One Chip Short of a Happy Meal

The unintentionally bizarre thoughts and escapades of a curious graduate.


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Lithuania: Land of Pastries, Forests and Cheap Public Transport

After a bargain flight to the mysterious city of ‘Kaunas‘ was booked one fateful lecture a few months ago, our journey began.

I have to admit, I initially thought Lithuania was on the Mediterranean. Turns out it’s in the Baltic. I’m sure everyone makes these mistakes.

Needless to say, I prepared for a much colder holiday than necessary. We travelled the first week of May, and it was pretty hot. Especially for us, used to hermitting inside during the long Welsh winter. Admittedly we narrowly missed the snow they still had up to 10 days before (phew).

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Nope, no snow here.

So what does Lithuania actually have to do?

I hear you all ask.

Well we stayed at The Monk’s Bunk hostel in Kaunas, and I gotta say they had spectacular service and were ridiculously nice. Super comfy beds too.

We walked around Kaunas for half a day and took in the different architecture. Everything looked so different to the UK it was difficult to place, but nice to just wander around.

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View from the hostel in Kaunas.

 

Then we took the advice from our hostel, rented some bikes (7 euros each) and cycled 13km to a village in a forest. Apparently they’re not allowed to cut any of the trees down anymore, so it was a really cool thing to see. And every house was pretty huge and completely individual.  Oh and there was a natural spring you can drink from!

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We visited Trakai Castle, with peddle-boating on our beautiful dolphin boat one of my favourite things from the holiday! Probably because i didn’t peddle. We rented one for 6 euros/ hour. Bargain.

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Trakai Castle

We then ambled around the capital, Vilnius, for the rest of the day. Again, some lovely and very different architecture to see. Lots of baroque/ gothic buildings and churches. Definitely go inside them as they were much more impressive outside than in.

 

 

Vilnius was only a 5 euro train ride from Kaunas- again, a total bargain. Seriously, why isn’t our public transport service this good?!

On our last day we decided to amble over to the Kaunas Zoo. We almost didn’t go because of such bad TripAdvisor reviews, but I’m so glad we did go! It’s in the process of being refurbished, and although pretty small, had a good variety of animals that looked happy and healthy. They’re also involved in conservation research and have a bit of a homely touch to the place.

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So if you’re uncertain what to do one afternoon, have a peak. It was only 3 euros each (student price; 5 euros full price). Plus there was a nice walk through a park to get there.

So that’s it! We only had a few days, and did more than I wrote about above- but you probably don’t want to know about all the shenanigans we got up to. It involved peddle-boat mutinies and dangerous clothing changes. I’ll leave it to your imagination.

I’ll leave you with the following photo:

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Mints, condoms and razors by the checkouts. Lithuanians have their priorities.

 


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Honduras: An awesome place with a bad rep.

So. I returned on the 11th August 2015 from my 9 week sojourn in the Honduran mountains of Cusuco National Park, with Operation Wallacea.

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post to summarise my adventures for a while, but I have so much to say it felt as though I was starting a novel each time. Needless to say, I finally managed to shorten it!

What was it like?

Put simply: incredible.

The wildlife, the flora, those views!

We were told pre-arrival that we would need to be of reasonable fitness. This was a vicious lie. Every day we would walk up and down some sort of semi-vertical slope in the name of conservation and biodiversity research. At first, I felt like an overweight hippo struggling uphill, with gasps of breath that probably reverberated around the slopes and could be heard for miles. However, after just a couple of weeks, the transects got much more tolerable, despite seeming to get steeper and longer. We gained thighs of steel, bellies of rice and a heavily degraded knee support system.

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What was the toilet situation like?

Urinals and trenches. Depending on the satellite camp you would get a different shaped trench, which was always exciting. Or terrifying, in the case of the giant grave-like hole of the Guanales sat-camp. You could fall in and nobody would know.

On the west-side (the further sat-camps on the other side of the park), we even had hand-made seats for our trenches. Life doesn’t get much better than that! They were always very scenic too. The best I can get back home is swinging the bathroom door open and gazing down the hallway. It’s just not the same!

The urinals on the other hand, were something else! Aiming in the dark, at a small tube, whilst trying not to silhouette myself against the tarpaulin was not the best experience. I was a big fan of the jungle-pee (rogue wilderness peeing).

How was sleeping?

I slept in a tent the whole time. There was the option of hammocks, and I heard plenty of fantastic things about them, but I simply preferred someone else sleeping next to me. In Cantiles (the highest satellite camp) it felt like a matter of survival it was so cold! What kind of heating system did those hammock-dwellers have?! And they don’t get the experiences of mad tent-mates sleep talking/ walking/ spooning. Good times.

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…the food?

Rice. Beans. Plantain. Tortillas.

I couldn’t eat the pasta due to digestive issues, so I got rice. A lot. However, even saying that, I genuinely enjoyed the food most of the time. Even when I simply ended up with ketchup and rice, either because of miscommunication with the cooks, or because they hated me, I still enjoyed it. Who knew I would end up loving fried plantain and ketchup? That’s basically banana and ketchup. That sounds wrong even writing it.

And pastalitos! Essentially fried pastries. If you were lucky there would be the tiniest bit of beef/ chicken with potato, if you were less lucky it was full of rice. But it would still taste some kind of beautiful.

Breakfast initially started out less exciting: tortillas, oats, or cornflakes. With GRAPE jam (why grape? WHY?!), peanut butter, or honey. In the beginning I did not like peanut butter. By the end, it was a great addition to my morning oats. Now even at home I’m buying the stuff. But that grape jelly -.-

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Shower situation?

Either an icy waterfall, an icy pool, or an icy tube of water splashing you (if you were in base camp). Always icy, no matter how scorching the day was. I’m not sure how the physics behind that even works. You became an expert at the quick-wash, really quickly! My favourite were probably the pools: you were forced to go all the way in, so you got the initial ice-blast over with quickly. In the waterfalls there was lots of dipping in and out and internal(/external) squealing.

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Was it worth it?

Hell yes! I would do the whole thing again in a heart beat. Waking up to the calls of the birds (even the creepy highland guan), or the howler monkeys; every day coming across some incredible view; seeing all sorts of wonderful species, all of the time; and most of all living with some of the maddest bunch of enthusiastic researchers ever.

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Take me back!


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Graduate Confessions #4

February 11th 2015. The date of my last Graduate Confessions post.

I guess I haven’t written anything since then because I’ve been so busy, happy, and with actual goals to aim for.

Since then I’ve done a field season in Honduras, survived, maintained a real adult job for a year and then survived a second Honduran field season! I also applied to Graduate Entry Medicine and miraculously managed to gain a place at Swansea University.

I know. Shit got real.

I’m just at the end of my 13th week of this course, and I’ve got to say- it’s amazing. I’ve never felt so happy as I do right now (apart from on field season, of course). The course is so applied that everything feels relevant. You are in clinical placements from the first couple of weeks! I mean, I’ve already taken bloods, witnessed a birth (I’m never having children), seen a dislocated shoulder put back in place, seen a nerve block and blood patch, been in theatre and maintained an airway (however briefly!) amongst a ton of other things.

Choosing to carry on studying might seem like a backwards step. But it’s anything apart from that. I don’t care that I won’t earn any money until I’m 29 (wait…what am I saying?! I immediately take that back). Everything I see/ do/ learn is so interesting. And it’s going to lead to one of the most fulfilling careers I can think of.

Hopefully one day I’ll be able to go overseas with MSF (Doctors without Borders) and aid in the humanitarian crises popping up all over the world. And help out with my field work of course- albeit in a slightly different role.

From how lost I felt in 2015 after my first degree, I can’t quite believe where I am now. For anyone else in that same post-degree limbo; it does get better 🙂

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The Cloud Forest of Cusuco National Park, Honduras

 

An update from a ridiculously happy graduate.

 


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Preparation Honduras: The land of gang fights and homicides, apparently.

Honduras, that’s in Central America right? Yes. Mayan ruins, hot weather, bargain markets, exotic foods, beautiful coral reefs… it all sounds perfect!

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A fantastic, exotic, destination for those summer months, where I can carry out some well-needed conservation research in Cusuco National Park.

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Then, I made the mistake of Googling Honduras.

‘Honduras: Gang Crime at All TIme High‘, ‘San Pedro Sula, Highest Homicide Rate in World’ and ‘The Gruesome Reality of Crime in Honduras’ were typical amongst the titles that flew onto the page in front of me. Scrolling down didn’t bring up anything prettier.

Great.

So, now I am slightly dubiously at the packing stage of the expedition. I have my parang (similar use to a machete) from my jungle travels in Borneo, but perhaps it will also aid in my defense if I am ambushed in the wilderness by a Honduran gang member? I’m sure it will be super useful.

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I will obviously look equally as cool as Bear here.

The governmental travel advice varies subtely depending on whether it’s from the USA or the UK too. The UK essentially states there is particularly high crime in Honduras, especially in the cities. However, it is mostly gang fights and tourists are fine. The USA states this too, but then goes on to detail the crimes against tourists that have occured; such as: kidnap, armed robbery, rape, murder and theft. And then tries to leave along the more up-beat notes of ‘but most people are fine. P.S. The police are pretty corrupt, so don’t expect too much help from them. Now, be safe and have fun!

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Who knows what is to come when I land! Luckily, I only spend one night in a San Pedro Sula’n hotel, and then am whisked off into the jungle. Where I shall live in a tent, on a mountain, for nine weeks. The pictures, after Googling much more specifically to: ‘Cusuco National Park‘ look stunning, and I can’t wait to see these views for myself!

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I leave on the 4th June 2015 and should return 11th August 2015 (finger’s crossed).

Here’s to braving homicidal cities in the name of conservation research!

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The Day I Fell Out of the Sky

Sunday February 8th 2015: a day that will forever be imprinted on my mind. What happened?

I took the great plunge.

No, I am not describing some imaginative bathroom incident that got out of hand.

I am on about falling 15,000 feet out of a teeny tiny plane in Devon, dressed as what can only be described as Cat Woman and Madonna’s love child. I truly hope that image imprints itself on your mind.

skydivingteam Love child on the left. As if that needed to be said.

Also please note those hats. I can only think of them as stripy leather condom hats, that vaguely made my friends look like gnomes. So. Clad in our fantastic skydiving gear, resembling the most intriguing crime fighting gang ever seen, we were all geared up for leaping out of the sky! We were informed there would be 60 seconds free fall, then the parachute will open and a further 7ish minutes of a more lethargic descent.

Getting in the plane us tandem divers were shuffled towards the back in our pairs. The layout inside were two benches running parallel the length of the plane to the door. Somehow we managed to squeeze eighteen divers into this minuscule area. I was in the lap of my tandem instructor, with a large parachute quashing all blood supply to my legs in front. Not wanting to complain, I said nothing as we took off and started to gain height. In only nine minutes we would reach our diving height of 15,000ft, it seemed a whole lot longer.

skydivebenches Eighteen people plus parachutes. EIGHTEEN.

From Devon it was so clear I could see all the way across the water and actually make out Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons. It was incredible. And freezing. But mostly incredible. But seriously, really cold: these planes were just holey tin cans and we were pretty darn high! So at this point my friends and I were not scared at all, everything was a stunning picture and I just felt ridiculously excited.

Then the door whipped open, this freezing gust of wind came rushing in and the realisation my fellow sardines in front were jumping out dawned. Suddenly it was my turn; first of the tandems.

Fantastic potential movie title right there.

Now, I don’t think people give good enough thought to logistically, how tandem skydivers get from the back of the plane to the door. I certainly hadn’t until this situation presented itself anyway. To paint the picture for you: I was attached extremely firmly at the hip and shoulder to another man. There was no leeway. We were jumpsuit to jumpsuit. If he breathed deeply, I was lifted clear off the bench kind of thing. So, getting to the door in the first place was interesting. Sort of synchronised thrusting? I imagine it wasn’t a very elegant sight, I almost wish I had gone second so I got to see how the others managed.

Anyway, we thrust our way to the door and I am presented with this view which just doesn’t end! And I was about to jump into it. What the hell! We were two and a half miles high. What was I thinking? I was actually going to die. The instructor was in my ear ‘kneel down, head back into my shoulder!’  outdoorskydive(This isn’t me, but it illustrates my description well enough.)

I remember thinking ‘bend like a graceful swan… GRACEFUL SWAN!’ and then we were out. It definitely feels like you’re falling. At the same time you are ridiculously aware that there is nothing surrounding you… or that everything is surrounding you and it just never ends! Looking down the land doesn’t rush up to meet you, it didn’t even seem to be coming closer. It was simply so far away, like a picture, it didn’t quite seem real.

gracefulswan (Also not me, but you get the jist.)

Then there was a jolt as I went from horizontally free-falling to a vertical position: the parachute had opened. I had completely forgotten the parachute would open, and it was sort of terrifying for a split second whilst my brain caught up with what was happening.

The world was so peaceful up there, I didn’t want to come down! The next 7 minutes were spent conversing with my instructor, whom I could hear surprisingly well, with perfectly normal conversation about the sights and his other jobs. What are you supposed to talk about when attached to someone whilst floating down from the sky? After establishing I had no motion sickness my tandem partner spun us round and round and made me feel like a little child on a roundabout, laughing loudly enough that he probably thought I had issues.

Too soon we neared the ground. I lifted my legs up, and landed (softly and gracefully, I imagine. Not.) on to my instructor. Then ever so slowly the parachute landed on us. Typical. After disentangling ourselves, I turned and watched my friends land onto the ground, their parachutes beautifully spread out behind them. Very much not on top of them.

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What an experience. I would do it again in a heart beat! In fact, later that night I found myself googling parachuting in the army. Apparently Cardiff has the only parachuting medic troop or something. Another addition to my multitude of potential future career paths? I think so. Most definitely another tick off the bucket list.

In need of help? Then look no further, Team DWAH (Divers with Awesome Hats) are here to save you.

(You lucky, lucky people.)

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N.B. I realise this post is what some might say, rather close, to graduate confessions #3- especially given my usual sporadic posting. BUT, it needed to be written and is quite separate from numero 3. Probably. I’ll let you judge.


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Graduate Confessions #3

So I am now in my 7th month post graduation. What have I done with my precious time? What amazing things have I learned? How have I furthered myself towards a future career?

By moving back home and quitting all jobs.

If only I was joking #facepalm. But, there is some method to this vague madness: moving home is rent free; I can simply turn the heating up instead of putting a onsie ontop of a second jumper, scarf and second pair of socks when cold; there is a puppy; I could afford to give up my part-time jobs and start volunteering to gain more valuable experience; there are gas hobs (highly important); the shower is more than just a trickle and actually heats past luke-warm; I can steal the car whenever I need; did I mention there’s a puppy? So, not bad really, not bad at all.

However, now it is past Christmas and career deadlines are looming, if they haven’t already loomed right into my face, had a little dance and disappeared that is. I have this huge issue in that I find so many things interesting that I don’t want to narrow down any career prospects. But by attempting to keep as many paths open as possible I am risking the years slipping by, and before I know it I’ll be post-30, still living off my mum’s (absolutely amazing) chilli dishes.

Only joking.

She’d have kicked me out, so I’ll be homeless. (Living in the forlorn hope of still receiving the occasional home-made meal.)

How do I solve this dilemma? Apply to everything! I hear you say, and then you can have a choice of what to do! Or you only get accepted to one thing, and life becomes even simpler.  We won’t consider rejections from everywhere. It’s not good for my current mental state.

Well. Best get my application socks on then.

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I wish applications didn’t take so long.

On the other hand, I could just pick one avenue to pursue and put all my metaphorical eggs in one basket.

Is that even the correct use of metaphorical?!

#backtosquareone


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Graduate Confessions #2

After making the backwards move to live at home instead of independently, the realisation that I am slowly turning into a crazy cat lady has been dawning. What brought on this realisation?

Could it be the fact that Smudge now follows me throughout the house, pattering close behind and leaping on my lap whenever I sit down, continuously kneading me and looking dolefully up when I don’t quite give her enough attention?

Could it be that even now, Smudge is pressing against me, meowing; Pickle has planted herself on top of the sofa nearby, watching my every move and the extremely antisocial Bonnie is curled up at my feet? (They think I am one of them now).

Or, could it simply be the fact that I now know the personalities of these three mad cats and can predict their every move?

No, it was none of these particular reasons.

I shall tell you what prompted this realisation…. when I returned home wielding a cat Santa beard and hat and began chasing the poor cats,  coaxing my victims in with treats, before launching my attack. After clothing them I proceeded to run round the house filming their reactions. As Smudge was hiding her bearded head in shame behind some toilet rolls, I was prostrate on the floor trying to get my filming angle exactly right to capture her scarily human ‘I’m so ashamed’ look … when it hit me.

 

This is very Crazy Cat Lady-esque behaviour.

Needless to say, I immediately removed Smudge’s facial additions and proceeded to digest this information. Since then I’ve tried to distance myself from these feline housefriends.

Deciding on an imminent future career path has never been more necessary.

 

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Graduate Confessions #1

Four months after graduating and I am sat in my mother’s kitchen, genuinely filling out Buzzfeed’s ‘The Tastiest Game of F@#K, Marry, Kill Ever’.

It involves some of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in quite a while: Nutella, Peanut Butter and Butter, which would you f@#k, marry or kill?! Then: Pizza, Pasta, Burrito- I hope I never have to involve the words ‘kill’ and ‘pasta’ in the same sentence ever again.

As always, however, scrolling through the comments section cheered me up considerably and restored my faith in humans once again (or at least restored my faith that I have kindred spirits out there, completing the same, ridiculous quiz as I am, with just as much thought):

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Immediately after reading Estelle’s initial comment I felt quite riled, I found myself nodding along and thinking ‘she’s so right! I use butter in all my baking. Do I do this with Nutella and peanut butter? No, I do not. Butter is definitely the far superior option here.‘ Still feeling slightly on the feisty side I continued on, to find Alison Smith’s fantastic commentary on the differences between Nutella (nectar of the Gods) and peanut butter (simply utilitarian). It would be interesting to hear Alison expand on these initial, hopefully not unfounded, remarks. Moving on to DeeDee’s explanation of  how she chose which foods to f@#k, marry or kill, it made me feel all fuzzy inside to know how much honest thought had gone into her answers. DeeDee, you can still eat the foods you’ve killed. This quiz doesn’t define how you must now live (I sincerely hope. I may have rashly killed off ice-cream and be forever living in regret).

Scrolled down slightly more, and found this gem:

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The love for Mean Girls lives on.

More scrolling, to find this fantastic line of conversation:

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Sara, you can get through this, it was definitely the most responsible choice. Of course your health should always be a top priority! Julia, such a hard hitting, no-nonsense comment- I applaud your forthrightness, and fully wish I had a less vivid imagination. April, you are full of such words of wisdom, I will always think of ice-cream as a high maintenance food from now on.

Karen, I worry for you.

Bethany Barley speaks for us all:

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After just making myself a cup of tea, I just mentally confessed to my teabag that I could never kill it. Buzzfeed, what have you done?!


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The Great Ice-Cream Debacle of 2014

GBBO. The Great British Bake Off: a programme I have become religiously addicted to over the past few weeks. Is it because of Sue’s hilariously witty jokes? Is it because I need to know how to bake the perfect florentine biscuits? Or is it because of my strange attraction to Paul Hollywood and his hypnotically blue eyes?

A look at Tumblr will demonstrate why I have a large place in my heart for this show. I feel at one with the British public, with all it’s cynicism and love for tea and cake. It is a giant social sphere; the Thursday after a GBBO episode is simply not worth starting up a conversation on, if you have not yet watched Mary and Paul nibble their way through rounds of delicious looking baked goods.

Tumblr ‘GBBO’ results link. I challenge you to not laugh at the response of the British to this great baking tragedy.  An event so monstrous it has been named #bingate, or occasionally #Alaskagate, after the poignant moment when contestant Iain throws his Baked Alaska dessert into the bin after a supposedly ruthless sabotaging by contestant Diana Beard. By the morning after airing, conspiracy theories were already viscously invading social media: Diana’s surname was Beard. Iain had a large bushy beard. Coincidence? …The British public think perhaps not.

“Great British Bake Off? More like Game of Scones.”

A remark by one bitter member of Britain.

I do feel that I must note: Diana only took Iain’s ice cream out of the freezer for 40 seconds and so was not in any way responsible for it not setting. No sabotage you cruel, ruthless people. 

What I love, is that the response to this episode was utter outrage and complete ignorance of the news that Diana was not at fault. I say love in a traditional, British, cynical way of course. I am in fact completely gutted for Diana and my heart goes out for her that this will be her memory of the time she shared on the show!

I am still amazed at the speed of witty, angry responses however- this example is some brilliant editing on behalf of another Tumblr member:

Just fantastic.

Followed by further artistic examples:

It even got it’s own headline:

Oh Britain! Gaza and Palestine are fighting, Syria isn’t looking great, lots of Africa continue to suffer… but leaving someone elses ice cream to melt on the side? That is just not on.

The Great Custard Theft of 2013 #custardgate. The Great Ice Cream Debacle of 2014 #bingate. This show is sounding more and more like a commentary by Jim from The Vicar of Dibley.

GBBO, I look forward to Tart and Pie Wednesday.


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Support for those in Gaza

Apologies for this more sobering blimp in my usual light-hearted posts, but I feel it is necessary, and hopefully informative too.

The 72 hour ceasefire between Israel and Palestine has ended two hours in. Over 1400 dead already, with this recent update highlighting the fact that there are no signs of the fight relenting any time soon. Civilians are dying. Children are dying.

Until recently I was unaware of the population demographic of Gaza:

  • Approximately 60% of the population are under 24 years old.
  • Approximately 40% are under 14.

The reality is, that this is a war-torn zone, heavily populated by children which are baring the brunt of a war far older than they are themselves.

Link to statistics. 

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(Picture reference: http://statecrime.org/online_article/israels-war-crimes-in-gaza/)

Everyday my newsfeeds are overwhelmed with horrific stories of this mindless war, and everyday I feel so helpless as to what I can do to aid these suffering people. Photographs of a father scrabbling through rubble to retrieve his son’s body; the rubble that has replaced the homes of these people forced into the pitiful shelters outside of the city. Photographs of women attempting to gain access to their previous homes to gather belongings, risking their lives in the process. Photographs of children, injured by shrapnel and gunfire, being treated by the limited amount of healthcare professionals in the area.

Today I came across the video of UN spokesperson Chris Gunness, when he broke down after attempting to recount some details of the war.

Link to video. (40 seconds long).

The video echoes how I feel, with these constant, gruelling, reports of violence and suffering: helpless, despairing, overwhelmed, despondent. It made me determined; determined to do something. I cannot sit here, reading through the daily atrocities appearing on my newsfeed, despairing in my inaction. But what can I do? I am in the UK far from the fighting and no medical training to personally help anyway, I have no money to donate, I have no political power… what is there that I can actually do?

So, after brainstorming this morning, these are the ideas I have come up with:

  • Highlight and share stories on social media. This will at the very least inform those I consider friends of what is occurring and hopefully gather further support and ideas towards any way of aiding those in the war.
  • Write a blog entry containing the basics of why the fighting is occurring. It has been happening for a long time and the origins of the dispute are long and confusing. This means many people do not understand why there is fighting in the first place; therefore making it harder for people to know how to help, or even how the fighting could end.
  • Outline the potential ends of the fighting and what they mean. With emphasis that the 2 state solution is, realistically, the only peaceful solution and is becoming less likely with everyday spent still fighting.
  • Write letters to more influential people. For example local MPs, outlining the need for support to these countries, and your views on where political pressures would be best placed.
  • Show support at a nearby protest. If writing isn’t your thing, maybe this is an alternative way to show support.

The actor Javier Bardem added his signature to a public plea letter today, opening with the statement:

“My signature was solely meant as a plea for peace. Destruction and hatred only generate more hatred and destruction.”

I implore more people to show the world that they are against this devastation of human lives, by any means they are able. A show of support in any way, if it removes the ignorance of one person far removed from the destruction, or comforts one person in the midst of this adversity, then that is an accomplishment.

Link to the letter.

Hopefully if you are reading this, you have also had similar thoughts about what you could do to help this situation and perhaps thought about something I haven’t mentioned?