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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Middle of the journey - week 2 in Ghana

Hi everyone! So I am back with my second post regarding my stay in Ghana. I got back home to Zurich two days ago but the experience in Ghana affected me so much that I have to continue the blog and capture a bit of what I experienced when I was away.

At the end of the first post, I left you by telling you that Jocelyn and I had come up with two mini-projects and we were able to see them through in the second week. I will focus on the hospital-based project, because that was really eye-opening and rewarding.

We were able to meet  both officers in charge for the family planning departments in two hospitals: Amasaman and Nsawum. I realized that talking to these nurses was a great way to have a glimpse into Ghanian society and beliefs, especially considering contraception and family planning in general. I was also surprised at how open the nurses were with us to share all of the relevant information. We spent a morning in each of the hospitals, which does not sound like a lot of time, but it was enough to give us information of the status of family planning in the surrounding villages. What was interesting and pretty telling was the fact that both hospitals gave us essentially the same information. It was good to have a bit of consistency in the information we found. Here are some of the impressions of what they told us about:

- How the nurses classify those who want to use contraception: One of the first things both hospitals told us about were the different ways to classify women who take contraception. First, you have the "delayers". These are the women who are potentially younger and are focusing on finishing their education or focusing on their careers and want to delay the possibility of having children. The next group are the "spacers". These are women who just want a bit more control on when they have children. They want a bit of a breather before having their next child. And the last group, the "limiters". These women already have upwards of 5, maybe 8 or even 10 children!...and they are looking a way to just limit the number of children they have going forward! I have to admit I was quite entertained by this classification. It makes so much sense and it isn't hard to extrapolate the reasons why family planning becomes so important - especially in a poor community like the villages surrounding Amasaman and Nsawum.

- General beliefs regarding the use of contraception: What was very interesting to learn is that Ghana is still a very male dominated society, and a very, very religious society on top of that. Even when it comes to HIV/AIDS, many people believe that someone who gets HIV/AIDS has a demon spirit within themselves, and cannot be helped. But the fact that Ghanian society is very male-dominated means that many women get contraception in secret. Many of the husbands do not even know that their wives are on contraception. It was interesting to learn that only back in 1992, the Ghanian government made it illegal for a husband to punish his wife for taking control over her body and using contraception if she desired. While it is illegal, many husbands believe that a women only wants to use contraception to be promiscuous outside of the marriage. Both of these hospitals go to great lengths to help women get the contraception they need without their husbands knowing. For this reason, the 3-cycle hormone injections are the most common contraception used. Many women come into the clinic every 3 months for their "refill". The nurses have an intricate system of using post-it notes or small cards with only the date of the next the paper is easy to hide from unsuspecting husbands...

- Availability and awareness of contraception: What was also incredible to learn is that contraception is available for extremely cheap. For a 3-month injection, the maximum that a woman would have to pay would be the equivalent of 27 cents!! The government actually subsidizes the large portion of the cost of contraception to make it affordable for the local communities. One of the things that these hospitals need help with is spreading the awareness of the availability of different contraception methods and truly dispelling the myths (for example, that using contraception would make a woman barren...). Education and awareness are incredibly important, especially when dealing with health issues. This applies to any health related topic: family planning, sex education, HIV/AIDS, etc.

This is where an NGO can make the difference, and act as the connection between the community and the services offered within the hospital. I would be lying if I told you that I didn't have a light bulb moment when realizing mentioned in my post before, just making this realization and establishing the connection for AFAWI is really going to be the long-term impact that Jocelyn and I made while our time in Ghana.

After meeting with the nurses, I also realized is that work in these poorer communities can sometimes be heartbreaking. I also realized that no matter what, you cannot help everyone. That with limited funds (from an NGO's perspective), you need to make choices, and those choices are never easy. Do you use your funds to help very vulnerable children who need medical attention? Do you put your efforts towards ensuring that the maximum number of children who are healthier have access to education? Do you focus on education and creating awareness and supplying the women with family planning options, so that their existing children have the best chance of survival? Ideally, you would like to help everyone. But the reality is that you cannot. I struggled with this during my second week in Ghana. I don't have an answer to these questions, but I guess you just have to believe that even the smallest steps and even helping one child or family is where it begins and can make a difference.

I have to say that I learned so much in the second week. It may not sound like much but I can say that spending time with these nurses from these two hospitals really helped to broaden my perspectives. I also believe that Jocelyn and I made an impact by connecting the hospital services to the work that AFAWI is doing in the village of Mediah. I realized that the services of the hospital and the work of AFAWI go hand-in-hand, and we had a part in making the connection. That is something that will stay with me. But the reality is also true, that doing work in this part of the world is a long process, often slow, and sometimes you feel like you are trying to move a mountain...without much success, especially success that is not tangible only after 2 weeks. You have to hold onto the hope that your work in the limited time you were able to help would be of use in the future....

Apologies again for the really long post. I think it was important to capture the journey I went on myself. I will post one more post in the next week regarding my stay in Ghana....look out for that one, because that will be the "fun" post where I will try and relive some of the hilarious things Jocelyn and I experienced while traveling through Ghana the last week...a more light-hearted post if you will....

Until next time, ciao!!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Impressions of Ghana - Week 1

Hello to everyone! My blog has been inactive for about 2 years but I thought the experience I was going through now with three weeks in Ghana warranted a revival. This experience is worth documenting. It has been one week since my arrival in Ghana and already it has been a roller coaster of emotions and things that I have experienced, that it is hard to believe that this only happened in one week, and I still have two more weeks here.

So for starters, for those that do not know, my friend Jocelyn and I decided to take 3 weeks of our holiday to do a volunteering trip. We were keen to come to Africa, as that was a place that was unknown to both of us and thought we could make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time. We started out wanting to go help my friend’s organization in Kimilili, Kenya. But the situation in Kenya worsened as we were finalizing the details of our trip, so another spout of research began to find a suitable substitute. We settled on Ghana without knowing too much about the country. We then decided to work for the Alliance for African Women Initiative (AFAWI). The work on the website seemed really interesting, where they had multiple projects working with vulnerable women and children with HIV/AIDS or establishing microfinancing projects or setting up a clothing cooperative where local clothing could be sold in order to raise money. We thought this was the perfect organization to host us for two weeks…So it was settled…Ghana it was to volunteer with AFAWI.

Honestly, one of the first impressions I had was the sheer lack of information before we actually got here. I know that sounds odd but after our application process where we were accepted into the organization, we didn’t really hear much from any of the other volunteers or program coordinator. All we heard about was how important fundraising was to any NGO or any activity that happens on the ground – and this through one email. We were asked to purchase t-shirts to raise money. I was happy to do so for myself, but I thought I would check out the organization and the work we are doing before I ask my friends and family to buy t-shirts and support this organization. I think that was the smart decision. I didn’t think anything of it until the week before we had to leave when I realized I don’t even know where we are staying and if there was anything special we needed to bring with us. After realizing that the email servers were down for a bit, we finally got the information we needed and were “ready” to go. 

So I guess our journey out here should have been indicative of the roller coaster we would face here….in short, it took us 28 hours to get to Accra from Zurich – a journey that should not have taken more than 12! There was a huge storm in Amsterdam (we were flying ZRH-AMS-ACC) where the airport was shut down for a few hours, so our flight from Zurich was 4 hours delayed! And the worst bit was that our flight to Accra left the minute we finally landed in AMS! And I have never seen AMS so disrupted and seriously such a mess. Luckily my frequent travels gave me some sense of what to do, so instead of waiting in the ridiculous queues, we called the Swiss help desk and got our flights rerouted. We were then booked on the flight to Nairobi and then onto Accra. How ironic that the airport we would fly through would be Nairobi, when Kenya was where we originally wanted to go to! We finally get to Accra and were so excited to be here and make a difference. I think that is so typical of people who go on volunteering trips – this expectation that you will be immediately be able to help and be useful. I think this was our biggest mistake…but more about that later.

In Ghana, everything works on GMT – Ghanian Maybe Time. For those that are Indian, you will understand this because it is very similar to IST – Indian Standard Time. Everything happens in its own time and there is no hurry to get anywhere. The program coordinator told us he would pick us up from the airport, but we had to wait 1.5 hours from him at the airport. That isn’t the bad part. The other thing about Ghanians, the men especially, is that they are super “friendly”. So from the moment we exited the airport we were approached by so many different men who wanted to help us get to our destination. One guy approached us immediately and offered his phone so we could call our program coordinator…and of course he wanted a tip for that. But in the 1.5 hours we were waiting for our program coordinator, we were approached by multiple men, many who wanted to marry us. No need to worry. This is very common for Ghanians to give marriage proposals to all of the Obrunis (which literally translates to “white person”. I guess any non-Ghanian is an Obruni….no matter what technically their skin color may be). 

The drive from Accra to Ofankor (where we were staying) reminded me so much of India. I would even venture to say that parts of India (what I know of Gujarat) are more developed than Accra. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t know much about this country before coming here. But the dirt roads, the simple stalls for businesses, the traffic, the commotion on the streets, it all seemed so familiar to me. What is striking is that I didn’t see many of the Western restaurant or store chains that would see in India. Of course I didn’t have a chance to explore Accra to the fullest, but I remember thinking that I didn’t see commercialization like you would see in India. Accra, which is the capital of Ghana and therefore the most developed city in the country, seemed quite undeveloped to me. The population of Accra (including its surrounding areas) is around 4 million people. That is a relatively small capital when you compare to the likes of other African capitals like Nairobi or Johannesburg.

We finally arrived to the AFAWI Headquarters. I do not know what I was expecting when I got here but I was not expecting to live in a hostel type of situation. I kid you not, we are living with 4 volunteers to a room (with bunk beds), with a shared shower (with no hot water) and a shared toilet. Of course this is ok, I just did not know what to expect when I got here. There was only one other volunteer here when we got here – everyone was out in the field. What we also did not realize is that our program coordinator runs this organization on his own. He is the only permanent staff; everything is done by volunteers. At first, you do really think, “oh man, this is going to be great. We will have a real chance to get involved and make a difference. And the work of volunteers is that much more valued and appreciated.” Since we were a day late in arriving, our program coordinator was quite keen to sit us down and go through our briefing. We were not even able to shower after 2 days of traveling. We were served lunch and then immediately needed to start working…During our briefing, our program coordinator gave us an overview of the house rules and then walked us through each project. The project we are working on is called ECCACHILD, where we help vulnerable women and children in the community to get the care they need. A lot of the work revolves around HIV/AIDS and sex education in the community. What was so striking is that the lack of education in the community regarding these topics. Of course, as you hear about the situation about these women and children in the community all you want to do is get out there and help in any way you can.

In order to give a full picture of the roller coaster of emotions that we went through when we got here, I have to dedicate some time to the organization itself – how it is run, the things I learned about small NGOs. There is one part of the work we are doing and the other is part of the NGO we are working for. I do believe that these go hand-in-hand at some point, but I also think it highlights the reality of the situation and is definitely worth mentioning because it was such an eye opener for me. As mentioned earlier, AFAWI is a very small organization, that has only one permanent member on staff – our project coordinator (PC). What I immediately realized is that this is more a family-run organization. The brother-in-law is also the IT guy. The younger sister is the one that cooks our lunches and dinners for us. When I say small, I really mean small. When we were going through our briefing, the project coordinator told us that the project we are working on is very sensitive due to the really bad health status of some of the children and women we would be visiting. This organization had identified a list of very vulnerable children and were funding their medical care. Most of these children are orphans and don’t have access to the care they need. This organization essentially uses its funds to make sure these kids can get treated appropriately. He thought it would be difficult for us to develop relationships in such a short amount of time. I do not disagree with him on that point. He told us that he didn’t think that there was much we could contribute in the field for the two weeks we would be here. He continued to talk about the importance of fundraising and that without funds, the work in the communities could not continue. Given what this organization is doing, it is clear that without funds there is only so much you can do.  The PC thought that we should sit in the office and find a way to fundraise for the time we are here. The thing is that we didn’t fly all the way to Accra to sit in an office and come up with a fundraising idea. I could do that from Switzerland – I didn’t need to be here to do that. I wish that the PC had mentioned this to us before we arrived. We would have been able to potentially help some of the other projects where we would have been able to interact with the local communities. The other thing that became very apparent is that the PC did not have a real clue of what was going on in each project. What I realized is that there was a clear lack of project management. That makes things very inefficient and very difficult for new volunteers to jump right in. You have a situation where volunteers come all the way to Accra from all over the world so eager to help, but an organization that is not organized enough to ensure that the human resources available are used to the best of their abilities. The other interesting thing is that most of the volunteers are in their early 20s, most finishing up university or their masters. You do sense a real lack of work experience. I think even if it is an NGO, you need someone leading the ship in the right direction. You need someone who can run the activities of the NGO like any for-profit organization. You need someone who understands project planning and is able to keep control of the activities you are doing. This becomes even more important when the NGO is very small. I think the idea of inviting volunteers from around the world is really amazing. There are so many people who want to help, and this is a great way to do it. But even if they are volunteers, they need to be managed appropriately. So I guess the first impression I had is that the PC had no clue about what was going on and didn’t know how to use the skills that Jocelyn and I bring to the table. We can do so much more than put together a business plan for a fundraising idea. To be honest, we both struggled with this fact. We wanted to do something more meaningful and really get into the community and help first hand. Don’t get me wrong, fundraising is super important. But it is a bit chicken and egg as well. How do we fundraise for something that we have not seen for ourselves? How do we put our weight behind something that we do not even understand what is happening? With a few days out in the field we can see what happens, we can really get behind the cause. I guess our first impression left a sour taste in our mouth. We definitely did not want to be in an office for two weeks! I could have stayed in Switzerland for that and been much more comfortable, that is for sure!! So as you can imagine, we already had our thinking caps on because we knew that we would not sit here for two weeks in front of a computer.

One of the best things about this experience so far has been the other volunteers we have met. As mentioned, most of them are almost 10 years younger than us, but it doesn’t matter. You realize very quickly that when you are experiencing something similar together, you bond in a way that is incredible. We have volunteers from Australia (actually from Mexico), UK, and even another Swiss here. I honestly believe if it wasn’t for the other volunteers, Jocelyn and I would be even more frustrated than we were. Luckily we had people who understood exactly what we were going through and also believed that we should not be sitting in the office in front of a computer. Very quickly the other volunteers recognized that we both have a lot more to offer than just coming up with a business plan for a fundraising idea. What I also realized is that every volunteer experienced the same frustrations with the organization that we did. That there was no clear project plan and that there were a lot of days spent doing nothing. It seems such a waste of valuable resources that are all here to help….

Jocelyn and I definitely had our wheels turning because we were not going to sit in an office for two weeks! So the next day we decided to sit down and talk to our PC and make it clear that we have more to offer and we came to Accra to work in the communities. What you also learn is that if you don’t ask for anything you don’t get anything.  At first, we were given the opportunity to help another project on gathering information on sex education and awareness of HIV/AIDS in the community. Great! We can go out and talk to people and understand their level of education. That is perfect. We did go out Wednesday evening to help with interviews in the field. That was very interesting, and exactly what Jocelyn and I were looking for. Just being able to talk to the people. After that, the PC was at least open to get us in the field either Thursday or Friday where we would be with one of the other volunteers to get information on kids in the community on whether they were in school or not. Cool. Finally we were able to go out and meet people for our project. In the meantime, you do realize that there is a lot of administration work that the organization needs, and they do need help to document the work that is done in the field, create databases, etc. So Thursday was an office day where Jocelyn and I worked on creating a database of all the children that had been interviewed so far. It is amazing how basic Excel skills can come in handy in an organization like this. We didn’t mind spending one day in the office because we knew we would be out in the field on Friday.

Friday was the big day where we were going to be able to go out and meet people and interact with them directly for our project. This was an interesting experience. We were three volunteers with a local translator. We spent 4 hours searching for particular families. We were only able to find one and interview them. And this is when it hit me. That work in these communities is often very slow and very frustrating. It is not like these families living in these vulnerable areas have permanent addresses or are easily found. The point is that they do not have anything to their name…so tracking them down is extremely difficult. And of course none of them speak English. So you need a local translator who is guiding the way. I finally realized how difficult the work is for an NGO in these types of communities. Everything is so slow. Everything is difficult. If it were easy, I guess more people would be able to help in a structured way. I also realized that this work is tiring and frustrating on the side of the volunteers because it becomes harder to see the impact you are making. You really need to stick with it and have patience like you wouldn’t believe. When you realize this, you are able to accept the pace at which things happen, and I started to feel a bit empathy for what AFAWI was going through….

After this experience, Jocelyn and I realized that the way we will be able to make an impact is to come up with our own mini-projects within our overall project. We realized that if we wanted something to happen and our experience to be much more interactive that we would have to come up with an idea and run with it. Because of the lack of the project planning and the pace at which things happened, we also needed to be realistic about our expectations of what we could accomplish in 10 days. After a bit of brainstorming, we came up with two mini-project ideas that we will execute this week. The first. We will do some PR for AFAWI this week by interviewing the local community about what they know about the work that AFAWI is doing and what are their impressions of it. We want to understand what the locals feel about this work. Of course we know the work is important but it can give another perspective when you hear it coming from a local. The second project we will execute this week will be to interview nurses and doctors at two local hospitals to get an assessment of the type of services they offer when it comes to family planning. We want to understand the challenges that the health care system faces in serving these vulnerable populations. For me, this is extremely relevant. This is what I do for a living and this will help me understand how health care is delivered to these populations. I am excited to start these projects this week. In the end, Jocelyn and I realized that in the 10 days that we are here, we are able to help the best by gathering local insights and information so that AFAWI can make better decisions in the future. This is the impact we can have. We need to keep the bigger picture in mind and we need to understand that our contribution will go a long way in the future. Maybe we won’t be here to see the impact, but we know that this will make a difference eventually. Once we settled on these two ideas, we pitched them to the PC with formal proposals, and now we will be working on these two things this week. I think this second week has the chance to really be inspiring and can give us the experience we were looking for.

So our experience here isn’t all work…there is a bit of fun mixed in too! This past weekend all of us (meaning 6 volunteers) made our way to Ada Foah, a village near the Volta lake region. We were invited by some nurses that we work with to come and join the village festival. This was incredible. It was a celebration of the harvest. All of the local tribes came with their village chiefs and performed dances and there was an awesome street parade afterwards. It was really incredible to see. We definitely stood out like sore thumbs but it was well worth it. We then stayed at a hostel type of place near the ocean…was nice to have a bit of a break from the city and enjoy the sounds of the ocean. No matter where you are in the world the sound of the ocean can be so calming. I guess it should be mentioned that since Jocelyn and I are traveling with the other volunteers, most of whom are students, our travel plans are very, very basic. We are definitely back to basics. Traveling with the locals in tro tros (the local bus system). Staying at places where there isn’t really running water or electricity. Trust me, every sense of mine is getting an experience! The smells, the sights, the sounds…everything is a shock to the system. I think it is really good to sometimes remember the basics. It makes you appreciate the things you have back home. And you also realize what little you can do with, which isn’t a bad lesson either.

I should apologize for the long essay of a post. There are so many things I wanted to capture just from our first week here, and I wanted to share all of that with you. Part of the reason for us coming here was to experience all of these things. They don’t mean anything if I cannot share them back with my friends and family. I will definitely have more experiences to share after this week as Jocelyn and I actually execute our mini-projects. I am sure we will have more impressions and ideas to share. I am sure we will have our share of frustrations and light-bulb moments. I will post again next week. Until then, see you soon!

PS – I will post pictures on Facebook once I am back home!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The craziest summer

OK three months since my last post, but what a crazy summer it has been! To be honest, I have been on the road every week since my last post. I can't even believe that it is already September!! There has been a lot going on, and I am not even sure where to start.

I think it is fitting to start with the work side of things, because that has been the main reason that I have been on the road for the entire summer. Earlier this summer, we finalized the acquisition of another orthopedics company. The powers at be have been working on this for some time, but it only became official at the beginning of the summer. I myself have also been working on this integration since February. At that time, it was something I was doing on top of my day job. I was putting together the plan on cross-training all of the reps across EMEA. No easy task I can assure you since now the Spine portfolios of both companies were going to be combined. Well I am happy to report that all of the hard work paid off. We were able to hold our first cross-training sessions 4 days post close - the first region in the world! I am pretty proud of that. The team worked extra hard to get everything in order in time, and it was well worth it. We decided on the concept of a RoadShow, meaning we would take the training to the markets instead of them coming to us. Great concept, but that just meant that I was literally on the road every week this summer! We were given the goal that we had to train all of the EMEA reps within 3 months, so that is what we did. Essentially we werer in a different country every week. We started the RoadShow in Oberdorf, CH, then moved onto Hamburg, Leeds, Madrid, Rome, Warsaw, Stockholm, and we just finsihed last week in Dubai. So at this point we have trained 95% of the sales force! We just have one more training to go, and that is in South Africa, which is next week. This summer really challenged all of us to try and find some balance. Really hard thing to do when you are on the road every week. Prioritizing our time became of the utmost importance. There were definitely some great days and nights that I missed out on here in Zurich. Such a pity because summer in Zurich is absolutely amazing. I didn't get to do as much as I wanted to, but still enjoyed. One crazy summer for sure.

Along with the crazy travel for work, I did get the chance to do some traveling for fun, so I cannot really complain! Last time i left you, I was just about to leave for Amsterdam. Well I was able to celebrate my birthday there. It was a long weekend here in Zurich so I had the honor that some of my friends from here made the trip to Amsterdam to celebrate my bday. We had dinner at Supper Club on Saturday. OH. MY. GOSH. This place was unreal. It's essentially a club that serves dinner. Set menu, 5 courses. Everyone gets the same menu. But heres the thing. There are no tables, just beds!! They serve gloves with the food and you eat from bed! And in the middle there is a DJ! It was seriously unreal. One of the coolest things I have done. Loved this place, and I would recommend it to anyone. I think there is one in Istanbul as well. So worth it! We then went to this club Jimmy Shoos!!! Oh it was so cool. All in all a great weekend. I was in Amsterdam for work for the week after, for SpineWeek. The week was good, but long. But we had the chance to see more of Amsterdam. We saw some good restaurants, some good bars. Good trip to Amsterdam.

So when we got back from Amsterdam, I had my bday party here in Zurich. Oh man. That was great. Thanks to all that came out!! We started out at dinner at Steinfels and then headed to City Beach Bar. Really cool concept - a beach bar on top of a parking garage!! Loved it. And then we went to the Prime Tower and ended in Plaza. I had such a great time. I am really lucky to have some amazing friends here in Zurich!

In July, Andrea and I took a holiday to Madeira Island, off the coast of Portugal. Oh man. I so needed this holiday. It was only for a week, and I didn't get the chance to completely disconnect, but it was so good to be away. The island is absolutely breathtaking. Not really a beach island but it is all about the nature. Amazing flora and fauna and such different terrains. We had a couple of lazy days by the pool, did some hiking, took some tours around the island, and had one beach day on the island of Porto Santo! Andrea and I tried different restaurants every evening and explored the nightlife. Really laid back and chill scene. We found the one nightclub on the island and visited a few times. We even tried the local poncha (even brought some home with me!), and took a wine tour of the Madeira Wine Company. All in all a perfect holiday and nobody else I would rather spend the week with!!

So I also made a trip back to the US for Sheena and Sameer's wedding! I was so happy to be back and see all my girls. It had been 2 years since I saw them, and I was really looking forward to seeing them again! The wedding was awesome, everything was beautiful! I am so glad I made the trip back home. I even had to do a Bollywood dance - oh dear! Sheen - only for you! I had such a great time. I did get very homesick when I got back. I realized that I really missed my friends. I love my life here in Zurich but I realized how different my two worlds are. It's like one has nothing to do with the other. And it is pretty crazy to think how different my life is here. Two years ago, I never would have been able to imagine what it would be like living outside of the US, and look at me now, I can't imagine going back to the States! It is so crazy! I do really miss all of my friends from back home. I wish I could transport them all here to Zurich. It was good to see the BU girls. Luckily I will get to see them again for Dolie's wedding in November!! Can't wait girls. Miss you much!!

So a couple of other cool adventures/milestones this summer before I wrap up this post. My friends from Zurich got me an amazing Birthday gift - a hot air balloon ride over Switzerland! I was finally able to cash in on the gift on 1 Aug, Swiss National Day. What an incredible gift!!! I was up near St. Gallen and could see Bodensee, Konstanz. It was amazing! They make you put the balloon together and break it down, and honestly, it was one of the coolest things I have done. I also had the chance to go on a dune buggy excursion in Dubai. We had one extra day after the training, and booked a dune buggy ride in the sand dunes of the desert. Oh that was INCREDIBLE!!! So much fun! I was a passenger as I don't know how to ride a manual car, but it was still such a blast. I am so glad we took the time to do that. It was seriously incredible! One last milestone - FINALLY, today, 1 September, the LAST of my furniture was completed. Thanks to handy work of one Alex Sexton, the doors to my wardrobe were finally finished!!! OH MY GOD. Almost 1.5 years to finish all of this stuff. For the record, I still stand by the fact that I hate IKEA.....!!! HAHA

As the summer comes to a close, it truly has been the craziest summer. So much has happened (as you read above) and I cannot believe it is already September. Where did the time go?!?!? In November, I will be in CH for 2 years!!!! I think that is absolutely insane! But it still hasn't gotten old. I still love it here, and still excited for what is to come in the future. Yes, I am just that cheesy. What can I say? Maybe it was in my destiny to move to Switzerland....let's see what the future brings!

Anyway thanks for reading the blog. Apologies for the novel you just read, hope you enjoyed the reading, even if it was long. One thing is for sure - I am never lacking with words, spoken or written!! Until next time, faithful readers!!

PS - apologies for not posting any pics in this post. For pics and of course my Bollywood video, check out my Facebook page. This post was written using my iPad and wireless iPad keyboard. The keyboard was a bday first, I have to admit that I completely dismissed the fact that I got a iPad keyboard for my bday. WHO DOES THAT?!?!?! But now that I have used it to update my blog, I get it. So in the end, a big thanks to Oli and Alex for such a weird, but practical gift!! haha

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spring Fever

Hi everyone! So it definitely has been awhile since I last wrote. It is now the middle of May, and we are entering Spring/Summer here in Zurich. I would be lying if I said I am not looking forward to truly warmer weather. We have had a few great days, but here's hoping for some consistency in the Zurich weather pattern!

Since my last post, I have seriously been all over the place. For both pleasure and for work, which makes for a nice mix of travels. And honestly, the work travel is about to get crazy...but more about that a little bit later on. So shall we start the recap??

At the end of March, I had the pleasure of visiting Budapest for a weekend with Ms. Andrea Rappaport! We went for the weekend, and I have to say my first trip to Eastern Europe was seriously amazing. The city of Budapest is truly a sight to see, and I would recommend it to anyone. I have heard that it is pretty similar to Prague, but I haven't been to Prague so I can't say one way or the other. But regardless, Budapest is absolutely amazing. I think the whole trip was made better because I was being shown the city by a local. I think it makes all of the difference in the world - you see the city in a completely different way. And for the record, Andrea was the best hostess! Andrea and I flew in Friday and we spent the weekend visiting some of her favorite hangouts - restaurants and bars. In terms of cuisine, I really like Hungarian food. It has so many different flavors, and the use of paprika just adds to the overall taste. It was a nice change from the Swiss cuisine! Andrea also took me to some of her favorite clubs/bars, and I have to say, i was completely impressed. Each one of these clubs had been old houses that were converted into bars/restaurants. Multiple rooms, multiple DJs....really cool! I also had the pleasure of meeting Andrea's family. It was so nice to meet them. As mentioned before, I love meeting the parents of my friends. It just put the friendship in a whole new perspective. Andrea met my parents when they were here in August, and I finally got the chance to meet hers. They were so welcoming and so nice! Andrea - thanks for introducing me to your family!  It was a true honor to meet them! Also, my good friend Andreas was in town the same weekend. It was cool to see the town through his eyes as well. It was like I had a chance to export some of my friends from Zurich to Budapest, which was really cool. I also got to meet some of Andrea's closest friends. That was pretty awesome as well. It was the same feeling I had when Satya was here and got to meet my friends. Here are some pics of the trip to Budapest. Enjoy!

Budapest was an amazing trip, but I had to get on a plane the very next day to Hamburg for an MIS Special Forces. The training went well, but it has been pretty nonstop at work since then. I've been in Nice for a week! I was there for an Integrity Selling coaching course, but let's be honest, there are worse places to spend a week than Nice! I made a couple of trips to Leeds and then spent a week in Wokingham in our Pinewood office right outside of London. I got to spend a weekend in London, catching up with Matt and Palak, which was really cool. Even though I had to say goodbye to Matt last year, it gives me someone to go visit, and just expands my reach and network! I had a great time in London catching up with my friends. I don't have to tell many of you, but London is a great city. There is such a buzz about it which is hard to find. Great times had by all!

I have also had the pleasure of meeting some new Swiss friends here in Zurich. I have to thank one of my good friends for introducing me to his friends, and really allowing me to start to expand my network. Of course it takes time to make close friends, especially with locals. But I am so honored that I have had the chance to start on that path. They have been so warm and welcoming and friendly, and I really appreciate getting to know them. You know, a lot of people say that the Swiss are difficult to get to know. In some ways that is true. But I have to say that if you put yourself out there and are open, I think they would be more than welcoming. Of course it needs time, but if you are willing to put in the effort, it pays off! A big shoutout to O for introducing me to your circle!

So as you can see, the past couple of months have been filled with many trips, for both work and pleasure. Also, I have had the chance to meet new friends along the way, which keeps life movin and shakin! Now that the weather has gotten somewhat better, my friends and I have been doing quite a few BBQs by the lake and at the Letten. You know, Switzerland is so efficient, I love it. A couple of weeks ago, I was introduced to these one-time use disposable grills! Basically a foil tray with just light the wax paper on top and you have yourself one great grill!! It's amazing the things that this country produces! I love it!!

So I am sitting here preparing myself mentally for the rather insane travel schedule coming up. It starts next weekend in Amsterdam - where I will be able to celebrate the last year of my 20s!!!!! My schedule from here on out is a bit nuts - Amsterdam - Oberdorf - Hamburg - London - MADEIRA!! - Rome - KENTUCKY!! - Dubai - South Africa. So crazy work schedule, but definitely some good trips in the middle! I will be sure to keep you posted on all of the travels. I apologize in advance, but it may be a few months before I can post again, but will do so as soon as I have the chance. I will definitely have a lot to talk about in the next post!

Thanks again for reading! Hope you are enjoying the posts. I'll check in soon again! Cheers!

Monday, March 12, 2012

the oh-so successful ski season!

So hello everyone! We are in the middle of March, and honestly, spring cannot come soon enough. The weather is slightly starting to improve, and we are itching for the sunshine and warmer temperatures. that being said, it wouldn't be right if i didn't dedicate some time to the "oh-so successful skiing season!" ok, i am using the term skiing very, very lightly....its more like rolling down a mountain, which is a new winter sport that i have absolutely mastered! I have been fortunate to go skiing a couple of times this season. that isnt really much skiing time, but no matter how bad I am, I am really liking this thing people call skiing. I definitely feel like a fish out of the pacific ocean, and have gotten to new depths of self-humiliation, but i still love it. That's saying something because the first time i went skiing was last year when I moved here. So let's begin with the tales of my "skiing".

I was lucky to book two skiing weekends in a row. So the first weekend, we were all trying to get to Ishgyll in Austria. Supposed to be great skiing and great apres-skiing. So a few weeks ago, Andrea and I were looking up hotel availability in Ishgyll. Couldn't find anything, so we changed our search to St. Anton. We used this internet hotel booking site that told us that there was a hotel only 30km from St. Anton. We decided to book it right away because we didnt think we could find anything closer. So Andrea, me, Alex, and Vicki decided to spend this great weekend skiing in St. Anton. Well, funny thing is that we were not even close to St. Anton. It didnt hit any of us until 2 days before we were heading off, when one of us decided to finally look at a map....hahaha we booked ourselves in a hotel that was more like 100km from St. Anton. OOOOPS!! well we decided to go anyway, and ended up in the very small mountain town of Lechtal. Imagine driving at night along curvy mountain roads, with snow that was higher than my car! it was probably a good thing we couldnt see where we were going. well we finally get to the hotel. it reminded me a lot of the hotel we stayed at in maria alms back in the summer. so checked in and headed to the bar, where we were 1 of 5 other patrons. the next day our ski adventure began. andrea went cross-country skiing and vicki was putting skis on for the first time. so alex and i decided we would take the lift up to the first blue slope. yes, we stayed on the mini lift. that was perfectly fine for me. alex and i are about the same level...and we had a blast. we rolled down the mountain a couple of times, but it was actually pretty good. and we enjoyed what was apres-ski, although it definitely something to be desired. we finally made our way back to the hotel, and had dinner at the only other restaurant in town, which was part of the hotel across the street. i think lights out was around 10pm or something. anyway it was a good, relaxing ski weekend. alex and i got the chance to ski some and i came back to zurich feeling good and feeling pumped that i could make it down the mountain without any problems...OH MAN, was i so wrong?!?! more about that later....anyway here are some pictures from the skiing weekend in Lechtal, Austria

so now we come to the legendary "ski" weekend in st. moritz. we all decided we were going to go down to st. moritz to celebrate eddy's birthday. so in theory, this was a brillant idea. what better way to spend a wintry weekend that on the slopes and enjoying the company of your closest friends?! Ok we make our way down Friday morning, all of us motivated to get right on the slopes. So we dressed in our ski clothes and drove directly to the slopes. We all take the gondola up and the boys convince me that i should follow them to the top. No mind that it was a red slope. There were 5 of them convincing me that i could handle this slope. And of course, like an idiot, i believed them. So i get to the top of this red slope, started off ok, and then all broke down. I had a crazy fall, and then the panic attack began to settle in! OH man, it took me 2.5 hours to get down the slope!!! there was a moment where i told the boys to go ahead and i literally just sat there for 30 min because i was so scared. then i spent most of the time on my backside or face down just to get down the slope!!! to be fair, the boys were really great and took turns to help me down. ive realized that skiing is 50% mental, and once i had freaked myself out, that was it. HAHAHA just thinking about it makes me laugh hysterically. i wasnt laughing at the time, but i can only imagine what all these swiss skiers were thinking as they passed me on the slope. i looked like bambi on ice...THANK GOD none of the boys took videos or photos...although i wouldnt blame them if they did! So by the time i got down the slope once, i was done for the day. I was so shaken that i really couldnt get back on the slopes. So Andrea and i decided to chill out at the cafe down the hill, and we would meet the boys back at the parking lot. We take the last gondola down...and you won't believe this, WE GOT STUCK IN THE GONDOLA!!!! oh man, my nerves had hit the limit. I cant believe we were stuck in there for 30 minutes or so! Seriously the last thing i needed. But Friday night was a lot of fun. We had fondue at a youth hostel next to our hotel and then went out on the town in St. Moritz. Went to a couple of places and ended up at Vivai - a very swanky club in St. Moritz.

So saturday was another day on the slopes. So you would think that the events of the day before would keep me as far as possible from the slopes...but it didnt! In that sense, i was so proud of myself. I think I might be a bit mad that I wanted to get back on the skis! Well nevertheless i decided that it was definitely worth me taking a private lesson to get back to basics. So i enrolled into ski school. This was a whole other sight to i was waiting for my ski instructor, i realized that the all of the students around me could not be older than 5!!! hahahaha here i was taking lessons with 5 year olds....and most of them skied better than me!!! well the lesson actually went really well. Maybe it was the comfort that i had an expert skier with me. I managed to get down some more blues. So moral of the skiing story - i just got to practice some more. Let's see how long i can keep this up. Here are some pics of the crazy weekend in St. Moritz

Saturday night was another crazy night in St. Moritz. This time Eddy treated all of us to a great dinner at Cascade, and then we headed to Kings Club - another swanky establishment in St. Moritz. The next day I left in the morning and went straight to the airport for a course we were running in Hamburg! CRAZY! But all in all both of my ski weekends were fun. Looking back, they were actually hilarious. Definitely entertaining for those who watched me try to ski! It's ok, I can admit that there are things in life that i am not good at....!!

But other than that, I have been traveling quite a bit for work. a lot going on! But I have to say that I am really loving the new training job. It is really giving me exposure to so many new it! so work continues, and we are trying to enjoy the winter weekends here in CH. no complaints on my side. working hard and playing hard, just like life should be.

hope everyone is doing well. until next time! ciao!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

a strong start to 2012

Ok, I should start off my apologizing that I haven't written in about 3 months. i have been meaning to update, and just haven't gotten around to it. i think this going to be a rather long post, so apologies in advance for the long chapter.

so i think the first half of this post really needs to be a reflective piece of the last year. to be honest, i don't even know where to begin. this past year has been incredible for me. there have been so many changes, so many memories. looking back at it, i wouldn't change it for anything in the world. i really do feel like that 2011 was one of the craziest years in all sorts of ways. i mean i uprooted my life in boston, moved to zurich, made completely new friends, had 2 bosses, and even changed jobs and joined a new team. both professionally and personally this year has been a crazy ride. there were times that this year really reminded me of my first year in boston when i moved out for university. i mean there are a lot of similarities - new city, new friends, new experiences. but this year had so much more. first off, im not 18 any more. a decade older, so the perspective is so different. when i first moved to boston, i was an eager 18 year old who was pretty naive about the world but just wanted to take it all in. when i moved to zurich, i was 27 and looked at the world completely differently. my 20s were marked by so many different experiences, good and bad...long story short, sheena was growing up! ok, i think a part of me is still pretty naive of the world, but i knew the move this time would be something to date i have not experienced. i had a feeling when i moved to zurich that this move would be permanent.....and its looking like things are heading in that direction! for the first time i am living in a country where the prospect is a long-term one and its the first time that there is no looking back! i have tried to take it all in with an open mind and enjoy the ride along the way, and i think i have been pretty successful. there are so many things i remember about 2011....not sure we need to recap all of them right now (just go through and read all of the older posts...that will give you an idea of some of the memories that i made along the way).

since the last post from my one-year anniversary, ive been all over the place. finished the year strong and was so ready for holiday. cali was soo needed and so worth it. i was home in cali for 2 weeks - 2 great weeks. it was exactly what i needed to reboot, refresh, and come back strong. to be honest, we didnt do much when i was home, but that was the best part of being home. i just hung out with mom, dad, and shilen. had plenty of spicy ethnic foods that i cant really get here in zurich. had a couple of firsts - went on a boat ride in long beach harbor with good friends, good food, and of course good wine! saw satya in laguna beach......what a lucky year to see her in both of my homes. ive known her for 10 years and this is the first time i saw her in cali which was pretty amazing. i helped shilen prepare for his Mitek interview, which i am SOOO happy to report that he is now a Mitek rep in southern california - in the IE!!!! what an awesome feeling that my little bro is representing the same company as i am. one thing is for sure, i owe a lot to J&J/DePuy - not only for the opportunities i have been given, but now the chance they gave my brother to shine!!

anyway i was back here in zurich for new years eve, to spend it with my friends. Eddy had all of us over at his place for a house party. we all brought food and wine and had a great night! it was nice not dealing with the crowds of zurich and just doing our own thing. i made guacamole...which i think has become a big hit! had an awesome night with awesome friends.

so 2012 started out great, and professionally was a great start as well since i was now 100% on the new job of sales training manager for EMEA for Spine. if you had told me that i would have a new job when i moved, then i would call you crazy. but here i am with a new job, getting used to the change, but loving every minute of it. its a new chapter for sure and i am excited to see what is in store. since new years, i have been enjoying work, enjoying my friends, and simply enjoying life. its really as simple and as pleasant as that. today i scheduled some great holidays - weekend trips and longer trips, and honestly life is good. upcoming travels include:  st. anton, budapest, st. moritz, madeira!!!!!! so looking forward to all of these upcoming trips. expanding my world, and loving every minute of it!

so as we come into february, looking forward to what the year has in store. i have a feeling this is going to be another crazy year with a whole load of new experiences and changes. i will definitely report along the way of the things going on! thanks for your continued support of reading the blog! ill keep you updated on the trials and tribulations of sheena s patel! until next time!! =)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One year later and the Zuri lovefest continues strong....

So it has officially been one year since I moved to CH. I seriously cannot believe that one year has passed. But the lovefest continues strong. With each passing day, my love for zurich grows stronger and stronger. I remember how I felt one year ago when I was boarding the plane for the first time on my way to zurich. I remember the anxiety I felt for moving to a new place where I didnt know anyone. And one year later,  I am sitting in my apartment so grateful for the people who i have met who have become like extended family to me. now i cant imagine my life without them. So this weekend I celebrated my one-year anniversary with a party at my place. Yeah, i know i am a bit cheesy. who actually celebrates the passing of one year of moving to a new place?!?! let's be honest - it was just an excuse to throw a party. its my second party since moving here, and i just have to say that i am so glad it was a success. the night went perfectly and i coudnt have asked for a better night with better friends to help me celebrate. A warm shoutout to the following people who came and made my night: Oli, Andrea, Andreas, Ed, Damien, Daniel, Patrik, Susie, Barbara, Ioana, Thomas, Danielle, Angie, Lassila. I had the time of my life....and i never felt this way before........hahaha, man, I am such a cheeseball, but I just could not resist.

As i sit here and reflect on my time back here in zurich, there are so many experiences that come to mind. it really amazes me that one year can change everything. there are so many nights i remember (some i do not!), so many people that have come in and out, so many flights, for both work and pleasure, so many hotel rooms, and even a change at work. if you had told me one year ago that i would have all of these experiences, i think i would have laughed in your face. i am not sure i can truly articulate why i love it here so much. i think part of it is the people for sure. every person here has become my extended family so quickly. even the few that have left zurich since i have been here - they all hold a special place in my heart. maybe it was the fact that the expat community has been so extremely welcoming . maybe its the few swiss that I have met that have truly opened up to me - even though it is so difficult to find the ones who will let you in so quickly. and all of this considering I do not even speak the language - swiss german or german.  i know its pretty awful that i have been here one year and havent started my german lessons. it is quite arrogant of me. and trust me i really want to start. i finally got a hold of the rosetta stone for german - i just have to start my personal lessons. i am sometimes a bit ashamed that i do not speak the language - its not very "integrated" of me. but i will start soon. and through all the hilarity that has been my moving experience (oh things like not having lights for 3 months, or taking 6 months to set up my furniture, or not understanding any of my mail, etc), i can still say that i absolutely love it here. i really do try to think why i havent had a pang of homesickness in the year i have been here. i definitely miss everyone back home and wish i could export everyone over here. but there is such a similarity of how i feel now and when i felt like when i first moved to Boston. Maybe it is the simple fact that I know I am living here and need to make the most of my time here. no point in being upset about it! Someone once told me that your life experiences follow some pattern, that usually there is a repetition in major life events. thats how this feels. two major moves far away from home and it has made me really happy.

so i will leave this post just so grateful for everything i have, the people i have met, and my life here in zurich. happy one-year anniversary to me! stay tuned for the next post soon!