lot of changes of plans. And this one is certainly a change for the better. 🙂

While walking through the villages of Rwanda (just outside of Muhanga) with my guide and translator, I was thinking about how much I loved Rwanda. And about how much I like what Azizi Life do there and how much I’d like to be able to help. I was thinking about coming back to Rwanda. And it occurred to me that I don’t need to wait very long before coming back. I need to be in Uganda until the end of October. I need to be in Cape Town for the 20th of December. But I don’t need to travel overland from one to the other, I could come back into Rwanda.

So I changed my plans for the last few days in Rwanda and went back to Kigali rather than going north to the Volcanoes national park. I spent the time in Rwanda trying to sort out a volunteering placement for 7 weeks in November and December.

I have a magnificent Plan B – which is to volunteer with Azizi Life back in Muhanga. Plan A is to try to get a placement with someone like Save the Children, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, etc. At the time of writing I am still trying to secure a Plan A position. But I will be very, very happy with Plan B if I can’t. (If anyone is reading this and it’s still October 2016 and you know anyone who works in one of these organisations in Rwanda who might be able to help me, then please do get in touch!)

The overland travel (including the trains and Kilimanjaro) will just have to wait till next time I come to Africa. 🙂

Mild Non-Specific Panic

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

About one or two weeks before I leave for the other side of the planet (pretty much regardless of which side I’m currently on) I suffer from mild non-specific panic. And I do mean mild. There is no reason for me to panic. I’ve done all of this before. I’ll do it again. I know what I need to do and what I don’t need to do. But nonetheless about a week or so before going I start to feel the pressure of all the things I need to do before I go and the consequences of being away.

Perhaps it’s because I start to say goodbye to people and start counting down my lasts. The last dinner I have with those friends. My last week at work. My last visit to a pub. My last weekend in this part of the world. Etc..

Perhaps it’s because of all the things I feel like I need to do before I go. Backup all my files. Reconcile bank statements. Update my blog. Do my tax return. Give blood. Prepare for the teaching I’ll do when I arrive. Finish work. Update my contacts list. Catch up on my emails. Print all the things I need print outs of. Etc..

Anyway. So it happens. And I get slightly panicky and slightly stressed. And I decide that I’ve got lots to do and no time. And I decide that I need a late night to get things sorted. So I buy coffee and coke and chocolate and toffee and I decide to pull an all-nighter. And then the mild panic gets supplemented by caffeine and sleep deprivation. What could possibly go wrong?!?

And, as you can probably guess, this blog post is a result of one such all-nighter. Right. Blog post done. Time to back up files. Then bank reconciliations. Then tax return. Then behaviour management seminar planning. 🙂

Sri Lankan Visas

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Getting Sri Lankan visas for the volunteers turned out to be somewhat tricky. It really shouldn’t have been. But it’s Sri Lanka. So it was.

Fortunately, I had the time and the inclination and the patience to go and see if I could help.

Two of the volunteers had had their visas extended already. Unfortunately, they had been tourist visas, not residence visas and the extensions expired a few days short of their stay in Sri Lanka. And they cost money.

There were two more volunteers, one of whom was staying for several months and staying on a tourist visa that VESL would have to pay for was not an ideal outcome. Particularly when all four were entitled to residence visas.

But, I have faith that things in Sri Lanka will work out in the end. So I took the paperwork that I had and I headed into Colombo to go and visit the Ministry of Immigration and Emigration. I’ve been there several times. I know it well.

I went early. I took a good book. I expected to be there all day.

I didn’t try to meet any friends of friends who could help me get what I want. (Two of the times that people have told me to meet up with their contacts at the visa office, I have been either told things that weren’t true or been kept waiting for several hours longer than I would have done had I just queued up with the normal people.) So I just lined up with everyone else and met one of the Deputy Controllers of Immigration. He looked at the paperwork. He told me that I was missing a letter from the relevant line ministry. I showed him one of the copies of a fax that I had. But he said, no, that was only copied to Immigration and not addressed to Immigration. I need the same letter but addressed to the Controller General of Immigration.

So I smiled and thanked him and headed off.

I called various people in Sri Lanka and the UK to see if any of them knew if the letter existed and had a copy of it. No luck.

So I jumped into a three wheeler and went to the office of ERD (the External Resources Department of the Ministry of Finance). I had the copy of the fax that they’d sent to External Affairs and copied to Immigration. I asked around to see if I could find the person who had prepared that fax to see if they had a copy addressed to Immigration. I couldn’t find the person who’d prepared the letter but I did find the person who signed it (or rather the person who works for the person who signed it). Anyway, after a few meetings and much discussion (and much smiling) it was decided that the relevant letter could be prepared.


I kept calling back to see how things were going and that’s when I heard that the letter from the Ministry of Local Government and Provincial Councils to ERD didn’t have the finishing dates of the projects. ERD needed confirmation from Local Government about this. That’s ok, ERD will contact Local Government and get the right paperwork from them. I managed to get a copy of the fax (which took a day to prepare and send) so I knew who it had been addressed to. And I then contacted him to see how things were going. Fine. He just needed to get confirmation from the Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council about the dates. I did push to see if I could help or to see who he was talking to at Sabaragamuwa so that I could chase them as well. No luck. Ah well. I kept pressing the guy from Local Government.

He did manage to get the fax with the right information from Sabaragamuwa. He then sent the right fax to ERD. ERD were happy and then they sent the fax to Immigration. I got copies of all of these faxes. It only took a week.

I went back to Immigration with the new paperwork in hand. It seems getting residence visas usually takes 4 days but since I’d been in to Immigration before and was coming from Eheliyagoda, they took pity on me and said they’d do it in a day. Awesome!

So I went back in the afternoon to collect four passports with four residence visas in them.

And they asked me to pay the fee. What fee? These visas are gratis. It says so on all the letters. The overstay penalty. But no one has overstayed. Yes, the entry visas for these two expired a few weeks ago. Ah, but they have tourist visa extensions, they haven’t overstayed. But we do the calculation from the visit visa. But they haven’t overstayed, they have valid visas. Hmmm, I’ll check. Thank you. Ok, no problem. No fee? No fee. Here are the passports.


A Week In Sri Lanka

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

I spent about a week in Sri Lanka.

I was staying with Heather and Cyril and had a very lovely time with them.

I didn’t suffer too much from jetlag but did get over what I did suffer quite quickly.

There are some volunteers coming out in July to spend 4 weeks teaching and I’m going to help them out a bit when they get here. So, in anticipation of that, I had a few meetings with some of the Sri Lankans who will be running things this end. It all seems under control. Well, except the visas.

I wasn’t directly involved with the visa process. It was being managed by the Sri Lankans themselves. But it did prove to be a fairly stressful few days. VESL had given them a deadline for getting the visa paperwork organised. If the documentation didn’t get through in time, the Sri Lankan project would have been pulled and the volunteers sent to India instead.

Fortunately, through the hard work of several of the people VESL works with, the visa letter was sent through to the UK. Only a day after the second deadline. 🙂

The difficulty is that it involved several different ministries, each of whom has different hoops that they want the others to jump through. And since status is very important here, junior officers can’t really hassle senior officers and senior officers can change their mind at any time about what they want junior officers to do. So the goal posts kept moving. People kept asking for different information, or the same information from different people.

So that was interesting.

But that wasn’t all I did. I also met up with some teachers who will be working with the volunteers and we chatted about what we’d do with them.

Plus, rather surprisingly, I ended up at a school that was running an after-school programme. So I got to teach some grade 10 and 11s. That was great fun. And some grade 9s. Who were really enthusiastic.


So a week of catching up, relaxing, teaching, meetings, eating tasty food.

Now on to India then back to Sri Lanka in a few weeks. 🙂

My plans for the next year (ish)

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Asking me about my plans is always a dangerous prospect. My plans (such as they are) do tend to change every two minutes. 🙂

But they seem to have stabilised a little at the moment and here’s what the current state of affairs is.

June 4th to August 11th 2011

I’m doing some co-ordinating work for VESL. There is a volunteer going to India on the 11th of June and I’m going to be picking her up from the airport, running an induction session with her, taking her to her school, getting her settled in, just generally making sure she’s ok and helping out with anything that I can help with. So I should be in India for about 3 weeks.

There are three volunteers going to Sri Lanka in mid-July. So I’m in Sri Lanka now chasing up their visas and checking on their accommodation, projects etc. I’ll be back in Sri Lanka a week or so before they’re due to arrive so that I can visit their accommodation and make sure everything is all ready for them. I’ll be meeting them at the airport and taking them to their projects. With the local country manager we’ll be running an induction session for them and will make sure they are settled in to their host families, schools, etc.

I’m also hoping to catch up with several of my Sri Lanka and Indian friends too, but it will depend on time. 🙂

August 11th to August 22nd 2011

I’ll be back in the UK. I’ll be in Cambridge to collect my stuff (thanks Matt). And to catch up with all my UK friends from the south.

August 22nd 2011 to July 2012

I’m going to be at Edinburgh University doing a PGDE (Professional Graduate Diploma in Education). Which is the same as an English PGCE. It’s a one year teaching qualification. At the end of the year  I need to do an induction year. I can do this in England or in Scotland (and can take more than a year to do it). After the induction year, I’ll be a fully qualified teacher. Yay!

I decided that it was about time I stopped pretending that I’m not a teacher. And when I accepted that I am, I figured that I should get a piece of paper that says I know what I’m doing.

Plus, I’m interested in teaching methodology so I think I’ll find the course really interesting!

And, it’s in Edinburgh, which is my favourite city in the world (well, of all the cities in the world that I’ve actually been to).

August 2012

Who knows?

I might go to Australia to visit my friends and family there.

I might stay in Scotland and get ready for my induction year.

I might move back to England and get ready for my induction year there.

I might go do some more voluntary English teaching (India, Sri Lanka).

I might go to countries I’ve been to that I want to go back to: China, Nepal, USA, Netherlands, Denmark.

I might go somewhere I haven’t been to yet: South America, Africa, more of south east Asia.

Who knows!


My time in the UK

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

I was back in the UK from the end of February to the start of June.

And it was really great to be back.

I spent my time with friends, working, volunteering, eating and getting ready to go away again.


Being back was a great excuse to catch up with lots of people and then my impending departure date was another good reason. So I met with lots of different people in coffee shops, parks, pubs, restaurants, at training days, on sofas, at work. It was really nice. I’ve realised that spending quality time with my favourite people is the thing that I love most! I even managed to meet up with two school friends that I haven’t seen since secondary school (which is about 17 years ago). Awesome!


I had 5 jobs while I was back. Well, it does depend a bit on how you count them.

The first was doing spreadsheets and databases at Cambridge Assessment. That was my day job. And it was nice being back there again and seeing the people I used to work with. It was another temp contract and I finished up on the day before I left.

The second job was doing Easter Revision teaching and supervision for MPW college in Cambridge. That was three weeks of intense teaching. I taught the 2 year maths GCSE 6 times. So that was 12 years of teaching in three weeks. Insane but really, really good fun!! And the supervision was great too, I spent the first two weeks staying at Churchill College and looking after about 22 GCSE students. Exhausting and crazy but I did only spend one evening in Accident and Emergency so that’s got to be a good thing (the student in question had torn a muscle in his shoulder and ended up being ok).

The third was doing some maths support tuition at MPW on Friday afternoons. Great fun (when my student didn’t cancel on me).

The fourth was some private maths tuition for a girl in Waterbeach. That was really good. It gave me an excuse to cycle out to Waterbeach once a week and she was really nice. It was good to work with her.

The fifth is doing some excel consultancy work for Excel4Business. This involves me doing excel spreadsheets in my ‘spare’ time. It has been really interesting and good fun. And something I’ll keep doing when I’m travelling.


I did some voluntary work. I helped run a few sessions on Global Citizenship with some primary and secondary students in Manchester, Maltby and Northampton. This was being run by VESL and was a great chance to catch up with lots of my VESL friends. I also did a training session with Rosie for Hannah’s Orphanage, which is a charity that sends people to Ethiopia to teach English. I also went to a couple of VESL training/selection days and helped out with training the next batches of volunteers. Really nice to meet them all. 🙂


I’ve been missing mangoes, fruit salad, kottu and hoppers. But not much. I’ve been too busy eating cheese, cheese on toast, toast, Special K, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, decaf soy mochas from Indigo, peppermint tea, stir fried veg and veg with no curry and no chilli. 🙂 I love the food when I’m away, but I love the food when I get back too. 🙂

Getting ready to go away again

Before I’d properly had time to unpack, it was time to start packing again. I’m off to Sri Lanka and India then back to the UK to go to Edinburgh. But more about all this in a later post. I am the luckiest girl alive. 🙂

So I’ve had a great three months and am looking forward to the next chapter.

Indian Visa Application – Step One

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I went to the Indian visa office in Colombo. VFS is the agency that issue Indian visas.

I went to ask them about whether I could get another Indian visa despite the fact that my current Indian visa has not yet expired.

It seems I can. So I got the forms and filled them in and photocopied the things I needed to photocopy and then went back to the front desk and she looked at the forms to give them a quick check (gave me another one when she realised that I was actually an Aussie) and gave me a number. So I filled out the other form, got my Aussie passport photocopied and waited for them to call my number.

Which they did. And the guy took all my bits of paper, got confused by the fact that I had two passports but was in fact only one person. Seemed unconcerned by the existing Indian visa and seemed very happy to take my money from me. He kept all the forms, gave me back both passports and a receipt for the money. He also gave me a piece of paper that tells me to come back on the 23rd to actually get the visa. It seems it’ll take them 1 week to look through the paperwork.

So on the 23rd I’ll go back (between 8 and 9 in the morning) and drop off my British passport and my piece of paper. They will spend all day moving bits of paper around and between 5 and 6 in the afternoon I can go back and collect my passport – with, I hope, a shiny new Indian visa.

If this all works I will spend about two weeks in India. I’ll go on the 17th and come back on the 1st. If this doesn’t work then I’ll go on the 17th anyway and come back on the 25th which is when my current multiple entry visa expires.

So here’s a question: given that passports have chips and bar codes and things in them, why don’t they also have all the requisite visa information in them too, like father’s name, date of birth, current address, marital status, countries visited in the past 10 years, etc. Surely its not beyond the wit of man to make that happen. That should make visa applications easy. You just scan/swipe the passport, it puts all the info directly into their system (including a digital copy of the person’s photo), they ask any of the trip-specific questions they need, like intended travel dates and purpose of trip etc. They enter that directly into the computer. It then issues the visa on the spot and everyone’s happy. Takes less time, saves lots of money, is just generally a good idea.

Of course all of this assumes the existence of visas. To be honest, I’d be happier to see visas being abolished completely. Free, unrestricted travel, that’s what I want to see. 🙂

Travel Insurance

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I like to think of myself as an intelligent, prepared individual. So before I travel, I get travel insurance.

Now, the main reason why I get travel insurance is to cover me for the really major things. Like getting hit by a bus, requiring lots of medical attention and needing to be flown home. Helicopter evacuation when trekking. Falling off a motorbike in Sri Lanka. Those sorts of things. The sort of things that will cost me more than my current contingency (1000GBP) will cover.

So I found a travel insurance company that seems pretty good for these sorts of things – in particular, they cover you if you are on the back of a motorbike – which many companies don’t do. I’m hoping that the 300GBP that I spent on travel insurance is a complete waste of money. In that I hope to never need to claim on it.

Now, I’m glad I think of travel insurance as only covering the major things. Because it certainly doesn’t seem to do a good job of covering the small things. So when I was in Kazakhstan and I started vomiting before my train trip and so stayed in a hotel instead of getting on a train, I thought that my insurance might cover me. At least a bit. At least for something. Not that I was relying on it. I figured, the extra cost comes out of my contingency, if I can get anything from my insurance then that’s a bonus. Which is the right attitude to take.

I wasn’t covered. I wasn’t covered for the train ticket I didn’t use because I didn’t cancel it BEFORE I LEFT ENGLAND. What kind of coverage is that if you’re only covered for things you cancel before you start your trip? Now, granted, this was mentioned in the terms and conditions and I should have realised this before I left, but that doesn’t make it more useful. In addition, I wasn’t covered for the extra bus ticket I had to get or for my extra Kazakhstan accommodation because I didn’t have a doctor’s certificate saying that I was too sick to travel. Now this one is arguably reasonable. Except in practice. I was vomiting. I wasn’t dying. I wasn’t really ill. I didn’t need to see a doctor. I needed rest. I needed fluids. I needed to watch out for dehydration. I definitely did not need to waste what precious energy I had trying to find a doctor who spoke English who could give me the right piece of paper so that I would get some money from my travel insurance company. And I think, if this had all been explained to me at the time (I probably should have called them in between vomiting while at the station debating what to do) then I think I would have done exactly what I did and say ‘sod the bloody insurance, it’s worth the few hundred pounds for me to avoid the stress and hassle and just concentrate on not throwing up, getting some fluids inside me and not dehydrating’.

And now, I’ve just bought a laptop from Sri Lanka. This cost more than 100GBP. Which means my insurance doesn’t cover it. In fact, the only way my insurance will cover it is if I get a BRAND NEW policy. They won’t refund the existing one.

Ah well. I’ll just put ‘replacing laptop if it gets stolen’ into the contingency bucket rather than the travel insurance bucket.

I really do hope that if anything goes seriously wrong the travel insurance people are much more useful than when things only go a little bit wrong.


Sunday, December 12th, 2010

I got my Sri Lankan visa extended!


I went to the Ministry of Immigration in Colombo and said hi to one of Ranjith’s work colleagues (he has done work on the Ministry website recently). This friend took me to meet the visa controller who was very nice. We chatted for a bit.

Unfortunately, I’d shown up in the afternoon. The counters close at 2pm. So I couldn’t do anything about getting my visa done that day. No problem, I wasn’t in that much of a rush, so I said goodbye, collected the forms and wandered home.

I was planning to be in nice and early the next morning.

But as old Robbie Burns knows only too well, the best laid schemes of mice, men and Kaths gang aft aglay (often go astray – for those non-Scottish people in the audience). There was rain in Colombo. A lot of rain. An awful lot of rain. The sort of rain that floods roads. The sort of road flooding that causes the government to advise people not to go out unless they really have to.

So Sujith, sensible man that he is, did not go in to work early the next day. By about 11 it had cleared up and much of the flooding had subsided so we jumped in the car, took an alternative route (the main one was still flooded) and managed to make it to the Ministry of Immigration. Awesome.

So I took a number and waited in line. And waited some more. And wrote in my journal and read some of my book and sent some text messages and waited. No problem. I’m used to this sort of thing.

I realised that I wasn’t in the right waiting bit so I asked some official looking guy who pointed to a row of seats and asked me to wait there. Which I did. Before finally figuring out that it was my turn. By virtue of the fact that no one scowled at me when I just stood up and walked to the office door. Sri Lankan queuing isn’t quite the same as English queuing.

I handed the forms over to the visa controller. Only to discover that the passport photos I thought were in my money belt with my passport weren’t there. Dammit. So a quick dash down the stairs to pay someone with a digital camera to take my photo and print it out. Ran back up the stairs again, queued(?) again, went back in, handed the form AND PHOTO over. He signed it and said to go and pay the fee and wait for collection.

So I did. After panicking slightly and asking how much the fee was (less money than I had on me so that was ok). Paid. They said come back in an hour. So I went out in search of net. The 5th place that claimed to do net that I went to actually did do net, though not skype. But I did manage to do some net stuff there while I was waiting.

After the requisite hour was up I went back. It was ready. I got it.

So I am now legally allowed to stay in the country till the 4th of Feb 2011. Woohoo!! And since I’m going to India on the 17th of Jan, that works perfectly. I’ll get another visa when I come back into Sri Lanka from India.

Right, after all that, I think I deserve a cream soda. 🙂

10 hours

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

It is now 10 hours before my train leaves Cambridge to take me to London where I’ll get on a coach that will take me to Krakow.

I’m excited. I’m a bit stressed. I’m still crossing things of my to do list. I’m exceedingly tired. But only 10 hours left!!! Really should get the rest of my stuff finished soon. I would quite like to get some sleep before Chris picks me up (and that’s only 7.5 hours away). Wa!!

Right, can now cross ‘blog posts’ off my list and get on with sorting out what I’m putting on the USB drive I’m taking with me.

So excited!!!!!!!

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