Drink (Tea) Every Time Guillebeau Refers to Africa as a Country



Yesterday I started and finished “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau. Guillbeau visited every country in the world by the time he was thirty-five (a fact he reminds readers of every few pages) and the book is supposed to be an exploration of how you too can find your own quest. According to Guillebeau, quests are projects that have a clear goal, a specific end point, and a defined set of milestones. Examples of quests are Guillebeau’s journey to visit every country in the world, a project to visit every basilica in the US, a project to walk across the US, a quest to never travel by car again, and the list goes on. This could have been an interesting read, but instead is just a poorly written book with no critical reflection and or ability to mention any African country without using stereotypes or using actual country names. When he talks about North America, he mentions specific town and city names (Manitoba, St. Louis etc) when he talks about an African country, he simply talks about visiting Africa. Here are (some) examples:

Sometimes I travel from the North America to the Africa too.

Sometimes I travel from the North America to the Africa too.

Thrilling Africa.

Thrilling Africa.

In between two cosmopolitan cities, the highlight is an African village

In between two cosmopolitan cities, the highlight is an African village

Trips to the Africa.

In addition, this book is completely devoid of any critical reflection or analysis of what it means to do a “quest”, and who gets to travel and pursue ridiculous journeys. There is no racial analysis, no discussion of privilege, and no examination of whether it is a good idea to seek meaning that is missing from your everyday life in a “faraway locale.” The chapters on creating personal lists and goal setting are interesting, but the flaws in this book make it impossible to take his advice seriously. Guillebeau says everyone can travel anywhere as long as they can save at least $2 a day, and seems unaware that that isn’t a measure that everyone can meet. Poverty and bills and responsibilities are not important variables as to whether or not someone can leave their life and go, in this book travel and adventure simply require that you are uncomfortable with your life and want to make a change in order to go out and do these things. He does spend a bit of time saying that you can do quests in the way that is meaningful for you, but he gives unrealistic examples of scaling down. For instance, if you feel like you can’t visit all the countries, 30 countries is pretty good too!

What isn’t discussed is that there are good and bad reasons to do a quest. He speaks of a friend who “after years of debauchery as a New York City nightclub promoter” finds his calling bringing clean water to Africa. He tells the story of another person who wants to connect with different cultures and decides to cook a different dish for her family from each country in the world. The ethics and validity of both of these projects are very different because the reasons for each project is very different, but there is little analysis in this book of personal motivations or broader political implications of the quests that people undertake. What does it mean to support oppressive regimes through travel? This a question that should be talked about because of the stories Guillebeau chooses to include, but isn’t discussed at all.

Ah so simple.

Ah so simple.

If you're wondering why this is bad, please read

If you’re wondering why this is bad, please read “The Ugly Tourist” by Jamaica Kincaid.

Last year I read “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” a delightful fictional read about a man who walks 500 miles across England to visit a colleague who is dying of cancer. The journey heals his marriage and his life, but he travels across small towns of England in his own country. Harold Fry’s journey is charming and sweet, this book is the opposite of that.

Further Reading:

  1. “The Ugly Tourist” by Jamaica Kincaid
  2. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

On Starting Again and Reading “After You” by Jojo Moyes

“Only one person can give you a purpose” ~ (After You, Jojo Moyes, p.300)


Witpoortjie waterfall , Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens (Joburg, Sept 2015)

Witpoortjie Waterfall, Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens (Joburg, Sept 2015)

On a long distance flight a few years ago, I started and finished “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes, a story about Louisa Clark, age 26, who takes a job as a carer for Will Traynor, age 35, who is a quadriplegic. Louisa has lived in the same town her whole life, has few friends, and she has done and experienced very little. Before his accident, Will lived a full life with work and friends and adventure and passion, and when Louisa meets him, he is an angry and difficult patient. They come from different worlds, but they help each other discover life. In particular, Will helps expand Louisa’s horizons. He introduces her to new experiences, widens her ambitions, and helps her to heal after traumatic events in her past. He teaches her to expect more of herself and of her life.

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On Exercising Gratitude (Thoughts on Forming New Habits)

In one of my favourite lectures, Sir Ken Robinson speaks about how schools and educational systems fail students, and mentions that children do not simply have bodies to transport their heads around, we are all beings with both bodies and heads, and we need educational systems and ways of understanding ourselves that acknowledge this reality. It’s an important point, and one that I confess I am guilty of forgetting all the time. I am someone with a narrow band of interests, and I’m not naturally an active, athletic person, and so when I have free time or I’m planning my day or I want to unwind, exercise/physical activity is for the most part, pushed aside. Though it’s been a goal for a long time, it’s always felt overwhelming and confusing to learn how to become stronger and healthier, and it’s never been a priority that has found its way into how I structure my time.

Until now. A couple of months ago I felt curious about the gym opposite my apartment in Toronto, and got a month-long membership and a few sessions to learn more about the machines. I went for a short period of time, and then stopped for several weeks. I’m back in BC now, have taken time to reflect and now feel excited about trying to develop new habits, and become physically stronger and healthier. I feel much more positive, and since Seriously Planning has always been a wonderful place to share reflections and learnings, I thought I’d share some of my discoveries here to remind myself first and foremost about things that work for me when I’m trying to develop new habits and navigate change. Hopefully this can continue to be a space to share learnings as time progresses.

1) The Why is Important

Whether it was at the gym or resources/advice online, much of what I’ve encountered recently has been focused on one’s physical appearance and trying to change how you presently look. But after fifteen years of explaining that my hijab/related clothing choices are in part because my interactions in the public sphere should not be based on physical appearance, but rather on personality, heart and character, it’s difficult to connect with discourse to the contrary, and all of these messages have felt stressful and overwhelming. In those initial sessions when the trainer tried to motivate me with images/descriptions of a different physical self, I just wanted to go home.

Very recently though, I came across a set of lectures by the Muslim Chaplaincy at U of T from a recent Holistic Well being Symposium that they hosted, and though I’ve just started listening, the resources and the work of the speakers in general have been really helpful. Thinking about movement and physical wellbeing as part of faith, and a way to be stronger and to exercise gratitude for the blessings you’ve been given has been much more motivating, and has been what has helped me try again at becoming more physically active. The lectures and speakers also talk about eating healthily, and after trying to sort through so many confusing (and contradictory!) ways to eat and cook that are available online, it’s been wonderful to think about a Prophetic diet, and to try and learn more about how food and movement can be another sphere to extend your practice of faith.  I’ve also tried to think of milestones I want to achieve God-willing, and am hoping I can try a camping trip in several months – something that is terrifying but also every so exciting to think about! New hobbies and experiences and health and an expanded understanding of faith are positively motivating things, and make a more active lifestyle something I really want to establish.

It turns out that regardless of how much you may hear something is good for you and important to do and something you should do, you need to find a reason that connects with you in order to give a new habit a chance of settling into your life.

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An Urban Romance (Lessons from Toronto)

The Heart of the City (Oct 2014)

The Heart of the City (Oct 2014)

Cities are people to me, and whether it was my first trip to Toronto many years ago, trips thereafter, moving to Toronto for graduate school in 2010, or moving back to Toronto in March 2014, it’s always felt like Toronto and I are courting. Will this be my long -term city? The question has surfaced again and again in my heart and mind over the past few years, and been the subject of many audio stories and blog posts and late night cups of tea. Toronto has always been a love who is different and unexpected and challenging, and who is constantly asking me step up and become more.  Toronto can drive me crazy, push me, break my heart sometimes but ultimately, it is a place where I feel intensely happy and fulfilled. In particular, this past year in Toronto has been one of the most incredibly challenging and beautiful years of my life to date, and has taught me so much. In response to that long asked question however, a couple of weeks ago I packed my things and came home to visit before I begin God-willing, a new chapter in a different city soon. Preparation for what lies ahead is often aided by learning from your experiences, and before that move, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the lessons of the past 12 months.  A list of brief reflections/lessons is underneath the audio story below.

1)  You cannot go backwards in time and recreate an experience.

One of the keys to contentment and adjustment I’ve discovered is that I need to create enough space in my heart for an experience and a place to unfold. When I moved to Toronto as a graduate student, I realised that the way to feel happy in the city was to not compare it to Vancouver, and to deflect questions about which city I liked better.  I love both cities for entirely different reasons and avoiding comparison allowed me to fall deeply in love with Toronto and appreciate the unique characteristics that make it an incredible place to live. Similarly, when I moved this year, it quickly became clear that my experience with the city would be entirely different to my previous experiences. I was no longer a student, I had been away for two years, and in many ways it felt like I was moving to a new city that felt slightly familiar, but otherwise was very very new. Allowing the city and I to get to know each other anew was important, and towards this end, it was important to create new rituals that allowed for new definitions and understandings of Toronto to unfold.

2) It is possible to become more comfortable with uncertainty. And you really don’t need very many things to be happy.

By nature, I am someone who is not good with change and uncertainty. I like it when things stay the same. I can’t handle plot-heavy novels because I stress out about the main characters. I feel sad when the gelato flavours at my favourite cafes change.  I mourn furniture changes when I come home to visit. All in all, it takes me a while to process new things. And while all these things are still true, this year has helped me to become much more comfortable with the unknown, and to learn that instead of becoming overwhelmed by change and uncertainty, all I can do is do the best I can with the day that is before me. In the past 12 months I’ve moved 4 times (3 times within Toronto and then back to Vancouver), and lived with 2 suitcases (I didn’t bring any books) for the entire time. Aside from groceries, every time I’ve wanted to purchase something, I thought about it several times beforehand, and by the time I asked myself the questions of “How will I move it? Where will I store it? Do I really need it?” several times, I usually realized it was something I could do without. In August I had a trip home scheduled, and it was time to move from the apartment I was in, so though I hadn’t found a new apartment yet, I packed my things, left them with a friend and went home for three days. When I returned I started a new job the next day and only retrieved my things a few days later, but I still had everything I needed with me in the little backpack I had taken to Vancouver. I found a new apartment the next week, but the lesson that you actually need very little, and that uncertainty can only be lived through one moment at a time has stayed with me. This year has taught me to become better at something I find very difficult: trusting and letting go.

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Look Big Picture (Life Advice from Chris Hadfield)

Reaching for the horizon, Porteau Cove, BC.

Reaching for the horizon, Porteau Cove, BC.

I recently saw a fantastic interview between Cmdr Chris Hadfield and Jian Ghomeshi that I highly recommend watching in its entirety.  In case this advice is helpful to others too, below are a few gems from their conversation.

Q: What is the most important lesson you think you’ve taken away from the space program?

C.H: If you look big picture, I think the important thing is to give yourself something in life that you really want to do. What is exciting? What is the thing in the distance that if things worked out, you just see yourself doing ten years from now. Or 20 years from now… And then figure out how you can just start nudging yourself along one decision at a time. And you can change directions. I’ve just changed direction. I’ve just retired after a long career. I’m picking those things now and trying to decide what skills I will need in order to head that direction with my life.

Important to remember two things:

1) Don’t have to go straight there.
2) Don’t make that thing be the measure of your self worth. Try and celebrate every little victory, every day. Come out of every day saying today was a good day. I got to do this and this and this. I liked all the stages in my career along the way. Don’t want to get my self worth wrapped up in things in the future that may never happen.

  • I feel a compulsion to make the most of myself. It’s kind of like a way of dealing with life. I sort of look at these are the various skills I’ve been given, these are the things I can do, and if I am not trying to make the most of all the various talents and capabilities I have and opportunities I have, then I am wasting my own time and wasting other people’s time to some degree. It drives me to try and not let things slip away. I really feel an urge to do something useful, to make the most of what I have.  So that drives me, that compels me, it makes me continue to work. It gives me reasons and I like it.
  • I think the real key to social media is to be honest. To tell people what it is that you saw, and what it meant to you, and why. It’s social media, it’s not marketing media. It’s not “I’m trying to sell you dishsoap”. It’s I saw this incredible thing, or this incredible thing meant this to me and here is why. And this is what it looked like.
  • I didn’t do this to become a rockstar. I did this because I found it fundamentally interesting and worthwhile and I thought everybody should be interested in it. So I pursued it doggedly for a long time. And most of the the work I’ve done has been completely uncelebrated like anyone’s work…Anyone who shines for a moment, it’s the result of all those unheralded things that it happens. It wasn’t like it was a springboard so that finally I could be famous. That wasn’t the intent. It was more the opposite.  I’m not trying to sell people something, I’m trying to share the wonder of the experience with them and I’m delighted so many people share back.
  • [story about replacing his cupboards when his house got flooded and really enjoying the experience] I feel exactly the same way about my career. It’s not like I go around now that I don’t live in that house anymore missing that set of cupboards. I did that. And it took a lot of work. And I’m really happy about how it made me feel and with the result that it left, but I don’t spend my life wishing that I was still building those cupboards. That’s not how I view life. There’s a lot more cupboards to build.  You can take great delight in learning any new thing. I have 30 or 40 years I hope of cupboards to build,things to think about and new stuff to learn and stuff to try and accomplish.”

Chris Hadfield, Q with Jian Ghomeshi

Choose Well, Not All (Sixteen Lessons from the 2013 UBC SLC)

Festival at the Gedung Sate, Bandung

Festival at the Gedung Sate, Bandung (Indonesia)

One of my favourite conferences, the UBC Student Leadership Conference is an event that continues to grow and improve with every year. I’ve attended multiple times, and each time the conference has been an opening to an increased understanding of myself and the kind of work that I feel passionate about.  After two years in Toronto, this year I was blessed to attend once more, and this year was perhaps was my most meaningful SLC yet. From the rich lunchtime conversations, to the interesting case studies, and the palpable emotion in the room during the Closing Keynote, all of it left an imprint on my heart. This post has been in my draft folder since the conference, (apologies for the delay in posting!), but in no particular order, here are some of the lessons/quotes I took away this year.

1) Being exceptional is about overcoming complacency. It’s about doing the things that others are too busy, too important to do.~Alden Habacon, Featured Presenter

2) I took part in the SLC Case Studies session this year as an alumni participant, and the experience was a lesson that case studies facilitate deep learning. During the session we were given a description of a real project under development at UBC, a series of questions to guide our thinking and then a few hours later presented our findings/solutions to a panel of people involved in the actual project. They listened, gave feedback and asked us follow-up questions after we presented. Instead of simply consuming information about a topic, we were asked to think critically. The experience was a reminder that learning and transformation is about meaningful conversations. Instead of simply taking in information, for ideas to stick you have to interact with what you hear, digest it, reflect on it, and experiment with implementation. In the future, whether I find myself planning a conference, a course or a retreat, I want to embed a case study learning method into the design of the learning experience.

3) You are an ambassador for the causes that you represent.

Every time I’ve been at the SLC, the volunteers stand out. They are consistently professional, helpful, friendly and excited. They radiate energy and enthusiasm and are keen to serve. Without saying anything, but simply through their state, they tell you how getting involved in the conference has impacted them. Extrapolating that lesson, the volunteers were a reminder that whenever we get involved in something, if it is good, the traces of that goodness should be visible from us.

4)  I spent a magical lunchtime during the SLC this year with friends I hadn’t seen for several months (years in some cases!) speaking about learning goals, and the challenges of finding your way post graduation. Our rich conversation was a reminder that assistance and advice can only come when you allow yourself to be vulnerable and open up on what it is you find challenging. When you’re honest and authentic about being confused. Once you share, you give others permission to do the same, and in that mutual sharing, there is strength, hope and advice to be gained.

5) A great deal of karma, good luck and blessings required for success.~Alden Habacon, Featured Presenter

6) You remember the moments when you ask God to rescue you. ~Alden Habacon, Featured Presenter.

7) Never take advice from someone who doesn’t have what you want. ~Alden Habacon, Featured Presenter

8)Bureaucracies foster environment of scarcity. You need to foster an abundance mentality and see the world through a lens of abundance. ~Alden Habacon, Featured Presenter

9) Do work that would be meaningful to you if you had two years to live. ~Alden Habacon, Featured Presenter

10) I learnt to have patience with myself and world. Because there is hope, but it comes on a different schedule than yours. ~Closing Keynote

11) Each difficult moment has made me the person that I am today. If you can make it through the darkness, will be transformed. Will be closer to the person supposed to be, and closer to doing the work only you are supposed to do. We grow through struggles and pain. We all have gifts. We need to share our gifts. ~Closing Keynote

12) Please live. Life is amazing. When I was struggling with thoughts of suicide, what kept me going was the thought that nothing is forever. ~Audience Participant, Closing Keynote.

13) You are in not even the 1%, at this institution, you’re in the less than 1% of high achievers. You don’t feel like that because you’ve always surrounded yourself with the same sort of people, and so you think you’re just average. No. ~Closing Keynote.

14) Make the time to fulfill your dreams. Wake up at 5 and write every day to finish that novel. ~Closing Keynote.

15) Tolerating Diversity is Not Enough

Whenever I go to a conference, I am used to sadly going over to the table where the vegetarian options are laid out, and hoping that the sandwiches present are somewhat interesting. Not so at this year’s SLC. There were several vegetarian options available. It wasn’t a reluctant accommodation or tolerance of diversity, it was a celebration of different eating choices. It was a refreshing change to experience a conference where a recognition of diversity was embedded within its design and planning process. It’s rare for me to have that experience; whether it is food, finding prayer space, or finding social space that is not alcohol centric, most of the time, I’m used to having to explain and request accommodation.

16) Choose well, not all. ~Faces of SLC