Drawing New York

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Observing art and the observers

Art watching.

In June I got to spend two wonderful weeks exploring the art galleries and museums of New York. In terms of art and artists, New York is unparalleled and with this in mind I tried to see as much as possible in the time that I had. My schedule of exhibitions and galleries took me from Queens to Brooklyn and the Upper East Side to Harlem. I was fortunate enough to be there whilst many influential artists were on show, my favourites included Frida Kahlo (beautifully set up in the city’s Botanic Gardens) Gilbert and George, David Salle, Laurie Simmons and Basquiat. I also got to experience many works that I have longed to see for years, such as Alexander Calder’s ‘Circus’, the High Line garden and some of Picasso’s books. Amongst these wonders were the unknown surprises discovered within small, independently set up gallery spaces.

Evening on Lexington Avenue

Evening on Lexington Avenue

I did not expect to find so much inspiration on the streets, in the shops and observing the people; the everyday monotonies of the city which is wired to so many creative pulses. For a long-time obsessor of the place, New York is a golden spring which continues to flow long past the novelty wears off. All the clichés -the books, the films, the tv shows – are true. Every block you walk down, every friendly native. Everything is flamboyant and bizarre and surreal. You cannot be disappointed.  One of my favourite things to do at night was wander down Lexington Avenue, peering into the luxurious lit up shop windows. In Central Park I watched, people crying by fountains, models donning peacock feathered gowns and pouting for the camera, schoolchildren selling raisins for $5 to fund their soccer team field trip.

Central Park: a constant source of inspiration!

Central Park: a constant source of inspiration!

The desire to take pictures was overwhelming at first, I wanted to capture everything, to own it. So I tried to draw every day, mostly quick sketches in the park of impressions I’d been left with over the course of the day.

People watching at its most flamboyant.

People watching.

Before I left I was quite worried about being lonely travelling on my own, but I met so many interesting people. Even walking down the street, catching glimpses of interesting individuals, you can’t help but wonder where they came from, what brought them there.

The experience replenished my own art practice in many ways. From seeing how both professional and beginner artists active in the contemporary art scene present and exhibit their work, discovering  new work and artists that would not normally be on my radar and trying to get my head around the weird and magical intricacies of the native slang. Even just watching people look at paintings in galleries made me think about making work in a different way. I hope the drawings that I did whilst there reflect how much I valued and enjoyed the experience.

Museum of Modern Art.

Museum of Modern Art.

Thanks so much Go Abroad Team!

Greenland Expedition, Gardar Province 2015

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Greenland is the most amazing place I have ever visited, and one that not many people will ever get the opportunity to experience. With freezing cold winters, there is just a short time in the summer when parts of Greenland are warm enough to explore, revealing the beautiful landscapes beneath the snow.

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Sediment Logging

I was one of ten Earth Science students from Edinburgh to spend two and a half weeks on this expedition, conducting geological fieldwork in three separate areas of the Gardar Province in Southern Greenland. This area was chosen because of its particularly interesting and extremely rare world-class rocks and minerals. First we worked in pairs conducting detailed geological mapping of high carbonate content IMG_4070lavas, pyroclastic flows and the surrounding sandstones. Secondly we produced sedimentary logs of an exposure of sandstone which could be interpreted to show us how the environment had changed over time in terms of sea level and climate. The third area we investigated was around a uranium mine, where we searched the till heaps to find rare minerals such as Tugtupite, which is only found at two other localities on Earth.

There were no roads in the areas we were working in, so our means of transport consisted of boats across the fjords and hiking. With rucksacks weighing around 25Kg, and distances of up to 25Km/day over hilly, sometimes snow-covered ground it was, at times, quite hard-going! We were carrying all our camping equipment, lots of warm clothing, geology kit, plus enough food for 10 people for 10 days – no small amount…

We wild camped in some of the most spectacular scenery in the world;

Second campsite

had campfires overlooking fjords filled with icebergs;

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hiked around the snout of a glacier;

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and saw the Greenlandic Ice Sheet at sunrise (4am) from the top of a freezing cold mountain.

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Having the opportunity to do these incredible things with some of your best friends was a fantastic thing to be able to do before we all graduated and went our separate ways.

The team!

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This was a very ambitious project and required huge amounts of planning and preparation to get to and stay in the wild at this remote location. The expedition would not have been possible without a lot of help. Thanks to the PGAF, the University of Edinburgh School of Geosciences, the Laidlaw-Hall Trust, The Scottish Arctic Club, Cotswolds and the Edinburgh Shortbread House for their support, funding and equipment, and to both the Blue Ice Café and the Narsaq Hotel in Greenland for their invaluable local knowledge and assistance when we arrived.

Check out our Blog for more photos and videos of our time in Greenland!

https://gardar2015.wordpress.com/

Bathing suit to business suit: travels in Oaxaca and Mexico City

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The PGAF took me to Mexico; the first half of the trip I spent in charge of a small hostel in Oaxaca, and the second half was spent attending the ABCDE conference in Mexico City.

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Hammocks and mangoes in the yard at Casa Kei

The road leading to the hostel

The road leading to the hostel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After an overnight stay in Mexico City, a city which sits at 2,500 ft, (higher than the tallest peak in the UK) I hopped on a domestic flight to the coastal town of Puerto Escondido in the Southern state of Oaxaca, a lush green spot popular with local surfers. Although the town centre is a tourist hot-spot, just 10 minutes out of the city centre the beach bars are replaced with dirt tracks and lush vegetation. Before long I arrived at Casa Kei, a collection of rooms covered in hand-painted murals and sporting bamboo roofs built from scratch by surfer Pepe, who I had met through volunteering site workaway.com.  He spent the afternoon showing me around the area, giving me directions on how to keep the hostel in good working order, and how to welcome paying guests. The next morning he left to visit family for a week in the state’s capital, leaving me, a stranger new to the country and with very limited grasp of Spanish, in charge of his business and livelihood.

Games night with the guests

Games night with the guests

Over the following week I got to know the local area, making daily trips to the neighbourhood laundry and buying groceries and other essential supplies. Guests arrived from Colombia, Argentina, Germany, France and the US, and I passed on tips about the local area, showed them how to catch the shared flat-bed taxis (the colectivos) and cooked meals for us to share. Initially, the biggest challenge was communication: both with the guests who turned up to the property expecting (very reasonably) a Spanish-speaking host, and with visitors to the property who came to speak to Pepe, deliver water and collect garbage. In only a week, however, I went from an embarrassing reliance on hand-signals to basic conversation, and I was able to communicate important information about the property to the new guests (including to a Colombian traveller who turned up in the middle of a thunderstorm expecting a room despite the fact we were fully booked!)

Mexico City from the top of the Torre Latinoamericana

Mexico City from the top of the Torre Latinoamericana

After 8 days of running the cabanas in my bare feet, beginning the days with freshly picked mango from the trees growing in the yard, I flew back to Mexico City ready to don a suit and attend the 2-day Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) at the Hilton in the centre of the city. The conference’s theme, ‘Productivity, Growth, and the Law’ was the perfect combination of my interests in Development Economics (which had piqued my interest during my Economics degree at Edinburgh) and in Law (in which I am about to begin a second degree at Oxford). Over the course of the two days I attended policy panels and paper presentations by speakers including Kaushik Basu (senior vice president and chief economist at the World Bank), Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof, and eminent legal scholar Eric Posner. Some papers were particularly inspiring, including a quasi-experiment examining the speed of judicial delegation in Senegal authored by economists from the World Bank.

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European Architecture Students Assembly – Valletta 2015

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For three weeks in August 2015, I attended the European Architecture Students Assembly (EASA) in Valletta, the tiny fortress capital of Malta. EASA is an annual gathering of around 500 architecture students from around Europe and beyond, involving workshops, lectures, and social events, and fostering links between young people from a variety of academic and social backgrounds, .

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Il-Foss, the Great Ditch of Valletta – the site of EASA 2015 and main entrance to the historic city

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EASA Hostel – our luxurious accommodation for three weeks

The unique streets of Valletta

The unique – and hilly – streets of Valletta

Renzo Piano's recently completed Parliament of Malta

RPBW’s recently completed Parliament of Malta, part of the City Gate development

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Open air lecture given by City Gate project architect, Antonio Belvedere of RPBW

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The Barrakka Lift, an example of contemporary intervention in the historic fabric

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Construction workshops progressing on the EASA campus

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I took part in a drawing workshop, shown here mapping our first impressions of the city

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Visiting the beach in Sliema to sketch the view back towards Valletta

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Discussing our drawings – and how we each saw the city differently

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Our final output was an exhibition of drawings, alongside a publication – An Unexpected Atlas of Valletta – which collated our drawings and impressions

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As well as enjoying/suffering from temperatures in the high thirties for much of EASA, we also learned of the limitations of our outdoor accommodation – shown here, emptied of beds and drying out after an intense thunderstorm

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Team Scotland claimed a spot in the sun to dry out our beds and bags

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The Amsterdam Expressionism pavilion – the product of one of many construction workshops. Here participants explored the relationship between traditional Maltese limestone construction and Dutch brickwork

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Overall, EASA was a fantastic experience and a unique opportunity to meet, work, and socialise with my fellow architecture students from across Europe and further afield

Heading East

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Summer 2015, I headed off from Sweden knowing I would not see Europe for more than a year. Cambodia would be my transit point along the way, to carry out a collaborative project together with the NGO Community First Initiatives (CFI) , before heading off to Brisbane, Australia for my year abroIMG_0414ad. Despite my not so great fondness of long flights, I felt excitement- Cambodia was always a place I had wanted to visit and I was ready to get going working with CFI. My first night was spent in Phnom Penh, where I visited the Killing Fields- a sad but important experience. My first impression getting a taxi from the airport to my hotel was unfortunately, ‘dirt’. Like in many other developing countries I have visited, the greatest sign of poverty is the overall lack of IMG_0654care and infrastructural systems for keeping a clean environment. The air pollution and dust was intense and there was garbage, just casually, thrown everywhere.
The next day I hopped on a bus to Siem Reap. Comfortable? Surprisingly, yes. Safe? Probably not. During my five weeks in Cambodia I came to realise that there seems to be a sort of mentality that the bigger you are on the road the more recklessly yIMG_0192ou can drive. Despite going at what felt like 200 km/h and a flat tyre, I got to Siem Reap in one piece and in the great company of a group of Filipino backpackers.
The next weeks were spent working with CFI and my two project colleagues from back in Edinburgh. The members of CFI were very welcoming and I learned a lot from them.
With CFI I got to help establish a scientific protocol for testing the effects of beneficial microorganisms on aquaponic systems, explore the set up of a new farm school and investigate the needs and improvement of pump wells and solar panels in a village called Ta Tril. Our working group also got a round tour of the NGO’s IMG_0655 (1)garden laboratory facility and having a big interest in plant biotechnology and agricultural development, this was very interesting to see.
As much as I liked the project and the concepts of the NGO, my feelings about Siem Reap and Cambodia
were very mixed as a whole. There are many beautiful sides to Cambodia- IMG_0500 (1)the temples, natural beauty, kind and outgoing people etc. but it is a country that is still in its rebuilding process. I was saddened by the street kids trying to trick tourists into buying milk powder for them which they could then sell. The feeling of not being able to breathe properly due to the dust was horrendous. I also managed to get sick, and good standard healthcare in Siem Reap was extortionate- what I, and many others have suspected, a scam to make money off of tourists’ travel insurance. It was with a sort of relief that I left a  country with great potential but where the motto ‘no money, no honey’ clearly stands.

Learning to love

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I went to Kenya to work with The Mango Tree as I am interested in sustainable international aid. The Mango Tree are using a new model of helping vulnerable children and orphans without increasing their dependency which is proving to be incredibly effective. What I was scared about was how different I would be from everyone there, whether I would be able to empathise with them, and support them in ways that would actually be helpful. What I learnt is that I’m resilient, that no matter how scary it is and how far away from home I am, I can cope. What’s more I could learn to love the experience and want to go back.

Team huddle

But what I want to tell you, is that in Kenya I learnt to appreciate everything I have; that unless you’re going to change your situation, moaning about it doesn’t help. It is better to accept it, to smile about the problems, to celebrate the positives, because emphasising the problems just makes you miserable. What I learnt is that the people I was working with, even though they had so little, even though they struggled to feed their families, even though many were suffering from HIV and everything seemed to go against them, they were the nicest, happiest, and most resilient people I’ve ever met.

The first child who didn’t run away thinking I was a ghost (because I’m so pale)

When I arrived I was excited to see I had a real toilet, not a hole in the ground, but what I had to come to terms with was that water came from a rain fed water-but   . I had to go and collect water from this before boiling it to drink, or filling a bucket to wash myself. To begin with this was a shock; I had to be organised otherwise I’d have no clean water to drink and if I washed after the sun went down I was doing it in the dark. But at the end this was amusing; coming home to stand under a shower was the best feeling ever, and it taught me to laugh when I messed up as laughing is always better than screaming or crying!

Never judge a book by its cover – from being terrified to loving my temporary home

The people whose homes we went to give advice to always tried to provide some form of food for us as a thank you, no matter how little they had, as sharing it was fundamental to their way of life. These people didn’t need the charity to do anything for them, they weren’t helpless and they definitely weren’t hopeless. Support was what was most useful, they knew how to plant maize but teaching them to plant it a meter apart to increase its yields was the support that was needed. The help the charity gave them was simple but effective and everyone was willing to apply the knowledge to make the best results.

Teach a community to farm effectively and they’ll feed themselves for a life time

Thank you Go Abroad for enabling me to have this fabulous experience, where I learnt more about myself and my area of academic interest than I ever could have at home.

Through teaching I learnt

My Time At Imire

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On June 21st, I set off on my first solo adventure to Zimbabwe to be a volunteer at the Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation project. I was quite nervous about traveling through Africa by myself, but I met some lovely people who eased my nerves.DSC02073Once I had arrived at the game reserve, I met my fellow volunteers and we got stuck in the work. We had many jobs as volunteers which included cleaning the elephants’ night enclosures, feeding the game supplemental feeds, walking with rhinos and elephants to observe their behaviours, conducting game counts and snare sweeps, traveling to the local secondary school to play volleyball and then helping them in their gardening class, and traveling to the primary school and teaching the kids how to read English.DSC02087My favorite night of each week was called Shona Culture night where a teacher from the primary school would come and cook for us. I helped her each week because I absolutely love to cook. Just before I left, she gave me a recipe for a traditional dish called sadza and a bit of this special rice that she had grown herself. Each night after we had eaten our meal with our hands, a few local children would come to sing and dance with us around a fire. It was so much fun!DSC01902During my second week, as an experienced horse rider, I was given the opportunity to help round up cattle in order to dip them in an acaracide (a chemical that kills ticks) and jab them with an anthrax vaccine. When we were driving them across the reserve, we were aided by a few zebras, greeted by three Giraffes and passed by the elephants. It was an amazing once in a lifetime experience.DSC02031In my last week, a vet came to dehorn Imire’s five rhinos (three black and two white) in order to discourage poachers. The vet first darted the rhino with a sedative and then used a chainsaw to cut off most of the horn in a painless manner. I was in charge of recording the measurements of the rhinos and even got to take a White Rhino’s rectal temperature!IMG_2672What sticks with me the most out of all the memorable moments of this trip is one 14-year-old girl named Rarrashe. I met her when we were gardening with the secondary school children. She spoke to me about all sorts of things because she loved to speak in English, but what I remember most is when she said, “If I ever see someone with something I don’t have, I can never be jealous because that is wrong. I must be happy with what I have, because that is what God gave me.” It was one of the most inspiring things I have ever heard and made me realise the most valuable thing you can give these communities is an education.