the BIGGER picture

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Just a glimspe. Susan's Perspective.

#Travel and #Food journalist @SusanLuckyWong finally resurrects her blog The Bigger Picture

Dear Internet,

Today marks a very special day. A day worth remembering. A day worth sharing…with you.

I have finally realized that my prolonged hiatus from blogging has been a disservice to myself, my soul. I had a good thing going here. So many of you have messaged me with your encouraging comments despite my silence.

I will be the first to admit that I let “work” consume me and clearly, I’ve lost sight of my own equilibrium. Writing is cathartic, selfish – or what I know it as “Me Time” – and is an important ingredient to my inner balance. I hope it’s not too late to kick-start this blog again because aside from the many stories I’ve catalogued in my head, waiting to be shared with you; this whole blogging process will likely be more enjoyable for me than it will be for you.

Forgive me in advance if I offend anyone in any of my posts – believe me, that was never the intention. Inspired by the people I meet and the places I travel to, The Bigger Picture is a place where I share my thoughts and experiences, uncensored. This blog documents my personal journey of hopefully one day being able to see “The Bigger Picture” in every moment and everything I do.

Looking forward to reconnecting with you again!

Happy reading.

Susan

Happy reading.

Susan

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RESCUE HOMES: Lessons from Murang’a

New to the country and eager to see and experience as much of Kenya as possible, when I was asked to visit Murang’a and more importantly, Rescue Homes, I jumped at the chance.

Murang’a and its infamous rolling green hills welcomed me with open arms.  Located in Central Province of Kenya, Murang’a is incredibly picturesque with varying altitudes and expansive farmlands including tea plantations.

Completely shielded by an overgrown garden, when our driver pulled up to the gate of the Rescue Homes’ pilot project, I didn’t know what to expect.

I wondered how many young pregnant girls found refuge at this property.  I wondered how they were finding their time in the rural side and completely secluded from city life.  I wondered if they would be willing to speak to a visitor like myself – someone from the media.  I wondered…

When I met the young mothers-to-be, I realized I had nothing to worry about.  Their smiles said it all: full of life and promise.

 

FETCHING WATER: A new appreciation

Fetching water in Murang’a, Kenya photographed by Susan Wong

 

During my visit to Rescue Homes, their water supply had unfortunately been disturbed due to nearby road construction.

The house mothers volunteered to go fetch water at the bottom of the property, me being the curious “muzungo” that I was, I followed suit.  I had no idea what a journey I was getting myself into…

Fetching water is hard work!  No joke.

Under the hot midday sun, the three of us grabbed some empty plastic containers and ripped pieces of textile down the steep and slippery hills of the tea plantation.

I was wearing running shoes and the other ladies were wearing frictionless flip-flops.  Now, how did I manage to slip and fall, whilst the other ladies walked on like soldiers is mind-boggling.

I’ll be the first to admit it – slipping and sliding down and then up the hill and then being asked if I needed help by ladies with 100lbs of water on their backs was downright embarrassing.

Be super sure that I’ve found a new appreciation for water!

That day, I vowed to never waste another drop of water again.

 

Susan Wong is a resident photographer, writer, radio presenter and full-time adventurer at Capital Group Ltd.

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , ,

Curbside Cuisine: Popcorn in Nairobi, Kenya

Tasty popcorn at Prestige in Nairobi, Kenya by Susan Wong

Photo Credits: Susan Wong

I often shop for my groceries at Prestige, not because the vegetables are fresher or that there’s more parking; but because of a man named Larry who coincidently makes the best popcorn I have ever tasted in my life.

Larry making popcorn at Prestige in Nairobi, Kenya by Susan Wong

Larry Makanzie, 25, is a sharp entrepreneur that has learned to capitalize on hungry shoppers, curious passers-by lured by the aromas of fresh popcorn, and chronic snackers (such as myself).

Formerly known as ‘Fresh Pops’, Makanzie’s popcorn empire is now known as ‘Bando International’.  With no signage or marketing material, I may be one of the first to know what his humble popcorn stand is actually called.  But, at the end of the day, who cares?  Makanzie’s popcorn is the tastiest curbside cuisine I’ve tasted in a long time and makes me look forward to stocking up on my kitchen supplies!

Makanzie has been serving his customers at Prestige for the last 4 years.  A consistent queue of a few hungry snackers makes this popcorn stand one of the most profitable even at 50 ksh per bag.

Partly due to the consistent flow of business and also to his stubborn mission to provide the freshest popcorn to his customers, Makanzie’s popcorn is consistently steaming hot, fluffy and golden.

With diverse flavours to choose from: salt & vinegar, celery salt, mixed chilli spices – just to name a few; Makanzie provides the customer with choices and room for customization.  My favourite is the “Special” with an extra dash of celery salt.

This is definitely the friendliest popcorn stand where not only can you buy the fluffiest flavoured popcorn anywhere, it’s also a spot to catch up on the word on the street or take a breather after shopping.

Whether you’re a popcorn connoisseur or just want to support a worthy young entrepreneur, next time you’re at Prestige, make sure you visit Makanzie for some popcorn!

Queue for popcorn at Prestige in Nairobi, Kenya by Susan Wong

Don’t forget to follow me on TWITTER @SusanLuckyWong (the author)

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Food, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , , ,

Guest Post: The Japanese Canadian

In the wake of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster; I think I speak for most of us when I say my heart goes out to those affected by the ongoing “controlled chaos”.

Today’s guest is not only a dear friend of mine, but also a brother whom I’ve grown up with in Toronto.  The author of ‘The Japanese Canadian’ relocated back to Tokyo a few years back, and yes, he survived the earthquake.  His firsthand accounts of the disaster are chilling and heart-wrenching.  Check out his blog for more real stories from a very real person.

Three weeks… is how long it has been since the earthquake hit the east coast of Japan.  It has been such a learning experience.

  • I learned that Japan could probably withstand the worst earthquakes, and still remain standing.
  • I learned that all the damage which comes to Japan with earthquakes, happens immediately after the earthquake.
  • I learned that Japanese people can still come together as a community, even at times of duress.
  • I learned that I have a hard time being a part of that community.
  • I learned that no matter how many years I am here, I am Japanese-Canadian, and not Japanese.

The damage in Japan has been colossal, with almost 30000 dead or missing.  The television broadcasts censored bits of information regarding the recovery efforts and the people who are coming together to help the community.  Indeed it’s a great scene to know that people are helping each other out, as that positive effort is what the community needs to see.

In Tokyo, I still see the daily affects that the earthquakes has on the city of Tokyo.  The shelves at the grocery store and convenience stores are empty.  In certain stores, soft drinks are still available, but in others, there is no water, no drinks and no alcohol.  The daily things such as toilet paper and tissue paper are still relatively scarce, and there are limitations on many things that people can purchase like water.  The land in certain areas which are man made, have buckled under the pressure of the shaking from the earthquake.  The shortage of power in the Greater Tokyo Area has caused many people and industries to go on stand-by for rolling black outs.  Although the everybody has playing a big role in helping to save energy, with so little lights, every night is a reminder that Tokyo is also on life support, still not fully recovered from the damage.

Then there’s everything else with political parties, elections and nuclear power plants, but honestly, everyone has a different stance on that, and everyone is entitled to their opinion about it.  It’s too serious and too touchy to discuss on here, so I will leave that debate for another time.

I felt strongly, that life is precious, and I shouldn’t plan for things that don’t matter to me.  Every single day of my life, I should be striving to be the best that I can be, and I should strive to make my surroundings feel that I am able to contribute to by being my best.  At the same time, if I am unable to gain understanding for my goals and aspirations, and be told be the image that someone believes me to be, then I have to make a choice of whether I should hold faith in the life that others promise me, or to take control of the path I feel that I should be going on.  There’s many uncertainties, and many will say, “you should be doing this” or “you shouldn’t be doing that”, but the only true answer is “what “I” want to do”.

“What I want to do”, and “where I am now” are the two answers that I will strive to have an answer for.  Everything in between is what I “should” be doing.

Filed under: Canada, Japan, Life, Photography, Quotes, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , ,

Mavuno

This past Sunday I joined a couple of friends and checked out Mavuno, a church based in Nairobi, Kenya.

“Mavuno”, which means “harvest” in Swahili is located on the grounds of an abandoned drive-in theatre.  How cool is that?!  And, where cars once parked; are now tents that house the growing Mavuno congregation, now in the thousands.

I enjoyed the animated Pastor.  Pastor Linda was just kick-starting April’s series of sermons: Sin City.  She’s absolutely hilarious, yet so on point.  The A/V crew was amazing.  Definitely will be back!

The setup of Mavuno was so inviting and homey.  You can’t visit and not feel welcomed.  I especially enjoyed the set up of tents large and small, which made the Sunday church experience feel more like an open-aired market.  What better way to spend Sunday morning than in God’s house under the expansive aqua blue African sky and comforted by the warm midday sun?

Mavuno Church in Nairobi, Kenya

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , ,

The Maasai Mara National Reserve: Unforgettable Memories

The hundreds of clunking cowbells rung harmoniously in the distant pastures and also immediately right next to me, “Clunk….clunk…Clunk…CLUNK”. The fresh manure smell was overwhelming but there was something peaceful and musical about the clunking, somewhat like giant ringing cast iron church bells in Europe. Except I wasn’t in Europe where beautiful cobblestone paths lined the laneways; I was somewhere in the Mara.

The Maasai Mara National Reserve is a place where tourists realize their legendary Kenyan safari dreams and where great memories are conceived.  And undoubtedly, at this very moment, a great memory was conceived.

Together with our team of visitors, I had been invited on a nature walk with some of the Maasai in the community. Mind you this was not just any “nature walk” like those in Canada where we look at rocks and enjoy the enclave of refreshing pine forests. No, a nature walk with the Maasai in the Mara means you’re roaming where the Lion King animals roam. Yes, Simba…Pumbaa…you name it, they were around.

The afternoon sun comforted my tired body with its warm rays. The gentle valleys and the green plains of the Mara were expansive and absolutely unforgettable. In the distance, I could see herds of zebras and a few giraffes grazing freely. The clunking continued to get louder and soon after, we ran into some cows owned by the Maasai.

That’s when it hit: the animals, Maasai and I were all roaming in the Mara!

Nature walk with Maasai by Susan Wong

Expansive green plains and gentle valleys of the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

A lion in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Pumbaa a warthog and family in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Pumbaa a warthog and family in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan WongPumbaa a warthog and family in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Maasai on a nature walk in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Girl In Town: Just Remember Everything Will Be SAWA

If you haven’t had a chance to read and be inspired by the incredible words that Michael Nigigi pens, take my word for it, check out his blog A Day In A Dog’s Life Michael asked me to contribute on his latest entry, so if you haven’t stumbled upon it yet, here it is.

Have you seen The Bigger Picture? Well it’s one of the blogs that have inspired me and given me pointers in writing my own. I am honored to know the owner of this blog and she happens to be a good friend. I have taken time to study her work especially in writing and photography. My conclusion? She is gifted. Meet Susan Wong, a Chinese Canadian who has travelled the world extensively. Wong is a traveller, writer, radio personality, photographer and fashion designer. When she told me she was on a flight on her way here, I didn’t waste the chance to request that she write me a blog note while on the plane. Today was her first day on radio (Capital Fm 98.4). She was good!

By Susan ‘Lucky’ Wong

My body ached and my head throbbed from exhaustion.  Coming up on 20 hours of travelling time, jetlag was definitely catching up to me.  As I flipped through my colourful Kenyan guidebook in a desperate last attempt to absorb as much information about my new home, the captain spoke over the intercom and informed us that we were descending into Nairobi, and moments later the flickering city lights welcomed us.

Mesmerized by the enchanting lights and the new adventures that awaited me, I reluctantly closed myguide book and put it away.  I realized that no amount of homework could really prepare me for my relocation to Nairobi.  I suppose the best preparation was to put aside all expectations and just humbly enjoy every moment, adventure and opportunity that crosses my path.  And with that mindset, I penned this journal entry to myself just before the plane touched down…

Dear Self,

Young Lady, you are no stranger to Africa, Kenya, Nairobi or the challenging task of relocation.  With that said, ignore those butterflies in your stomach; stop thinking about the ‘what ifs’ if you had made another choice; and tell your Mom’s chanting of “Nairobbery….” In your mind to hush!

Undoubtedly there will be a lot of challenges ahead.  You will face challenges that seem impossible to prevail.  You will meet people that will challenge who you are and the core of what you’re made of.  You can do this.  Remember that you’ve been blessed with this opportunity to follow your passion and perhaps answer a call.  There are amazing people that are waiting to support you.  Be bold. Just be you.

Don’t forget about the lessons you’ve learned in the past.  And yes, you’ve learned so much in Ethiopiafrom the past few years.  Take everything with a grain of salt.  Trust people until they give you a reason to not trust them.

Enjoy yourself and don’t forget to explore the diverse restaurants in town!

Don’t fret.  Chin up Girl because everything will just be Sawa.

Voice over the intercom: “Welcome to Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.  The temperature outside is 18 degrees and expect a light drizzle …. Thanks for choosing….and we hope you have enjoyed your flight.”

Filed under: Africa, Kenya, Life, Music, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , ,

Re-Integrating at Home and Packing Tips for Expats

The Holiday season has officially wrapped up for me! Christmas, New Years and the month-long festivities of Chinese New Year have made my return to Canada from Ethiopia, bearable.

After more than 3 years of calling Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as my home, being back at “home” is definitely bittersweet. With the daily small successes, challenges and bureaucracy of working in Ethiopia in my memories, I’ve been indulging in the small luxuries of life that I had come to live without.

My sister, “Princess Master Packer”, was nice enough to come visit me in Ethiopia just before I left for good. Princess Master Packer, is a gifted packer and is spatial-visualization inclined. I’ll be the first to admit, without her supervision, skill and additional baggage allowance; I don’t know what I would have done! Packing up 3 years worth of memories, essentials and just stuff was intimidating and one of the hardest things I’ve done (made climbing Mt. Kenya 5008m look easy)!!!

Seeing Ethiopia through Princess Master Packer’s eyes was certainly entertaining. Things that I’ve come to embrace seemed completely foreign and outright absurd to her! I wonder if I was like her when I first stepped foot on to African soil 3 years ago…F.O.B. (fresh off the boat)

If you’re an Expat that has accumulated a lot of stuff like me…here are some packing tips:

1. How to embrace outdoor equipment when packing:
– Water bottles, Nalgeens and other hard plastic containers may seem like space wasters in your suitcase, but
they serve as perfect canisters to pack small items such as shavers, tampons, jewellery, medication, sunglasses etc.
– Rug sacks and mountaineering backpacks should be emptied and flattened to line the bottom of your large
suitcases.

2. Additional piece of luggage
If you know ultimately you won’t make the baggage allowance and your only option is to pay for an extra piece of
luggage, then invest in a good cardboard box and cling wrap at the airport. As an oversized cardboard box, you can
place all of your heaviest items in that carton. Airlines are generous with weight with extra pieces and if they’re in cartons since you’ve already paid extra.

3. Anything odd shaped or cardboard MUST be wrapped with cling wrap at the airport! Don’t be a cheapo and opt out
of the wrap thinking it won’t do much and is cheaper to buy wrap from Wal-mart to DIY. You’ll be surprised how well
the cling wrap at the airport is able to distribute stress away from the corners of a bashed up box and not to
mention keep things inside the box.

4. Always have extra USD enough to pay for extra/overweight luggage. USD is the only currency that no matter how
rural and off the map you are, people will accept. Don’t depend on credit cards because as I have experienced, the
only credit card machine at the airport might be broken. Or, you only have Euros but the staff insist on USD only
and the currency changers are all closed!

Remember to expect the unexpected!

Women of the Hamer Village in Omo Valley looking into the African sunset photographed by Susan Wong


The sun sets into a peaceful Hamer Village in Southern Ethiopia photographed by Susan Wong


Crossing the Omo River 20km from the Kenyan-Ethiopia border photographed by Susan Wong

Filed under: Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jet Lag

Having just completed my densely packed first week back in Toronto, I am now hibernating at home on a Friday evening. This 6-week trip thus far has been more challenging than my last. It seems that I’ve been hit with a severe case of jet leg or perhaps my week of untimely fatigue has been due to the “Developing Country Withdrawal Syndrome” – readjusting to the culture shock of home. Anyhow, my last week was basically spent readjusting to a new residence, new community, frigid weather, helping my sister’s pre-wedding projects, and fixing and reorganizing stuff. Whenever I’m back from Ethiopia, I’m always consumed with errands and things to just take care of. As much as I would like to relax and enjoy a slower pace of life at home, it seems more like a rat race in the dead of winter.

The other day while renewing my passport (I filled up all of my pages!), I witnessed a classic case of an inpatient woman’s lethal episode of “I have no time for such a long wait!” Nothing I haven’t seen before, but for some reason I was deeply bothered by the way she was verbally attacking others with her tone of voice and melodramatic body language. Since when was I so sensitive to a public shouting match and demonstration of heartless conduct? ‘Overreaction’ people called it. Perhaps well actually undoubtedly, my perspectives on everything have changed. In Ethiopia, I know who I am whereas back in Canada, I now struggle to find a place to fit in.

Anyhow, most people have no idea why I’m still in Ethiopia for, but all I can say is that I’m pursuing my dreams and realizing that to make them become a reality is only possible if I have the freedom and the means to accomplish them.

Don’t sacrifice tomorrow’s dreams with today’s inaction. But navigating the maze through the many turns and twists that we call life can be a daunting and a confusing journey. You simply don’t know where to begin. For me, every door of opportunity that has opened, I’ve literally pushed myself to walk through them. Real experience is the only way to really find what your true passions are. I can’t say I have an answer to it all, but at least through experimenting, failing and succeeding I’ve found more clarity. As they say in the financial world, higher risk historically is associated with higher rates of return. The same goes with finding our passions and realizing our dreams. Are we going to just wonder about the ‘what ifs’ or are we going to seek them out? If we’re afraid of risk, we’ll never step past the protective walls of our comfort zone. Take a leap of faith. Whatever it is, just give it a go!

Crystal clear photographed by Susan Wong

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Ethiopia, Life, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , ,

Belated Holiday Greetings

Belated holiday greetings to all! I’ve been quite busy celebrating twice and then some more. Ethiopia uses its own Ethiopian Calendar. As a result, after celebrating Christmas and New Years, we end up celebrating it again a few weeks later.

This year was my second Holiday Season on the African continent. Contrary to last year, I was hit severely with a case of homesickness. I missed it all: the crisp refreshing air on cold Canadian winter mornings, the fresh white blankets of fluffy snowflakes, the painful feeling from getting smacked with a snowball, the popular ski and snowboarding hills, a steamy hot cup of cinnamon apple cider, the creative applications of Christmas lights on everyone’s home and buildings, watching the lighting ceremony and fireworks at Nathan Philips Square, Christmas carols, “Midnight Madness” – the mad dash to malls for gifts, embracing familiar faces….and Santa and his reindeers in the star-filled sky of Canada.  Anyhow, I managed to throw a last minute Christmas Eve feast with friends at my place…but it just wasn’t the same. Actually, I was wondering when and if ever I would get homesick. Almost 2 years later, a happy belated homesickness to me!

For Ethiopian Christmas, I joined a couple of friends to the South (Arba Minch) to visit my Ethiopian family and their orphanage. Besides the dreadful roads that nearly broke my tailbone and the maddening insect bites, the trip was incredibly rejuvenating. Fresh tilapia grilled to perfection, beautiful and inspiring panoramas, mouth-watering fruits, Africa’s largest crocodiles, thousands of pelicans, grumpy hippos, kilometers and kilometers of golden fields of wild grass, entrancing sunsets on the lakes, and many genuine new friendships later…I was back to my peaceful self.

Expanding myself into business has been a very trying experience, but nonetheless rewarding. As an entrepreneur in a foreign country with an emerging market, the potential is absolutely limitless. However, to harvest the fruit it has proven to take a longer period of nurturing, and extensive perseverance and will power. After a while, you only end up eating and sleeping business – scary. You slowly forget everyone around you and you drown in your own worry. A dark and deep black hole. What’s to worry? I have said it many times and I will say it again, I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and depending on your perspective, you may frown or you may rejoice. Deep down I believe we are all capitalists, it’s just a matter of where you stand on the scale. I only hope that I will maintain development and social aspects to all of my endeavors.

Anyhow, while in Dorze, a few kilometers outside of Arba Minch perched on a mountain that overlooked the grand Lakes separated by a low plateau suitably named “The Bridge of God”, in a dingy local Tej Pub (Honey Wine bar), I was surrounded my seemingly euphoric people who knew nothing but happiness. Perhaps it was the alcohol content of the Tej, a bright orange colored liquid served in a chemistry flask, but in the high sun of a weekday I didn’t feel like they were simply just a bunch of drunks. There was just something about these happy people.

There was one middle-aged woman that absolutely glowed of happiness and joy. Her eyes danced in the light and her gaze was so soft and genuine that you couldn’t help but to engage in a conversation with her. Nevertheless, language barriers and all, she managed to teach me the proper way to hold a Tej bottle and how to drink this honey fermented beverage. After flicking the first mouthfuls of Tej out of the bottle, we gulped down the sweetest and tastiest Honey Wine I had ever tasted (the Tej at weddings are revolting sometimes). Bottoms up!

I can’t wait to go back to the colorful South!

Learning how to drink Tej "Honey Wine" in a Local Tej Pub in Dorze, Ethiopia photographed by Susan Wong

The skilled Tej Waiter in Dorze, Ethiopia photographed by Susan Wong

Filed under: Africa, Ethiopia, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Through My Eyes

TWEETS…

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