K = Kandahar

K

I spent some time in Kandahar in 2009. Things weren’t great when I was there. But its history has seen much, much worse than what I saw.

Here are some interesting facts I put together about the city of Kandahar:

– It is one of the oldest human settlements in the world.

– Although it seems to be in a rather barren, uninhabitable area, it has held great strategic importance over centuries due to its location along important trade routes between the different edges of Asia.

– It was believed to have been founded by Alexander the Great in 330 BC and “Kandahar” comes from a local interpretation of “Alexander”

– Kandahar has been witness to alternating periods of war and peace and as such, the people have evolved to be resilient and adopt a survival instinct to keep their families alive.

– Kandahar International Airport was built in the 1960’s, by Afghans but under USAID support.  Over the years it has been controlled by Afghans, Soviets, Taliban and most recently, NATO, over the years. While the airfield was controlled by NATO, it was considered one of the busiest airports in the world with up to 5,000 military flights of all varieties coming in and out each week.Today, six commercial airlines service the airport and it is still used by NATO forces and the Afghan Air Force.

– Kandahar is also where my country spent a lot of time, effort and money trying to make things better after the Taliban were forced into hiding and NATO moved in to prevent them from using the area as a safe haven and training ground for terrorists. Canada put effort into eradicating polio, building schools and other infrastructure (such as the Dahla Dam), training teachers and security forces.  Kandahar Province is also where many Canadians gave their lives toward the effort: at least 130 young Canadians lost, and many more Afghans gone from this world because of constant conflict in the area. May they rest in peace.

I only hope that one day, Kandahar can be a thriving city in the crossroads of the world. Although, judging by its history, I’m not so sure that could ever be possible.
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H = Hectic

HI had this great idea about the A to Z Challenge.  I was going stay on track. I was going to find 26 great, outstanding, fascinating things to talk about and share with you.

Then I hit the letter “H”.

At first, I was going to write about my experiences in Hong Kong.  But I can’t find the photos from my week and a half there, staying with my dear friend who taught at the Kowloon YMCA.

Then I thought I would write about my 96 hours in Hungary (Budapest to be precise), and then realized that due to the morning train from Zagreb, Croatia and the beer cart rolling around at 8:30 am (It’s 11am somewhere, right?), that I don’t remember enough about my time there to accurately share my experience!

Then I went out of town for the weekend. I didn’t have access to any of my photos and I couldn’t think of another “H” thing to write about. Then, I realized that I was only two weeks away from the end of my current semester at Johns Hopkins University.  I’m taking two courses AND working full-time and I started to panic.  And since I didn’t have any photos to give you anyway, I hid from the A to Z Challenge.

A lot of people live hectic lives. Many are able to balance them successfully.  Others have difficulty. I am one who has difficulty but appears to have it all together. The truth is, I don’t. But I make it work. Sometimes to make it work, I do what I did this weekend. I just get away from it all. I dump it all from my mind and I do something completely different and unrelated. Then I return to reality.  And realize that I just put myself another three days behind schedule on EVERYTHING else in my life that I had to get done. But hey, it was a fun weekend.  And I’m happy. And that starts with H, too.

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Another thing I did when I was supposed to be doing homework. Origami. It didn’t work. So I doodles butterflies on it instead with highlighters meant for highlighting passages in smart people books.

F = Fear

F

There are a lot of things in the world that you could be afraid of.  Some people have irrational fears of things, while other fears are logically based on a past experience. One thing I have learned over the years is that fear can hold you back.

Being afraid to move to a new city. Being afraid to search for a new job.  Being afraid of getting up in front of people and delivering a speech. Being afraid of climbing a ladder. The list goes on.  But if you constantly live in fear, you are not living, truly.

You can be afraid of things, it’s a natural reaction, but it’s how you allow fear to control your life is what’s the most important.

I recall when I applied to college.  I was accepted into both colleges I applied at.  Advertising and Public Relations at St. Lawrence College, and Recreation Leadership at Loyalist College.  Going to Loyalist College would have meant that I would have to move, find a new place to live, find a new job, and make new friends.  I was terrified of the change, considering I didn’t even own a car. I chose to stay in Kingston and go to St. Lawrence.  In the end, the diploma from St. Lawrence likely better served me in my future career as a Communications Advisor, but at that time, all I could care about was the unknown and how scary it seemed.

Since then, I have learned to muscle my way through irrational fear.  I am not a fan of heights. Even seeing someone on the edge of a cliff gives me physical butterflies. But I learned to skydive.  I climbed that ladder on the side of the Mayan ruin in Tikal, Guatemala. I’ve rappelled off of platforms and down rock faces.

Here’s a video I want to share of me kayaking over Pozo Azul waterfall in Costa Rica. No one who has run this waterfall can say that they weren’t afraid and no one should blame me for the 10 minutes I spent in the eddy above psyching myself out, saying “Okay, NOW!”  “This time for reals. Go!”  “Okay, NOW!”  “No seriously Jen, do it!”

At the end of the day, if you hide from those things you are afraid of, they will define you. But, by the way, there is a difference between fear and a legitimate sense of a bad idea.  I’m not saying you should just jump over the edge, but I’m saying you should carefully calculate whether your fear is legitimate or psychological and determine which way to go with those feelings.

A is for Adrenaline!

Image It’s been a really busy couple of weeks for me!  I went back to Canada and then came back to immediately start working night shifts at my work – 12 hour shifts at that!  I don’t usually work shift work, so I learned a lot about how my body can (or can’t) adjust to that type of body-clock change! I was just playing around on Twitter last week and noticed a lot of people I follow were using the hashtag #atozchallenge.  I got curious. I looked it up. I forgot about it.  Then I noticed an influx of the hashtag this weekend, looked it up again and thought, hey, this sounds interesting!

In a nutshell, the A to Z Challenge is a blogging challenge for the month of April, where bloggers submit an entry each day (except Sundays) and each day corresponds alphabetically with a letter of the alphabet! For example, on April 1st, you write about something that starts with the letter A, April 2nd is B, and so on.  Yes, I know it’s April 6th today! So because I’m 5 days behind, today’s rest day will be catching up with everyone else. The only other glitch is that I’m not an official participant.

It turns out, I can’t participate right now – not officially, as the participants were required to sign up prior to April 1st.  Part of the challenge is to visit other people’s blogs as well and leave comments.  It’s an exercise in discovering new writers, making connections, and encouraging feedback. So I have decided I will do this on my own. I don’t need no stinkin’ linky list!  I will follow those I see using the #atozchallenge hashtag on Twitter instead!  So I am a self-proclaimed and unofficial participant, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have some fun with it!

[By the way, does anyone know how I can wrap my text around the “A” photo I put at the top? Sincerely, WordPress luddite]

The letter for April 1st, is “A”, well obviously!  I am choosing to write about adrenaline. Meriam-Webster defines adrenaline as follows:

adren·a·line noun \ə-ˈdre-nə-lən\ : a substance that is released in the body of a person who is feeling a strong emotion (such as excitement, fear, or anger) and that causes the heart to beat faster and gives the person more energy

I choose to define it as a body’s natural reaction to any situation that seems unnatural. Whether it be getting through a crisis at work, or a perceived physical threat to one’s body, adrenaline is that “fight” instinct that your body develops on its own, without warning, and with no consideration of what your mind is doing!

I have lived with adrenaline most of my life.  It’s what has helped me get through some really tough times.  I know when it has kicked in, because I start to vibrate, get hot flashes and my skin gets really clammy.

In 2005, I paddled the Lower Gauley river.  I had been paddling for only a few months, and I felt confident, yet nervous at the same time.  Long story short, there is a huge rapid at the end of the river called “Pure Screaming Hell”.  The name certainly didn’t inspire confidence, and when I was told there was a huge sieve at the bottom right that I should avoid at all costs, I was pretty much done.  I followed my paddling partner down the first set of waves, nervously dipping my paddle into the accelerating water. He hit a wave and did an ender, while I paddled right into the bottom of his boat. I flipped, my helmet smashed off the rocks in the bottom of the river, and that’s pretty much all I remember.

The story I got after I came to in a hospital about an hour and a half away, was unbelievable.  Although I don’t remember anything after seeing my bow slam into the bottom of the other boat, I apparently rolled myself back up, and paddled through the rapid toward the sound of my friends yelling from an eddy on the left. I don’t know how I did it, but I made it to the eddy, and immediately slumped over, unconscious.  My friends escorted me in my kayak down to the take-out, where a helicopter picked me up and transported me to Charleston, WV.

You hear stories about folks who are able to lift cars off trapped people, or others who all of a sudden can carry people twice their weight out of burning buildings. What I went through that day on the Gauley River, even though I don’t remember any of it, was most certainly the most intense moment of adrenaline rush that I have probably ever felt!

What was your scariest/intense moment where adrenaline kicked in and got you through something dicey?

Missions, Resolutions and Realities

My career has gotten in the way of my life. My desire to be successful has resulted in very little “me” time. I admit, it seems it is working. I keep telling myself that I only have to hold out a few more years until I’m in my comfort zone, but it has meant that in the last year, I have had one vacation that lasted longer than a week, and it’s the one I’m on right now.

When I lived in Beachburg, I was blessed to share my home with some really great people: Jeremy, a paddler never intimidated by the “pro” circuit; John, a whitewater icon, bringing his business back to Canada and looking for the perfect place to call home; and Billy and Carly, an amazing couple looking to get back on their feet and establish a base for their growing family.  They weren’t the only ones – other amazing travellers from around the world have come and gone and left an impression in my life.

Since then I have travelled the world – southwest Asia, Africa, Iceland, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Europe….   and despite whatever I’m doing, or where I am, the fond memories of my time in Beachburg keep coming back.

My husband wants to see what this whitewater kayaking “hype” is all about.  I have taught others to paddle, and over the years helped many develop or reignite their passion for paddling, but there is no way on God’s green earth that I am going to teach him.  One thing I have learned over the years, and a common theme in the whitewater community is: never teach your significant other to paddle!

So I come back to Beachburg.  Only one person I know would be able to get my husband excited about paddling, and ensure that he has all the skills to do so.  In fact, I would argue that he would probably become a better paddler than me (although that’s not really saying much).  It’s Billy Harris.  Billy just opened up to his friends and followers in his blog with a confession about fear and internal sabotage.  I encourage you to read it, it is honest, open and I am positive that we have all “been there” at one point or another in our lives.  Even the best of us experience some setbacks in their goals and dreams – and if they can be honest with themselves and attack those setbacks, then so can every one of us.  Whether it be with work, paddling, diet, fitness, lifestyle, relationships, the key is to recognize what has happened, open your mind to the change needed and recreate the life you have always wanted.

I am hoping that I will be able to see Billy and Carly again this spring, and hoping that he is back on the water full-force for two reasons.  1) I don’t believe Billy should ever be off the water (I recall in 2005 watching Billy in one of Ben Aylesworth’s grand whitewater productions and immediately being drawn to that passion and excitement about paddling and wanting to be just like that); and 2) so he can continue to share his passion for paddling with my husband and others around the world who would be half the paddler having never met him.