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The Chronicles of Erika…

Vol. 2 - 2011

Just about the time when my last update left-off in late February, I started to embark on a very introspective journey, to assess where I am in my life, and make a more formative decision on where I wanted to go (ie. stay in the MENA region, go back to my beloved Montreal, or elsewhere?). My mind kept venturing back into my past, and for some reason, I kept thinking back to the expectations I had set for myself at another time.

“Childhood is a Promise that is Never Kept” Flashback to when I came back from my summer in West Africa in 2006; I vividly recall an exercise that our ‘cross-cultural advisor’ had made me and a group of my peers do, all of us having just returned from our respective ‘cultural envoys’ from places like Kenya, China, Togo, Brazil and India. Part of the program enrolled us all in a two day seminar where we were pushed to re-visit our cultural experiences, talk about the frustrations and challenges of trying to live and work in a country where one did not understand the language, the culture, or the way of thinking. I remember it being a particularly emotional two days for me; in retrospect, I can now say that my experience in Togo was a deeply challenging one that certainly had me experiencing what it truly meant to have a “Culture-Shock” in every sense of the term. And even 5 years later – thoughts of West Africa conjure up contradicting feelings of pride for having gone through the experience, anger at some of the experiences I witnessed, and exhaustion at the memory of both my cultural-shock experienced in Togo, as well as the much stronger reverse-cultural shock that I experienced once I came back home to Canada.

PHOTOS: A ceramic dragon shows off its silhouette as the sun sets in the central highlands of Dalat, Vietnam (May 2011)

At the cross-cultural seminars that I attended in October 2006, the last exercise our advisor had made us do was quite a liberating one: The advisor asked us all to close our eyes, and think about where we might be five years from now (aka 2011). Now, for those of you who knew the ambitious side of me, you might assume that I calculated my way through this exercise (by simply adding 5 years, consider how many years I might be out of University, and think “where should I be in life as a 25 year old young professional???”) --- but you, in this case, would assume wrong. Instead of asking myself “Where should I be in 5 years, I simply let my emotions guide my thoughts and paint a picture of “Erika at 25”... I let go of all expectations that I had set for myself, and truly lived the exercise as opposed to imagining the reality that I thought I wanted. Well, as they say, “different roads lead to different destinations”; and this new method did not disappoint: upon opening my eyes and finishing that exercise, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted my life to feel like at 25... I didn’t come up with any idea of what I might be doing, or where I might be living... but I truly felt and sensed that by the time I reached the age of 25, I would feel very much at peace and full of tranquillity. I suppose that even at 20 years old, I felt that my life was a bit too hectic, a bit too fast-paced, and I had hoped that by the time I was 25, I would learn to subside the hecticness in my life. I guess I awoke from that exercise expecting that I would feel “settled” by 25, which came as an incredible shock to me at the time because I had always assumed up until then that I’d be running around living life at maximum volume until...

PHOTOS: A flashback to my 2006 adventures in West Africa (Togo & Benin)

PHOTO: One of my recent June weekends, some friends and I jump for joy after having successfully dug out our car that got stuck in the beautiful Wadi Rum desert... (June 2011)

The Sand is Always Whiter on the Other Side Well, five years later, I can tell you that my life looks nothing like what I had envisioned for myself 5 years ago. I’m here, just starting my 3rd year living in the Middle East, travelling to different countries each month, meeting inspiring and ambitious people, and doing work that gets my blood pumping as a sustainability strategy consultant. There is nothing peaceful about my work-hours, travel schedule, or living-out-of-a-suitcase lifestyle... and there is a big part of me that longs for the one thing I cannot have right now --- which is a quiet, settled lifestyle... no stress, no worries, just calmness. I suppose, as some in the desert might say, “the sand is always whiter on the other side”... But, despite my current reality not looking anything close to what I envisioned for myself five years ago... I can honestly say that in this case I am happy that I did not keep that childhood promise to myself. This year has been a year of shedding (childhood and adulthood) expectations; the reality is that, amidst all the chaos and the hecticness, I think I have found an underlying tranquil rhythm – a rhythm which is supported by a great community of friends, a healthy holiday schedule, and supportive family. One might even consider this “rhythm” as a ‘settled vibe’.

PHOTO: Mosaics from Cathedrals in Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

PHOTOS: Sights and Sounds hanging out with friends around Jordan

“To Affect the Quality of the Day, that is the Highest of Arts...” As I look around my apartment, I’m not quite sure how, or when, I miraculously felt “settled”, but at some point in the past 6 months, I have crossed a threshold. The possible explanations: a) Somehow I have become so used to this pace of life, that I have become a “chilled out hippy-like business woman”, or b) Painting my apartment, buying furniture and putting up paintings has actually successfully manipulated myself to thinking that I am settled... or, c) My life has actually become much more settled... or, d) All of the above Some say “You are what you eat”... but truth be told, I never really got that saying (What, so if you’re a vegetarian, you’re a vegetable? That can’t be right?!). But I’d use the just-made-up-saying “You are where you live” any day. My apartment is a perfect example of “resident emulating its’ own residence”... Last year, around this time, my apartment was hardly lived in; it was simply a place to rest my suitcase before I set-off for somewhere again. I look around my apartment now, and I see it has transformed in 12 short months, and I think the transformation of my apartment illustrates well the transformation I have experienced myself. Walls are painted beautiful and lively colors (which my roommate and I carefully picked at a paint shop over the course of 3 weekends earlier this year)... pictures and paintings from my travels have been put up... The balcony is full of plants, as are most of the rooms in our apartment (and contrary to what you might think they are not dying!)... and there are stacks and more stacks of books all over my bedside table – and unlike the past, where some books sat collecting dust, the majority of these books have been read! So much so that, my current favourite duty-free purchase is stacks of books. And beyond that, our apartment is not chaotic and messy anymore... I finally buckled and my roommate and I got ourselves a house-keeper to come in to clean once a week which has really helped us ‘live life’ when we’re at our apartment instead of spending weekends cleaning it. The transformation my apartment has undergone over the past year feels much like the transformation I have gone through as well. Work is as busy as ever, but I no longer pick up my phone or computer on the weekends, except for the rare occasion when there is a looming deadline. I haven’t pulled an all-nighter for work since September of last year, and I feel very comfortable overall at work, confident with my role, efficiency, and quality of output. I no longer stress as much as I used to about the long lists of things to do, and instead have learned to leave work behind at a reasonable hour each evening, so I can share bottles of wine on my beautiful balcony, cooking with friends, and reading in my own spare time. Every second weekend is filled with an adventure where some friends and I set off for the mountains, the forests, the desert, or the Red Sea and connect with nature... and when I think of all of these things, I realize that though my life may revolve around Boeing Jets and fast-paced work... I have never felt more settled or calm in the ebb and flow of my life.

PHOTO: Mosaics from Cathedrals in Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

PHOTO: Taking in the sights at the Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek, Lebanon (May 2011)

Life is What Happens to You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans... I must admit that there was one other major factor that really led to this sense of peaceful fulfilment. In late March, I really began to put pencil to paper, and draft out what sort of goals I wanted to accomplish – personally and professional on various levels. Here’s a sample of the ambitions I have for the next 5 years: •

Personal: Travel to 3 new countries each year; buy property in Montreal; take a rock-climbing course; learn to play the guitar; and become a certified Yoga instructor; Take 6months off to Travel South East Asia; Travel to Antarctica or Australia (to reach the goal of travelling to 6/7 continents); Take 30 days of vacation each year Professional: Obtain a Postgraduate Degree (Masters or MBA); Move to Abu Dhabi to officially head up UAE operations (Important: if you want to have a free place to stay to check out Jordan... come visit me within the next year – as I will likely move to Abu Dhabi in 2012!); Join 2 Boards in the region; Have 3 clients become globally recognized; Hit certain annual financial savings targets

So there are a wide range of goals there... and having key professional and personal goals have re-focused me. It’s fun to also review some of them, as I have had some successes in the past few months: • •

• •

I have travelled to 3 new countries in 2011: Qatar (April 2011), Lebanon (May 2011) and Vietnam (May 2011) One of my first clients, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, has been globally recognized by Financial Times / IFC for being one of the “Most Sustainable Bank in the World (Emerging Markets)” in 2011 I have nearly completed my first rock-climbing course that I am taking with one of my dear friends, Osama, in Jordan. I sat on an ‘expert’ panel on sustainability management for the Region’s Civil Society Sector in Beirut (below)

Anyhow, that’s enough of my ramblings of what my life is like these days and where I’m hoping it’s headed. I am just rounding the corner to start my 3rd year in the MENA Region (Man! Time flies!) and I am very excited about what the future holds in terms of work, family and friends visiting, and adventures to be had! I’m glad to get this update out now too, because so much is coming up! Some of my best-friends from my time living and working in Toronto are coming to visit me in Jordan in July. And even bigger news, my Mom is coming to visit me in Jordan! I’m super excited to have a real adventure with my mom, sprinkled with Spas and relaxation. It should be a holiday my mom wont soon forget! As for the adventures I’ve recently been on... the last few months has taken me to Oman, Qatar, UAE and Lebanon for work, and more recently, I took a vacation to Vietnam followed by a holiday in Hawaii to see my gorgeous sister get married --- it was honestly the most beautiful wedding I have ever seen (even compared to Hollywood film weddings!), and it was lovely to see my family. Enjoy the photos... I’ll let them tell the tales... And for those of you who wrote to me last update, thank you! It was great to hear from some of you (and even more wonderful, as I didn’t know some of you actually READ these updates!) Hugs from the Middle East... Remember, I’m only a phone-call or a skype chat away! Until my next update... keep safe, and send me an update on your life soon! xoxo Erika

PHOTO: Mosaics in Mountain-top Cathedrals in Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

A Palestinian School in Rubble post-war in a town between Beirut and Mt. Lebanon, Lebanon (May 2011)

Overlooking the Temple of Jupiter Baalbek, Lebanon (May 2011)

We watch the sun-set on these Mediterranean fishermen as we smoke Sheesha on the sea side... Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

PHOTO: Mosaics in Mountain-top Cathedrals in Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

Emperor’s Pagoda Saigon, Vietnam (May 2011)

Rowing on the Mekong Delta, Vietnam (May 2011)

Paradise Lake, Central Highlands (A big honeymoon destination for locals) Dalat, Vietnam (May 2011)

PHOTO: Mosaics in Mountain-top Cathedrals in Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

Incense burns in a Temple worshipping Sea Gods Saigon, Vietnam (May 2011)

This new friend did not make me feel warm and fuzzy inside... Mekong Delta, Vietnam (May 2011)

PHOTO: Mosaics in Mountain-top Cathedrals in Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

A Pagoda built entirely out of Ceramics Dalat, Vietnam (May 2011)

The cutest Vietnamese boy wakes up from his afternoon nap... Mekong Delta, Vietnam (May 2011)

PHOTO: Mosaics in Mountain-top Cathedrals in Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

Maui, Hawaii at my sister’s beautiful wedding

PHOTO: Mosaics in Mountain-top Cathedrals in Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

Maui, Hawaii at my sister’s beautiful wedding

PHOTO: Mosaics in Mountain-top Cathedrals in Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

Until Next Time, Bye from Jordan!

Email: Skype ID: erika.welch Mobile (Jordan): +962.79.506.3741 Mobile (UAE): +971.50.834.3971 I have Whatsapp for free text-messages, add my Jordan number!

PHOTO: Mosaics in Mountain-top Cathedrals in Beirut, Lebanon (May 2011)

The Chronicles of Erika | Vol 2 | 2011 | Childhood is a promise never kept...  

I reflect upon childhood expectations I had of myself, and discover that my life just doesn't emulate what I had envisioned 5-years prior, a...

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