MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

My MEDA Internship Reflection: "Expect the unexpected"

In my fourth and last year as a Political Science student specializing in International Relations, I was beginning to worry what the next steps in my life would be. I was applying to a variety of internships and job applications when I came across MEDA. To be honest, I was drawn to MEDA because I was able to not only improve my professional skills, but also to travel abroad. I had no idea that MEDA would become my backbone in strong morals and the ideal view of a non-governmental organization.

In arriving to Nicaragua, I was completely lost, to say the least. I had volunteered continuously throughout my high school and university career and had already lived abroad, but MEDA provided a unique opportunity in becoming comfortable within a career setting. MEDA sparked my individual strengths and gave me a strong voice within a well known international organization where I was able to view my point and use creativity in projects.

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My MEDA Internship Reflection: "So many opportunities"

Graduating with marketing, I knew I didn't want to go into the advertising world, I wanted to market something I truly believed in, I wanted to use my business knowledge for something more then just making money. I had heard about the MEDA internships recently and for me the chance abroad, as well as the work experience was perfect.

No, it wasn't really what I thought it would be, it is actually a lot faster pace. I had assumed that everything would move at a really slow pace, not truly preparing me for work when I move back home but it was quite the opposite. Everyday presented a new opportunity and new challenge. The staff was incredible, inviting you into many discussions that are both a learning experience and a chance for you to share your own ideas. The office culture was as close to a family as you could get, not a day went by without laughing here. I had so many opportunities to be involved with so many more departments of the organization learning new skills every time.

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Don’t Be Sad, Just be Glad

It's the last day of work, don't be sad just be glad, it's the last day of work. All you Silver Lakers know exactly what I'm talking about... that silly song we sing so we can deal with the sad feelings of leaving camp for the summer. I sang that song as I walked to find a bijaji today, my last day of work at MEDA Tanzania.

I cannot believe it has been nine months, that is absolutely wild to me. The time has flown by. I find myself thinking about the beginning a lot, when I was so incredibly homesick, I considered packing my bag right then and there and flying back to Canada. I remember thinking about how I didn't think I could do this; that I did not have what it takes to live abroad for six months, nevermind extending the time for nine months. Those thoughts seem so silly to me now.

The office here in Tanzania has set seriously high standards for future offices I may work in. The environment here, is exactly what I always hoped for, a place where people not only work together but grow together. Whether it's Goodluck singing to the whole M&E department with Irene and Ngowi joining in, Mwinyi trying to confuse me with people by using their surnames, Lorraine checking in to make sure I was safe on the weekend or while travelling, others teaching me more Swahili phrases that I can never remember that really are just another way to say, "Hey, what's up?" or simply having hilarious conversations over the cubicles that I cannot help but giggle at. Those moments I will take with me always. This is not only an office but it is a family. A family I was lucky enough to be apart of.

I was able to complete my internship with a few days in the field taking pictures of the beneficiaries receiving their vouchers and nets. These are the people and the reasons why we continue to do the work for, these are the people that make every stressful day worth it and the people that are making the most out of the opportunities we are able to provide:

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mothers-and-their-children-wait-at-a-local-clinic.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Mother-proudly-accepts-her-new-net-from-a-local-retailer.gif















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Asante Sana (A great thank you) to all you at MEDA for making my experience every bit as great as it has been. This year has completely surpassed my expectations and I as I leave the office today, I will never forget all of your happy faces.

ASANTE SANA
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Happy Birthday Redo

b2ap3_thumbnail_I-was-so-surprised.gifContinuing on this crazy roller coaster of emotions, nights like last night happen and I never want to leave Dar es Salaam. The thing I'm learning about the friends you make abroad is they become your family so quickly. Everyone is so desperate for that community that we all have this instant connection and care for each other. I care so much about all of the people I have met in the past nine months.

A few girlfriends and I had planned dinner for last night. As I was getting ready, I said to Marine..."I don't even really feel like a dinner party tonight!" Honestly, I just wanted to be home, I want to sleep as much time as I could away so I could be back in Canada but I would deal with it and go. We start walking up the stairs and now that I think back about the night, Marine was being SO WEIRD! When I tried to wear yoga pants to the party, she suggested I wear a necklace, she was just so bubbly and weird and as we went to the door, she sort of moved to the side; Why didn't I figure it out?

I walk up the MANY stairs to Madeline's apartment, open the door and was sprayed with an unbelievable amount of silly string!! I was in literal shock. Why were all these people here? Who are all these people? Why are they screaming at me? What do I look like?! My eyes, as per usual, started to fill up, all these people are looking at me and I just want to cry.

b2ap3_thumbnail_My-cake.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Thank-you-to-all-my-friends-in-Dar-for-throwing-me-such-an-unforgettable-night.gifMy unbelievably, amazing friends had planned a birthday redo surprise party! I had told them about how my birthday was the first weekend in Dar, where I knew no one, did nothing and wanted to fly home. Wow, am I glad I didn't. They went above and beyond to make me feel special and to share a special day with me.

I cannot explain how much last night meant to me. In a short time they went from being people I have dinner with so I don't have to eat alone to people I look up to, people I am inspired by and people I truly care about. It is going to extremely hard to say goodbye to all of these people, and let's be real... I probably won't even do it because it is just too hard but I'm not so scared because I know that with the power of social media (at least) I will be able to keep in touch and watch these magnificent people do incredible things in this world. I can't wait to some day say... "That's my friend!"
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Boom, Snap, Clap

b2ap3_thumbnail_A-waterfall-near-Mt.-Meru.gifIf I had one wish, I would wish for life to be a musical. For anyone who knows me, also knows my love for musicals, although I have less then zero musical talent... I do LOVE it. So many times in life, I have thought, Man, wouldn't it be great if everyone just break out into song right now. Well, it took me 8 and a half months to realize that I am living in just that. Africa, the musical.

It was on my hike through different rural villages up to the waterfall on Mt. Meru that I finally noticed it. Every corner we turn there was a new village home blasting music out of these giant speakers, occasionally with the remix of a Cow's Moo, a Chicken's Cluck and the children's laughter. Tanzania is full of life and showing it through the songs they sing everyday.

When arriving at the waterfall, it was one of those moments where you can feel your soul taking a step back and realizing all that you have been experiencing and for me realizing that my time in Africa was starting to come to an end. Coming to the conclusion that I have made some of the best friends I could ever have imagined, I have learned so much more then ever expected and I have grown incredibly from the first day I arrived here. As we enjoyed the view, Chrissy and I talked about our experiences and what we were both excited and scared for when we got home. It is these moments that make me never want to leave.

The next morning, we wake up early to head out to a horse safari. Riding on the back of College b2ap3_thumbnail_Chrissy-Madeline-on-a-horse-safari.gif(Yes, that was my horse's name), through the large green grass fields, past the zebras and wildebeests, as I listen to the footsteps of the horses my mind began to wander. Starting to imagine all the people I would see at home and thinking about what activities I will get to enjoy this summer. I tried making the day go by faster and faster, which of course only makes it crawl by even slower.

After the horse safari, we were going to make a trip over to a friend's orphanage. Our guide was so gracious to guide us on which dala dala (local bus) to take and where to get off... too bad he didn't' know where he was going. We rode on the first dala dala, being charged mzungu (foreigner) prices for about 30 minutes, when we get off and our guide shows us the school, we realize we are at the completely wrong place. Trying not to waste too much time, we cram into the next dala dala, and I literally mean cram, there were 26 people in this dala dala, which let's be real... it's a 12 person van with a few extra seats. After all these frustrations, we finally make it to the meeting spot, there are the only two other Mzungus, so we know we are in the right place!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Sammy-and-I.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_The-children-performing.gifMaureen, works a Havila Children's Orphanage in Arusha for kids 3-18 years old. She is an absolutely remarkable, inspiring woman dedicating her life to these children and showing them unbelievable love and kindness which was demonstrated as we walked through the gates. Each child came up to introduce themselves to us and welcome us to their home. The kids spoke excellent English and we're full of joy and laughter.

We spent the afternoon listening to them singing a few songs their pastor had taught them as the younger ones show off their dance moves, the kids taking so MANY pictures as they were fascinated with cameras and just hanging around the courtyard getting to enjoy their wonderful personalities. They took us for a walk around the area to the children's library and another children's home. As we're walking, playing the 'Don't step on the Lava game' and learning more about each other, it wasn't too long until the movie 'Frozen' came up and they090 (2) asked me to sing my favourite song. For all of those who know me, again know that there is no chance of me signing in front of them. I tell them, I don't sing but I know this really cool beat, and again... it's the only beat I know. As we're walking back to the village, I teach them the Boom, snap, clap, boom boom, snap, clap and of course, they pick it up way quicker than I ever did. It was an all over, incredible afternoon.

On the walk to meet our driver, my favourite little three year old, comes up beside me and although he can speak barely any English says, "Miss Mary" and puts his tiny arms in the air. I pick him up, holding him so tightly. During that walk to our driver, I cannot help but think about how I never want to leave, this little three year, Sammy has stolen my heart along with all the other children. Every single child, so full of life and so full of laughter, singing their song every step of the way sharing their love with anyone they meet. With Sammy clutching my neck, while I listen to kids shout ' Boom, snap, clap, boom boom, snap, clap' it hits me again... I never want to leave.

My emotions are on the biggest, fastest, scariest roller coaster ride, one minute I'm ready to be on the plane home and the next, I never want to leave. I'm trying my best to enjoy every last second of my time in Tanzania because I know as soon as I leave, I will miss all that I have come to love here but I do have so much to look forward to as soon as I get back into North America. Doing my best to sit back and listen to the whole song before simply skipping to the next track.
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Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

b2ap3_thumbnail_Lake-Kivu.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Gisenyi.gifGood news! I made it to Rwanda, after the longest journey I was finally able to step onto Rwandan soil. The first words when I got into the taxi were, "How was the flight?" All I could do was laugh and reply, "A little long but good."

The beauty in Rwanda is undeniable. I can tell you about the lush, green rolling hills or the clean streets of Kigali but the true beauty lies in the hearts of the people. As frustrated I became with the Airport Authorities, I certainly did not expect the warm welcome I received from the Rwandan people. Every interaction I had with a Rwandan person, I find myself leaving with such a huge smile, from taxi drivers to mamas in the village to the kids on the streets, I loved all of them. Every single person was able to show and teach me about their life with nothing but kindness.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Me-Chrissy-and-Marine-so-excited-to-all-be-together-again.gifWe were all lucky enough to have my friend, Marine with us on the trip. Marine works for the Rwandan Development Board and Gorilla Conservation, she was so gracious to plan many cultural activities for all of us to enjoy throughout the trip. We watched some Rwandan dancers entertain a crowd of people, had a city tour of Gisenyi, checked out the local hot springs, made banana beer and so much more. Between her and Chrissy, I was free from all planning, which for those of you who know me, understand how much of a dream this was for me. I was able to sit back and enjoy every second of it.

The highlight of the trip was without a doubt going to see the Gorillas. Every time I try something new here, I find myself saying I have never experience something so amazing, which isn't quite the case but they all have their very unique qualities that make it so extra special, this one was no expectation. We had a short hike into the mountains before we approached the Gorillas, 100 meters from them we prepared, leaving all of our bags, walking sticks and basically everything but our cameras with the guards. We slowly walked past the great Silver back to get a better view of all of them enjoying their daily activities. With two short grunts the guards were able communicate with the Silverback to assure him we were harmless, simply their to observe. Learning to speak gorilla was MUCH easier then my attempt at learning Swahili.

We were only allowed one hour with the gorillas, so we did our best to make it count. Yes, we took as many pictures of possible, on our cameras, our phones, anything that could capture that image but by now I have definitely learned that no matter how great the image nothing can beat the real experience. So remembering, the importance of taking it all in from my picture scare after the safari, I made sure I took a few moments to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. These creatures were incredible. So humanlike in every aspect; the young ones rambunctiously wrestling with each other or imitating the Silverbacks chest pounds, the teen adults lazily laying in the sun wanting nothing to do with the others, the parents so lustfully looking after the young ones. Everything about them was amazing.

b2ap3_thumbnail_A-Silverback-gorilla.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_A-Silverback-with-a-young-gorilla.gifOn Monday, it was time to go back to Dar es Salaam. After a nightmare of a trip down, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences with some of the most wonderful people. Then, they hit me with the news... I had no return ticket. I couldn't even believe my ears, I knew it was all good to be true.

Even with the stress I once again had to deal with at the airport, I was not going to let it bring down the trip. After some back and fourth banter, and pulling up every email I could find to help me, I was finally able to convince them to give me a ticket. Yes, of b2ap3_thumbnail_Young-adult-gorillas-playing.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_The-wonderful-people-I-got-to-share-with-this-amazing-experience.gifcourse there were a few tears... but come on, you can't even deny it doesn't help me. I think tears my be my superpower... at least to some heartwarming Africans.
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Overflowing with Tears in Rwanda

b2ap3_thumbnail_All-I-thought-I-was-going-to-see-of-Rwanda.gifThis is a story that simply cannot wait. I am in awe of the way life has a funny way of working around us, no matter how hard we try and force it in the direction we would like.

I was on my way to Kigali with my friend Chrissy, we were to meet outside the airport, unfortunately the unpredictable traffic in Dar was causing her such an issue that we were not sure she was going to be able to make the trip. I was ready to fly out myself when she was able to show up just in time. As we sat for a few minutes before we boarded the plane laughing about how much someone clearly did not want her to make it to Rwanda to see the Gorillas, the announcement was made and it was time to board. We approached the boarding gate when she realized she could not find her ticket, they would not let her on the plane if she did not have that. We looked through everything, even where we were sitting and nothing, it was looking grim. Then, just in time, magically appears her ticket stub hidden in one of the pages of her passport.

As we arrive in Kenya, we are on the bus heading to the terminal when we check the clock, we had just over 5 minutes to get on the next plane. This is unbelievable. We run to the gate when they inform us we still have a little bit of time but now they need to see a printed copy of my visa for Rwanda... only I didn't print it out, I only have it in my email on my computer. That is not acceptable. They inform me of a print shop a few gates down, 8 to be exact. I speed walk across the airport terminal, only to find out the printer is not working. I speed walk back across to the Rwanda Airways gate, the manager is there and gives me the go ahead.

As we board the plane take our seats and again, laugh about how Rwanda really must not want us. The plane ride was quick and we were ready for a great vacation in Rwanda, if only it was that easy. After a short flight, the plane lands, quickly gathering our things we head off the plane and onto the bus ready to take us to immigration. Shortly after stepping off the bus, I noticed I was missing something... my passport, I had left my passport on the plane. It wasn't long before I was back on the plane searching for my passport, I knew I left it there but it was absolutely nowhere to be found. Devastated, scared, frustrated, I made my way back to the immigration officers where I tried to work out a way that they would let me into Kigali, no luck.

Since Rwanda had never seen my passport, I was technically not even in the country, the only solution was to ship me back to Dar, so I could get it figured out. My heart sunk, I would not be able to explore Rwanda with my friends. For anyone who knows me, understands just how many tears my body produces and that night was no exception.

Luckily, I have met so many amazing people out here and Chrissy was just too kind of a person to leave me stranded in the airport alone. She spent the night in the Rwandan airport with me, fighting for me, laughing at the luck we had and comforting me when I just couldn't hold it together anymore. After a long night of arguing and getting further away from a solution, it was time for the daily flight from Kigali to Nairobi. I had to return to Nairobi since that was where I stopped on the way over, half an hour before they were able to give me a boarding pass and I was on my way back to Nairobi.

The flight was short, I slept for most of it, cried through the rest but none the less was there before I knew it. Arriving in Nairobi unsure of what was to happen next, I looked around cautiously for someone I could trust to help me. A young lady a few years older then me,had overheard my situation and could see the stress in my face. She came over and checked to see if there was anything she could help me with. Her kindness was incredible, offering her phone so I could call Rwanda (which was now long distance), checking in on me a couple times before she left the airport and a giant hug at the exact moment I was getting overwhelmed again.

I was able to find a couple immigration officers that would help me with the next lag of my journey, it was a simple comment that they didn't understand why I had no passport that just had the tears streaming down my face again. They were terrified, doing everything they could to get me to stop crying and even had me laughing with their inspirational speech of how I must learn to be tough if I am going to live in Africa. Eventually, after many chats with the embassy, airlines and the Kigali airport they had booked me a flight back to Dar es Salaam.

I had a wonderful escort, who had obviously heard how many tears I had shed in immigration, explaining to me that she is also a 'crybaby'! She did a wonderful job putting a smile on my face and making me feel that everything was going to be okay. I had explained my situation a few more times to the Kenya Airways flight attendants and now was just waiting for a boarding pass to be printed. With a few hours before my flight, I decided it was probably time to eat something and headed for lunch. I had just ordered when I heard, "Mary Catherine, please report to Gate 6, Mary Catherine please find Gate 6." In my head, I thought they must have my boarding pass, so in a rush I asked them to pack up my food and took the long walk back to gate 6.

When I got there, the first lady had quite a smile on her face and said she had to call her manager. A few more people passed, all looking at me with these silly grins on their faces, something was up. The Rwanda Air Manager finally walks around the corner and starts with, "You lucky girl." Someone had turned in my passport just a few minutes ago in Kigali!

I was in awe. No words were able to explain the relief, excitement and disbelief that I felt. Obviously, I started to cry. The manager of Rwanda Air was so lovely and had already arranged for a free flight back to Kigali and a free flight on Monday. I was going to get my dream vacation yet... well I hope, still sitting in the Nairobi airport waiting to take off to Rwanda. Wish me luck!
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Zanzibar Just Never Gets Old

b2ap3_thumbnail_Me-Elizabeth-and-Anna.gifWell this past weekend was one more goodbye that had to be made, so for Parneet's last weekend we decided to take a trip to our beloved little paradise, Zanzibar. There is something magical about that place. This was my 5th time in Zanzibar and every time I go it has a completely different feeling, all great in there own way.

This time because we were a larger group we all decided to plan our own transport there,which let me tell you is WAY easier. As a resident in Tanzania, I get everything for about the third of the price my non-resident friends would get. The ferry for me is only about $20 dollars, unfortunately I was not able to take work off that early at this time so with a few others we took a quick 30 minute flight over, which for me costs about the same a non-resident would on the ferry.

Arriving Friday night, we head over to a beautiful rooftop patio for some dinner and drinks to start off what was sure to be an unforgettable weekend. As we all gather together, watching the most beautiful array of colors painted across the sky from sundown, we catch up on everything, even though I saw most of these people the night before. Our group of friends may not all be quite as b2ap3_thumbnail_The-beautiful-beach.gifmuch of an extrovert as me, but they are pretty close and it is quite rare that we do not spend every evening together. Never the less, we learn about each others days, the struggles, the successes, the miscommunication we would have encountered with someone that day.

After dinner, we all pile into a large van and make our way from Stonetown to Paje, where we will be staying for the weekend. Still not sure of where we are to stay, as if is easier to simply show up and find a place then to book online, well for those who have the extremely useful skill of negotiating, we find a beautiful place on the beach, with enough rooms for all of us and not too pricey, quite the deal. It was a long night full of laughter and many memories created, a great start to the weekend.

The morning was a quick clean up, enjoyed some breakfast and we were packed up and ready to head out to the real treat of the weekend. We had recently heard of these private villas you may rent, so on we were, all piled in the van for a short drive down the road to Raha Lodge. After a few minutes of searching for this place through the local village, we spotted a rickety, old wooden sign that pointed us in the right direction. The place was absolutely gorgeous. In Swahili, Raha means happiness, which is definitely the way we all felt exploring our new home for the night.

It wasn't long after we got out of the car that thunder and lightning began to shriek through the building and the rain started to downpour. It was that kind of thunderstorm where all you want is to cuddle up under a blanket with a cup of tea and watch the sky light up. It was going to put a hold on swimming, and tanning on the beach for the day but the thing about these friends is that it is almost impossible to have a bad time. As we sat under the roof watching the rain pour down, we exchanged stories, played some games and simply enjoyed each other's companyb2ap3_thumbnail_The-whole-crew.gif.

Shortly after the sky cleared up and the weekend played out exactly how we had hoped, even returning home sunburnt but no matter how the weather would have reacted I am positive we would have made it an unforgettable weekend. It is easy to say that people are the most important thing in my life and I truly don't know what I would do in this country without them. There is something special about connecting with others who are also away from the home they knew before this. Friendships are formed quickly, trust is unbelievably high and boredom is never an issue because there is always something new to learn. It was another great and completely unique weekend in Zanzibar! A little paradise.


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Coming Together for the First and Last Time

b2ap3_thumbnail_Discussing-different-ideas-as-a-group.gifThe Techno-Links Project has manifested a connection between private businesses and small rural farmers within a time span of three years to provide sustainable development. I previously met the private businesses and farmers when I conducted interviews with them on behalf of MEDA. However, the dynamics of the Techno-Links Project meeting on March 13th and March 14th of 2014 was astounding, with all ten Nicaraguan private companies coming together for the first time to share their ideas.

The goal of the two-day meeting was to express the positive affects and outcomes and improvements of the project. A large brown sheet of paper was taped to the front wall with different headings written on it: Design, Efficiency, Effectiveness, Impact, Sustainability and Crosscutting with subtitles of Successes, Potential, Setbacks, and Barriers. Companies were divided into groups to work together and each group wrote down their ideas, concerns, or likes of the project and then put the idea on the board under each subtitle. Each idea was expressed as a group and each was described in detail with a conversation to follow.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Activity-of-finding-the-impacts-of-the-Techno-Links-Project.gifBefore this activity, I presented my findings on a Case Study I had conducted in November on one of the partners, The International School of Agriculture and Livestock, as well as discuss impacts/outcomes of farmers from the agricultural business partners. This helped set the stage to illustrate what should be improved and what is strong with the business plans and project for the companies to include in the activity.

It was a special meeting for me, as it was my last day after a seven-month internship with MEDA as the impact assessment intern. Before the meeting had begun, everyone had come to say hello to me and I realized all the extraordinary connections I made in my time spent in Nicaragua. It was a nice last day, but it was also hard with everyone talking energetically about new ideas and future goals.

I came home on March 14th, and I am eager for my next adventure in international relations. The internship has given me a new perspective on, not only international development, but also local development. My perspective has greatly changed within international relations and sustainable development and I look forward to further develop my knowledge and experience b2ap3_thumbnail_Seeing-Nicaragua-from-above-such-a-beautiful-sight.gifthrough a long-term career.

The MEDA internship provided me with the knowledge of creating webinars, professional presentations in front of partners, interview skills, making case studies, translating documents and being a translator, and above all, the ability to communicate with a group of dynamic people from business corporations, rural farmers, and Skype meetings with people from all over the world from Africa, Peru, Canada, and the United States. I am grateful for this experience and for the people within MEDA and outside of MEDA that supported me in professional and personal growth.
Thank you MEDA for the support and all the substantial work you do that I saw first hand.


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See Ya Later Alligators

It's the start of the of the goodbyes here in Dar. We all knew at some point it would happen but nothing really prepares you for how fast your time goes by with these amazing people, even knowing that the time is going to fly past you.

It started on Thursday night where we would have one last night with our dear friend Laiah from California. Laiah had one of the shorter terms as she was out here writing her thesis, so we knew we would have to make the most of any moment. We spent a lot of time together, enjoying countless dinners together, learning new things at trivia, celebrating Mardi Gras and sharing endless laughs together. Laiah was an extremely intelligent, truly compassionate, hilarious individual who showed show much kindness to whoever she met, even when the conversations never seemed to have an ending. There is so much to learn from Laiah, I could not be happier to have met her.

Then with short notice another friend, David from Ireland, was on his way back. I had met David playing ball hockey a little while back. David has a love for sports and although only played field hockey before he found a way to make it work in ball hockey. It was always great to be greeted with David's wonderful smile and genuine care for you with a simple question, "How are you, dear?" (In an Irish accent, I might add). I absolutely love spending time with David whether it was playing ball hockey, camping on bongoyo or sharing stories around a bonfire.

As these goodbyes start, it only makes me realize how quickly my time is going to go bye. I try not to think about it so it won't become real but sometimes it just takes over my mind. It frustrates me even more when I waste my time here being homesick because I know that I will be missing these moments as soon as I am back in Canada. In our crew of friends, none of us really like to talk of the fact that it will be soon that we are not sharing every dinner together or spending countless hours reading through the what's app group chat sorting through useless messages trying to find what the plans are for the evening. All the things that may annoy me at the moment seem so useless.

I am positive that my path will some day cross all these amazing friends again but until that moment I want to enjoy every single moment the days has to offer. It was terribly sad to see both David and Laiah leave this beautiful city and know that you will both be miss incredibly but all the best on where your journey leads you next. Can't wait to hear all about it the next time we meet!


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A Little Taste of Nicaragua

b2ap3_thumbnail_Reusable-plane-tickets.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Panga-is-the-boat-to-get-over-to-Little-Corn-Island.gifI had a wonderful chance to go to Little Corn Island, which is located on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to get away from the cold weather!

There are two islands, Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island. The islands add an interesting aspect to Nicaragua. It is most well known for being occupied by pirates in the 1800’s. The islands were under British rule and served as a refuge for the pirates. The population of Little Corn Island today is 1,200 with a large mestizo population, people of mixed European and Indian ancestry), and direct descendants of pirates. There are also Garifuna people, the descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people, and indigenous Miskito people from Caribbean Mosquito coast. 



b2ap3_thumbnail_The-local-dish-Run-Down---yum.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Scuba-Diving-Instructor-and-I.gifThe islanders speak an English-speaking Creole that originated from a mixed black heritage of English settlers and slaves brought over from Africa. English is the official language on the Corn Islands, followed by Miskito and Spanish. The locals make their living from harvesting lobster and fishing. Life moves at slow pace and reggae is the music of the islands. There is a famous local dish called Run Down. It is a stew in coconut milk with fish and lobster tail with a variety of root vegetables.

The Caribbean side offers a wide variety of activities including scuba diving. I had the chance to get my open water diving certification. I saw stingrays, nurse sharks, and sea turtles. I also did a night dive, which I was completely scared of, but was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had.

Aside from the culture and beautiful landscape, Little Corn Island seems to be a destination for Canadians. Throughout my internship I have not met many Canadians until the island. The majority of tourists were from Canada and a few were from the United States and Europe. On returning from my trip, I had met an American couple that works for the Mennonite Central Committee Canada. They were very excited to hear that I have been doing an internship with MEDA and told me they continuously follow MEDA. This is one example of the many people I met that were interested in hearing more about MEDA and the work that is being done in Nicaragua and around the world.
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What’s Caimito?

The joys I get from meeting people when I travel never cease to amaze me. I hear amazing stories that I learn from and am usually shocked, in a good way; to hear of the profound different lifestyles people lead. From working and travelling in Nicaragua I have met these incredible people and I would like to share some of their stories.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Here-is-an-example-of-how-big-papaya-is-in-Nicaragua.gifb2ap3_thumbnail__Domingo-and-his-son-with-some-caimito.gifThis first person I had previously met during my Case Study with the International School of Agriculture and Livestock (EIAG) in Rivas. Domingo Tuerno grows plantains with EIAG and he continues to welcome me to his field while he works rigorously. He grows plantains with Techno-Links technology and aside from this crop he also grows papaya and coco beans. On top of all of this, he is a promoter of EIAG and the Techno-Links program, where he goes around his community discussing the benefits of plantain in-vitro plants. I found it astounding that he had any time to do an hour interview with me and then provide me with some extra timbit information.

After sitting in Domingo’s field for an hour doing an interview, Domingo introduced my co-worker and myself to his son Alejandro, who was using a stick to try to get something out of a tree. I was a little confused. After a few minutes, he handed me a green fruit, which turned out to be called caimito, which is green on the outside and white and mushy on the inside. You cannot get caimito in Canada, but it grows in South Asia and in Central America. After I told them it was delicious, Alejandro hit off a few more caimito for me and then walked over with a large papaya to give me!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Chepe-is-showing-me-a-bee-hive-column-he-uses.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Domingo-showing-me-what-chocolate-looks-like-before-its-made.gifDomingo then wanted to show off his other products to me. We walked a few hectares over to where another field was. Here he showed me another large green fruit. He told me it was cocoa. He wanted to show me the inside of the cocoa, but it wasn’t ripe for harvest. I will have to visit Domingo another time.

I interviewed Joseph Barnett who works with Dulce Miel and Techno-Links. The name Joseph has an English ring to it, usually Nicaraguans use common English names to give their children, but Joseph, also known as Chepe, is originally from the United States. He has now lived and worked in Nicaragua for over 30 years. He not only works with Dulce Miel in producing honey and is a technician for helping fellow farmers, but is also a founder of Dulce Miel. As well, he is apart of a monk community in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. During an interview with Chepe he showed us his spare hobbies, which include creating crème out of honey and selling separate bottles of honey. We can see that Chepe is extremely busy, but he continues to use any spare time doing volunteer work with other non-governmental organizations.

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A Day in My African Life

b2ap3_thumbnail_Curtis-and-Apsin-our-driver-filling-the-bijaji-with-gas.-They-tip-it-over-to-fit-more-in-it.jpg6:00am: Alarm goes off... the intention was to wake up and work out before it gets too hot...but we're just going to snooze that again.

7:45am: Alarm #2 rings, this one is serious. Time to get ready for work. Ninapiga mswaki (I brush my teeth), Ninavaa nguo (I get dressed), halafu ninakula chukula cha asubuhi kabla ya ninaenda officini (then I eat breakfast before I go to the office).

8:15am: Apsin, my trusted bijaji driver arrives to pick me up for work, usually on time. Apsin works for Theresea, an upbeat, cheerful woman who works in the kitchen here a MEDA. Theresea invested in two bijajis and employs two drivers, Apsin being one of them. He picks me up every morning and is always a text away if I ever need him. He has little English and I have little Swahili but still we have formed quite the friendship.

9:00-12:00pm: Ninafanya kazi (I am doing work). I collect data from our call center and create reports on redemption rates, net stock outs and voucher stock outs. As well as, create the call list of random retailers and clinics and giving them to the call center for the following week.

Some where between 12:00-1:30pm: Chukula (Food) time! The MEDA office is extremely generous and provides a delicious, filling lunch for us every day. I have found I am not as adventurous with food as I once thought I was, so I usually stick with ninakula kuku na wali (I eat chicken and rice) or kuku na chips (chicken and French fries). For dessert, the sweetest most delicious piece of fruit, my favorite is definitely the mangos. The way they eat their fruit always has me intrigued. For example with an orange, instead of peeling it and then putting it into slices, they cut the orange in half and you slurp all the juice out. My coworkers are really good at even getting some of the orange, unfortunately this is one skill I have not mastered yet and usually end up squirting orange juice in my or someone else's eyes.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Spending-all-day-putting-together-proposals.jpg2:00pm: Back to work. Spend the last part of the day at my desk in the office putting together more reports, presentations and writing for this blog. The office is an amazing atmosphere, with jokes and laughter flying over the cubicles...half in English, half in Swahili. I never know quite how to respond when my manager, Goodluck shouts to me, "Mary?" I respond and he starts rambling Swahili forgetting that I do not speak fluent Swahili. This usually has the whole office cracking up at their desks as I sit there unsure of what to reply and Irene quickly reminds him, I am not a local.

5:00pm: When the day is done, our friend Nazir is kind enough to drive us home everyday. He drops me off at the corner of the road so I just have a short 10minute walk home. As I walk to my apartment, I try to practice my Swahili and say hello to the Massiah, the guards at two different houses, the kids going home from school and almost everyone I pass. Even though the walk is so short, I am still usually already sweating by the time I reach the apartment because it is just so hot.

6:00pm: Twice a week, I go for a Swahili lesson with Tina. She is quite funny and can be pretty sassy but is a great teacher, even if she yells at us for not always doing our homework.

7:00pm: Being the extrovert that I am,
b2ap3_thumbnail_Sunday-Coconut-drive-with-Anna-Parneet-and-I.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_Jen-Elizabeth-me-Parneet-Anna-and-Marine.jpgI find it quite hard to spend an entire evening at my own place. So almost everyday, I find a way to get my crew of friends to meet up and hang out. Whether that is dinner, a drink and some dessert or a late night swim, it is always a blast. The nights are then filled with laughter, stories of funny experiences they have had, clever mind games or plans for what's next for them in life. These people have become my friends, travelling buddies, consultants, therapists, family and inspiration. Every one of them has a phenomenal story of where they came from, what they're doing and where they dream of going next. They all have a deep understanding that life is about so much more than making money. Since hanging out with these world travellers, I feel as if I have only just started to experience what is out there.

11:00pm: After another great night, I return to my apartment with a few of the friends that live in the same compound. Put on an episode of 'Friends' and try to fall asleep before the roosters are way too loud!


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Just Flabbergasted

b2ap3_thumbnail_Irrigation-system-loaned-out-by-IDEAL.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_The-well-CARITAS-put-in.gifThis is Jiro de Carmen Altamiran. His home is located in rural Santa Barbara, a region in Jinotega, as he put it "from the Santa Barbara school, 300 blocks north, is my house." He works with IDEAL, a Techno-Links partner that works with low-pressure micro-irrigation systems for small producers. Additionally, the technology package includes seed, fertilizer, financing, technical assistance and monitoring. CARITAS, another non-governmental organization in Jinotega, recommended Jiro to IDEAL.

Jiro has never had a farm before and now he has 0.7 hectares of land. Before he thought the irrigation system would not work because water in his region is contaminated. However, CARITAS built a well for Jiro to use his irrigation system, which also blocks out debris. He now grows yucca, cucumbers, malanga (a tropical vegetable) and onions with the irrigation system.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Jiro-with-his-very-first-crops.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Jiros-Home.gifThis is a flabbergast kind of story because I saw a real change in the client and their family. Jiro is now 58 with a wife, who is a preschool teacher attending school again, and a daughter who will begin preschool soon. He was saving money to buy products to burn the ground around him to create space for growing products. However, IDEAL recommended not to do this because it contaminates the air with chemicals. Now he's using that saved money to buy pencils and paper for his daughter when she attends school.

Jiro has not only saved money by using the irrigation system, but he has also been able to save time. Having to only turn on the irrigation system, Jiro waits an hour while plants are being watered but spends this time with his wife and daughter, which he previously could not do.

I was not able to gain more information about how Jiro was doing with his crops because his first-ever harvest is still coming up but I wish him all the best!
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Just Another Tourist Trap

b2ap3_thumbnail_Some-of-the-woodcarvers-at-work.jpgI have to be honest. I am a sucker for "tourist traps" and more often then not, I get pulled into these even though I have already spent 5 and a half months here. I usually end up leaving feeling as though, I didn't really get to see a whole lot and spent ALL my money. I am learning that I'm not very good at bargaining and terrible at saying no to buying whatever little knick knack is being sold to me. I get way too flustered in these places and never really have a lot of fun... until the last time.

Last Saturday, I was asked to join a group of new comers to Dar to the Woodcarvers Market, which I had been to a few times before and again usually walked away with something else I didn't need and paid way too much for but for some odd reason ended up accepting the invitation. So, I emptied my wallet to only carry minimal change, we piled in two bijajis and headed to the market.

As we arrived at the market, I immediately started to head for the main shops when I was pulled another direction by one of my new friend's. She had a contact of a friend of a friend of a friends that wanted to show us the whole carvers market. This meant we got to go to the back behind the shops and see the countless number of men hammering, chipping and staining away at the most gorgeous pieces of artwork. On average they could make one medium sized woodcarving a day, some more some less. Some men would even spend more then three years carving one extravagant piece of wood art. Behind the men carving magnificent artwork out of any piece of wood were many beautiful women working incredibly hard cooking food for all the workers over a terribly hot fire. After the long day of carving wood and making b2ap3_thumbnail_One-of-the-finished-carvings.jpgfood, many of these individuals would attend an English class led by different people in the community.

In the middle of the large field was one stray brown cow try to look for any thing to eat in between the garbage and would be dirt. As a worker noticed me looking at the cow he offered me the story of how this specific cow came to be, telling me that they had won it in the previous weekend during a futball match. It was a tough match but they were able to pull ahead by one goal and win dinner for their community. Now all that was left to decide was what night their feast.

It was an extremely welcoming group of people, everyone willing to sit and talk or teach you how to carve these beautiful pieces, even offering encouraging words like, "It's easy anyone can do it, I'll show you!" as they point to a structure that has taken them all year to carve. I had an unforgettable Saturday, listening and learning from this incredibly hardworking group of people who welcomed us into their everyday lives. I was definitely not trapped this time.
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The Depth of a Friendly Smile

b2ap3_thumbnail_Some-of-the-friends-Ive-met-along-the-way.pngThe first week I moved to Dar, I contemplated packing up my things and moving home several times. I didn't know how I was going to make it six whole months in this country. If it wasn't for the encouraging words from my wonderful mother at 3am, I am sure that I would be back in Canada long ago. The most difficult thing for me was actually, not having any friends. Being the extreme extravert that I am, I didn't know what to do with myself when I had no one. It wasn't long before the white walls in my apartment and spending my birthday alone drove me to just the right amount of insanity, that built up enough courage to go and make some friends in this strange, new place.

Now, five months later, I can say I have met so many absolutely incredible people from so many places around the world all trying to make the most out of their experience. I don't know what this country would be without Arnav and Gaurav from India, Ahmed from Egypt, Anna from Finland, Mercy from Tanzania, Elise from Sweden and Marine from Boston, France, Washington and wherever else she has lived in the World! These people and so many more have taught, motivated and inspired me to make a difference. Every one of them is left an impression on me that have helped me grow that much more. Every one of them is changing the world in their own unique way.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Say-cheese.pngAs always, it took me having no friends to realize just how important the people around us are. I too often forget how important a simple smile to the person across the street or a door held for the person behind you can be, we are affecting everyone around us even when we least expect it. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to take these friendships and all of our friendships in life for granted. I am definitely guilty of this, always moving forward to the next thing and forgetting to check back with those in other parts of the world.

My life in Tanzania, as for many is simply another chapter in my life. It's a chance for me to listen to others stories, to learn about other cultures and to leave my legacy. I hope to take in every moment with these beautiful people, to create memories that will last a lifetime because it's just like reading a Lemony Snicket novel, you never really have any idea where the next chapter of this adventure could take us. So whether I'm running a Hash Harriers run with Anna, Elizabeth and Rose or playing underwater hockey with Ahmed, Alex, Mandi and Eric or going out dancing with Madeline, Mike and Chrissy or spending another amazing weekend in Zanzibar with Marine, I will cherish every moment. I will remember their laughs, inspiring ideas and incredible kindness. This chapter will definitely leave me smiling and excited to read more!
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QUE RICO MIEL!

b2ap3_thumbnail_This-is-called-a-Finished-Successor-Hive-this-is-where-the-Queen-bees-are-born.gifb2ap3_thumbnail_Heres-a-healthy-bee-hive.-A-healthy-bee-hive-always-has-a-crown-which-you-see-in-the-top-corners-of-the-hive.gifThis week I had a little taste of what it was like to be a beekeeper, known as an apiarist, for INGEMANN FOOD in the region of Boaco, Nicaragua. INGEMANN is a grant recipient of a MEDA program called Techno-Links. They are an exporter of organic honey.

Local beekeepers were loosing honey and panels were being broken when they were manually being taken out of the bee box. Throughout Canada and Central America there is an external parasite mite called Varroa Destructor. This mite attacks honeybees and causes a disease called varroatosis. This disease spreads throughout the colony causing bees to be weak and have infections that ultimately kills the hive.

To improve these challenges INGEMANN has been producing queen bees in their bee yard to sell to local beekeepers in Boaca. Every two years beekeepers need to switch out the old queen bee for a new one. The queen cleans the hive consistently, doing 99% of cleaning compared to the other bees, and this leaves no room for the Varroa mite. This increases productivity through beekeeping because bees aren't dying and farmers can have higher production and increased quality of honey. I tried the honey and the technology is worth it.

b2ap3_thumbnail_They-found-the-one-Queen-Bee-out-of-thousands-of-bees-to-show-me.gifIb2ap3_thumbnail_We-are-using-a-smoker-to-get-the-bees-away-from-the-hive.gif also got to see how they use their technology for producing Queen bees and even wear a beekeeper suit! However, the first time I was going to go into the apiary, which is a bee yard, I was wearing all black. Bees see black and think of dark fur and think a bear is coming to take their honey. I didn't feel like being attacked by bees, so I waited till the next day to put on something a little brighter. Once I was prepared with my bee suit and double-checked and then double-checked again that no part of my skin was showing, I was taken into the bee yard. The apiarists were nice enough to look in a bee box to find a Queen bee to show me. Each bee box has 15,000 to 20,000 bees with only one Queen bee.

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Domingo: using innovative technology

b2ap3_thumbnail_Domingo-a-plantain-farmer.gifThe growth of agricultural technology has grown at an incredible rate within Nicaragua that has helped improve and change the quality of production. One example is Domingo Antonio Tigerino Acevedo. Domingo and his family live in the Potasi neighborhood of Rivas, located in southwestern Nicaragua. He has 9.1 hectares of plantains, with one hectare consisting of 100 plantain in-vitro plants, which are seed tissues that have been combined from different plantain seedlings in the lab from the International School of Agriculture and Cattle (EIAG) to fight diseases and improve quality of plants.

Domingo Antonio was having trouble with his plantains with the lack of water during the rainy season and the spread of diseases and insects. This reduced yields and impacted the quality of his crop.

He heard from APLARI, an organization of plantain farmers in Rivas, that EIAG had a new modified plantain that would solve his problems.

Due to his position of influence in the community, Domingo Antonio is a lead promoter of the Techno-Links program, which has the goal to increase the productivity and income generating opportunities of 5, 000 small scale farmers by improving the capacity of agriculture technology suppliers.

He was eager to participate, especially since this innovative technology could solve his problem of lack of quality. He has talked with other farmers and friends about the benefits of this technology. He sees this as a smart and innovative idea. He has told 10 other producers and continues to spread the word about the in-vitro plants using the EIAG manual. Five of these producers have bought in-vitro plants from the university. He likes to visit these farmers and see how their production process is going.

He has noticed a radical change in his crops due to the use of the technology. The in-vitro corms offer an improved variety of plantain that means higher quality, better clusters and greatest number of fingers on the plants.

"The change was significant because with in-vitro plants there is a more marketable number of fingers to sell."

He was excited when describing the differences between his hectare of in-vitro plants and the normal plantain. He said there was an increase from 30 fingers to between 40 to 55 fingers per branch.

The most exciting difference was an immediate decrease in his use of pesticides. For the next cycle of plantains, Domingo plans to buy 200 more in-vitro plants so that he doesn't have to spend money on pesticides. By not having to apply pesticides, Domingo will have more free time to plant more crops and spend time with his family.

Innovative technology continues to grow throughout Nicaragua and is changing the way farmers see and work with agriculture.

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Nidia: promoting sustainable development

b2ap3_thumbnail_Nidia-stands-in-front-of-her-house-which-is-flanked-by-her-plantain-crops.gifIn November, I had the opportunity to interview plantain farmers for a week in Rivas, Nicaragua to do a case study on the University of Agriculture and Livestock (EIAG), a partner of MEDA. Nidia de Carmen Yescas is a lead farmer that uses her farmer as a demonstration for other local farmers to see the progress of the technology she uses. Nidia, her husband and her five grown children live on the farm alongside a highway on the outskirts of Rivas, which is located in southwestern Nicaragua.

Nidia and her family had problems with disease in their plantains, which meant little income due to poor quality. The plantain had no resistance to the black weevil and black sigatoka disease.

Sometimes it was hard for Nidia to find markets for her plantain and it sold at poor prices. Nidia Yescas heard about technological development through APLARI, an organization of farmers in Rivas. She decided to try new agro bio-technology being developed at a nearby university lab.

Vitro selection screens plants for certain characteristics. With plantains, it selects for tolerance to diseases, insects and soil adaptability. Nidia decided to try this new technology after seeing the demonstration plot at the university.

b2ap3_thumbnail_One-of-Nidias-sons-and-an-employee-describing-the-benefits-of-the-new-technology-on-their-plantains.gifThese new technological alternatives have increased yields and plant quality. Nidia said the in-vitro plant resolved her problems. "It was a huge progress for me. The plants aren't sick and now I don't use pesticides."

The new plant is resistant to pests and disease, making for a more productive plant anchor with a more competitive context in an increasingly demanding market. As well, Nidia doesn't spend money on pesticides and is able to save this money to spend on household needs.

With the help of her sons, she has been able to produce healthy plantains. With the outcomes she's seen of the in-vitro plants she is now a promoter of reference for the university.

She uses her farm as a model for planting in-vitro plants that other farmers can come see as an example. She's excited to see the profits that the plantains will now bring in and she's happy for the help that the technicians gave her from EIAG.


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Hockey is a Little Different in Africa

The most popular question I heard before moving to Tanzania was always, “Mary, how are you going to play hockey in Africa?” At the time, I always regretfully applied, “I think it will be the first year since I was 4 years old not playing hockey.” Little did I know that I would have the chance to experience hockey in so many different forms.

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-game-in-action.pngAfter 4 months in this country, doing very little physical activity and eating way to much wali na kuku (Rice and fried Chicken) I decided it was time to get back at it. I came across a posting online for underwater hockey. I was intrigued. Ice hockey and swimming have to be two of my favorite things and now they are being blended together. Most of the Tanzanians I spoke to weren’t even aware of what hockey was; I usually had to show them a video for them to understand. So I curiously inquired about this underwater hockey via the ever-useful Google search engine. I learned that underwater hockey is a large phenomenon across the world that is petitioning to become an Olympic sport. So that Sunday, I headed to the International School Pool where I would have the opportunity to try out this new sport with a few others.

The concept of underwater hockey is quite simple just as ice hockey get the puck in the net.The difficulty comes from the many different elements. The players of each team start on the their side of the pool, the game is played length ways in both the deep and shallow end of the pools. The puck is placed in the direct middle of the pool and you hear the ref yell, “Sticks up, GO!” From that moment it is a mad dash for the puck in the middle, both teams trying to reach the puck first.The key is timing, knowing when to dive down to the bottom, knowing who is running out of air and speed.

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-equipment.pngUnderwater hockey equipment is a little different from ice hockey. Instead of skates the players wear flippers, players only have one glove on their shooting hand. The stick is a lot shorter, about the size of one’s forearm and only used with one hand. The final pieces of equipment are the goggle and snorkels, which believe it or not are the hardest items to get used to, I have taken too many breaths before I have quite surfaced and swallowed way too much pool water.

The players snorkel on the surface of the water until they see a play they would like to make or defend. When they see an opportunity they take a deep breath and dive to the bottom of the pool and work hard to get the puck to another teammate of the net before they run out of air. When looking to pass to someone it is important to watch both the players on the bottom of the pool but also the players at the surface who may be able to dive down. When defending your own end it is systematic, your teammates begin to learn how long one can hold their breath and try to dive down shortly before that moment.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Teammates-on-the-sidelines.pngThe game is incredibly difficult but a phenomenal sport to learn. Since then I have also joined a ball hockey team and an ultimate Frisbee team and soon to join a Canadian football (soccer) team. Playing on a sports team has always been something I took for granted; not until I had not been apart of a team for the first time in 18 years had I realized how much I missed it. Sports have taught me so much from teamwork and leadership to drive and passion. The difference that can be made simply by wanting the puck more is phenomenal.  It is a mindset, it is training and it is confidence.  I believe so much of what I have learned in life has come from sports. I never made it to the Olympics for Ice hockey…maybe underwater hockey 2016?

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