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A Pregnant Pause: What is the link between a 91 year old Australian, a Hospital by the River, and 43,000 Ethiopian women?

May 23, 2015


What is the link between a 91 year old Australian, a Hospital by the River, and 43,000 Ethiopian women?

Obstetric Fistula. And today is International Day to End Obstetric Fistula.

What’s a fistula and why is there an international day to end it?

Obstetric fistula is a devastating injury of childbirth. In laywoman’s terms it is a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder. It is caused by prolonged obstructed labour that leaves women incontinent of urine/feces and subsequently often alone and stigmatized (More Information). It affects approximately 2 million women and girls around the world, with 50,000-100,000 new cases per year, and like many preventable and treatable injuries, it disproportionately affects women in poverty-stricken areas (UN Stats).

And why the day? Well as noted above, fistula is largely preventable and treatable, and with the will and resources this devastation can be spared.

But don’t take my word for it, take Ban Ki Moon’s:

We have a moral obligation, as a global community, to complete the unfinished agenda of eradicating fistula. Together, let us keep our promises to support universal human rights and ensure the health and dignity of women and girls everywhere. (Secretary General’s Message for 2015, 23 May)

Like many health issues, this is also a human rights issue; it (grossly) disproportionately affects poor and marginalized women. It affects their right to health and has its roots in social, economic, and gender inequalities, and lack of access to quality health care (Overview of the Right to Health)

Hospital by the River

Hospital by the River

And the Australian and Ethiopian connection?

This is a post I had hoped to write years ago, during my time in Ethiopia. It was then that I first heard of this amazing Australian woman, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, who arrived in Ethiopia in 1959, and along with her husband Dr. Reginald Hamlin, founded Hamlin Fistula Ethiopa, fistula hospitals, clinics and even a midwifery college in Ethiopia, and in the process treated more than 43,000 Ethiopian women affected by fistula.

Photo of Dr. Hamlin with Ethiopian women, courtesy of google images.

Photo of Dr. Hamlin with Ethiopian women, courtesy of google images.

Here in Geneva yesterday, I attended an event to mark International Day to End Obstetric Fistula and had the privilege of hearing the now-91-year-old doctor describe her work and in the process inspire all in attendance.

Earlier this week, while flipping through TV channels I stopped on the movie The Iron Lady, just in time to hear a young Margaret Thatcher say:

One’s life must matter, Dennis. Beyond all the cooking and the cleaning and the children. One’s life must mean more than that. I cannot die washing up a teacup!

Young Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, photo courtesy of google images.

Young Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, photo courtesy of google images.

And as different as these two women are, hearing Dr. Hamlin speak brought me back to that quote, thinking how much this one woman has done in her lifetime, how much MORE she has brought to the world.

A Pregnant pause:

As I said above, this is a post I would have liked to write during my time in Ethiopia ( See Ethiopia Posts ). I had hoped to visit the famous Hospital by the River (the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital established by the Hamlins in 1974) but never made it there. But as much as I would have loved to visit the hospital and as big as an impact it surely would have had on me then, I cannot help but think that perhaps it is even more pertinent now, as I sat listening to Dr. Hamlin yesterday and rubbing my belly, pregnant with my first child, these stories affected me now in a way that they likely never could have 3 years ago. My worries about care and delivery for myself here in Switzerland seemed utterly manageable compared to those of so many women all over the world. I was overcome with a feeling of profound gratitude as I approach the end of my pregnancy and a renewed and a feeling of being more resolute than ever to carry on with human rights work and hopefully along the way, in young Margaret’s words, do more in some way or another.

*For more information check out:

Ernesta’s Muchila: Weaving Our Stories Together

August 9, 2014

I realize it has been way too long since my last post and I will write an update soon but for now, in honour of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples , I thought I would share a short story I wrote about one of the many inspiring indigenous women I worked with in Colombia, Ernesta, a leader of the Wayuu people.


Ernesta’s Muchila

My roommates’ eyes blew wide open beneath their thick-rimmed hipster glasses. They had opened the door to find me sharing a coke with an indigenous elder on the sofa of our trendy Bogota apartment. It was the first time a traditional leader had crossed the threshold of our home.

Ernesta was a leader of the Wayuu people, one of the more than one hundred indigenous tribes in Colombia. I had met her that morning, when she turned up at my office well before its doors had opened for the day. She had travelled more than twenty-four hours by bus from the Guajira, a remote territory in the far north of country. She had come looking for help, what would soon become my help. I was working as a lawyer for indigenous people in Colombia and represented them in all kinds of scenarios, but what Ernesta was asking was certainly a first.

I welcomed Ernesta into the dark office. Overnight rainstorms had caused yet another power outage. The day was as chaotic as it was ominous, with my colleagues scattered all over the city. Ernesta sat waiting for my colleague who was sitting across town, waiting for our boss. Everyone was waiting.

We sat quietly across from each other in the dark office. I sat behind the desk in my grey suit, typing away on my laptop for as long as the battery would let me. Ernesta sat across the room in full regalia. She wore a powder blue robe that hovered over her sandal-clad feet. It had a lace overlay that sat like a bib around her neck, with a pattern similar to that of the mochila she was weaving in her lap. Mochilas are traditional hand-woven purses, with braided shoulder straps and a single string with pom-poms on either end that you tie to close the bag. They come in as many styles and colors as there are indigenous groups, with patterns as complicated as the stories of those that wove them.


As the morning went on, the distance between us narrowed. Ernesta told me her story as she wove her mochila. She was the leader of her community but was involved in a power struggle with her eldest son. He was trying to usurp her power by representing himself as a tribal authority in negotiations with outsiders. This included dealings with nuns who had moved onto Wayuu territory. Without Ernesta’s consent, he had made a deal with the nuns, allowing them to operate in the territory. This had created a rift within the community; there were those who were with Ernesta and those who were with the nuns and her son. At least that is what I thought was going on. I always found it challenging to get an indigenous client’s story straight. What I needed was a scarf with orderly lines, but what I would get was a mochila with a complicated web of a pattern. While I expected a linear timeline of relevant facts, they told their stories like they wove their mochilas; in a circular and layered fashion, with relevant facts tucked deep up into the folds of an intricate pattern.

But this time I had to understand, Ernesta needed the head nuns to understand what was going on up in the territories. She wanted us to negotiate with them at their headquarters in Bogota. She had come to us as a last ditch effort, with 9000 pesos (or $4.50) left and a bag of mochilas to sell for her bus fare back to the coast.

We waited hours for my colleagues to arrive at the office. We tried every phone number we could find for the convent. Someone finally answered but hung up when they heard who was calling. I pleaded with the other lawyers to help but no one would; they hear stories like this every day. After pestering one of them for an hour, he finally said to us: “I don’t have the time nor the money to help her.” Helping her would require taxi fare that the organization had no money for. We found ourselves alone again, waiting.


My boss finally returned to the office but when I asked him to speak with Ernesta, he refused and said: “You go. You be her lawyer.” This was far outside the scope of the work I was to be doing as a visiting foreign lawyer, but this detail seemed to be of little interest to anyone but myself.

I grabbed my briefcase and Ernesta grabbed her bag of mochilas and off we went to find a taxi. We were an unlikely pair on an unlikely mission, making our way across rainy Bogota in search of the unresponsive nuns. We located the convent, but after several attempts at contact the nuns remained elusive. We wandered up and down the street concocting a plan. We ended up going with the straightforward banging-on-door and ringing-bell-incessantly approach until an exasperated gatekeeper finally let us in.

It was my first time in a convent and it had a calming effect on me. It was a feeling I fought against, knowing the chaos these nuns had caused in Ernesta’s community. We were taken to the office of the Mother Superior. While I shuffled in nervously, feeling like a schoolgirl about to be punished for disturbing the peace with my incessant phone calls and door-knocking, Ernesta blew through the doorway with her head held high, announcing she had brought “her lawyer.” The Mother Superior listened patiently while Ernesta told her story. At one point during the meeting, I crept outside my body to observe the scene below; me in my suit negotiating between a nun and an indigenous woman in flowing robes. It was far from the corporate office I had left behind to do this work.

The moment we stepped outside the convent, Ernesta was on her cellphone excitedly explaining the outcome to her daughter back home. Although the negotiations had gone well, I could not help but feel a little sad that she needed a foreigner to get her voice heard in her own country. It was a sentiment I felt all too often during my work with indigenous people. I was awoken from my melancholy thought by a cell phone being thrust in my face. Ernesta insisted I talk to her community and the phone was then passed around for me to speak with half the Wayuu in the Guajira.

I did not know where to take Ernesta as the office had long been closed. We headed to my apartment in El Parkway, a somewhat glitzy section of Bogota. We sat on the sofa, shared a coke and recounted the day’s events. My roommates stumbled over each other as they opened the front door onto this scene. As Ernesta told them about her life, I looked on, in awe of the different existences that make up the patchwork of this country.

Once my roommates were on their way, I went to get money to buy a mochila. It would be a gift for a friend, but was also a way of ensuring Ernesta had bus fare home. I rummaged through the bags until I found the perfect one. It was black with a braided strap of neon greens, pinks and yellows. When I turned back to Ernesta she was holding out another mochila in her hands. It was the one she had begun that morning. The one she wove as she told me her story, the story that at some point during that day, had become our story. It was green and interwoven with bright red triangles going up and down, as unexpected as the events of our day. She wove the final stitches now, just as our story together was coming to an end. She handed it to me and said: “this one is my gift to you, to remember me.”

Mochilas for sale on the street in Cartagena, Colombia

Mochilas for sale on the street in Cartagena, Colombia

Let me know whether you enjoyed this first attempt at a more narrative short-story-style post, comments welcome! I hope you enjoyed the story and that it will trigger a bit of reflection on just some of the many issues facing the world’s indigenous people today.

Waking up to a “hijacking”; something is going on in Geneva

February 18, 2014

After arriving home late from a weekend in the peaceful Swiss Alps where the most commotion was the sound of resident British twenty-something ski instructors making their way home after the pub in the middle of the night, or the boom of an avalanche gun in the early morning, we awoke yesterday morning to breaking news that a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines airplane had landed here in Geneva while we slept.

As the news started to trickle in we learned that everyone was okay and the airport re-opened only two hours later. But what had happened? ( See BBC News Article )

It soon came out that the Ethiopian co-pilot had “hijacked” the plane part way through the flight in order to seek asylum in Switzerland. He waited for the pilot to go to the bathroom and then took control of the airplane and alerted air traffic control of a hijacking (one news report I saw yesterday said he keyed in the code for “I have hijacked the plane”. Who knew this code even existed, nevermind it being used? The flight was meant to land in Rome but in the words of Ethiopian Airlines it was “forced to proceed to Geneva” (See Ethiopian Airlines Flight Update ET702 here)

Passengers being escorted off flight in Geneva yesterday morning. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Passengers being escorted off flight in Geneva yesterday morning. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

The co-pilot’s reasons for seeking asylum are not yet known, nor are his motivations for his unusual method of going about it in order to seek asylum in Switzerland instead of seeking it in Italy where he would have landed anyway, but having studied refugee law in Geneva and worked with asylum seekers in Addis Ababa, this case certainly intrigues me.

So what will happen to him? As with anything in law, the outcome depends on many variables that we can’t assess without the facts but in the meantime, a very general crash-course in the basics of refugee law:

First off, why are we talking about “refugee law” here?

The pilot is “seeking asylum” which is the first step to obtaining “refugee status”. Under international law Switzerland, as a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees (see 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees here) is obligated to assess the claim…although this is the starting point he’s then brought on the issue of whether he would be considered a danger to the community. Then there are a whole host of considerations specific to European refugee law regarding first country of asylum but given that first country of arrival is Switzerland and we are only brushing over the basics, we’ll save that for another day.

We don’t yet know the details of his claim, but to obtain official refugee status your circumstances must fit into the definition of refugee; now there are many displaced persons that although their situation may have been horrible, would not fit into the international definition of a “refugee” (e.g. fleeing from general violence, economic hardship, loss of land from environmental degradation)(note that there are regional instruments expanding this definition in certain regions but we’re going for a very foundational understanding of the basics here). The person needs to be outside their country of nationality and unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular “social group” or political opinions. Only if their persecution fits into these specified categories (or others in expanded definitions depending on the country), would the asylum seeker be recognized with official refugee status. We do not yet know the co-pilot’s claim but on the facts we have about his background it seems he would be arguing persecution based on political opinion or membership in a particular social group, the latter being a whole other can of worms.

Ethiopian Airlines flight 702 after landing in Geneva. Photo courtesy of BBC News.

Ethiopian Airlines flight 702 after landing in Geneva. Photo courtesy of BBC News.

What about the fact that he “hijacked” a plane to claim seek asylum?

Now we’ve really got an exciting exam question on our hands. There are times when even if a person fits into the international legal definition of refugee it will not apply to them because they have essentially taken themselves out of its protection (see Article 1(f) of the 1951 Convention (link above)). This of course includes certain crimes, so then it opens of the question of whether his actions fit into these clauses (e.g. a serious non –political crime committed outside country of refuge before admission as refugee).

There are a whole host of other legal considerations of course but this is not meant to be an assessment of the case, simply an introduction to what we are talking about here.

Why choose Geneva over Rome?

Flight path diversion.  Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Flight path diversion. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

His decision to commandeer the plane to change course to Geneva is an interesting one, if he had landed in Rome as planned he would have avoided the whole complication of the hijacking issue and could have sought asylum in Italy. This would have clearly been the less complicated approach. Now assuming he thought this all through and acknowledging we are now in highly-speculative territory, this decision may have been based on many factors aside from purely legal ones; perhaps it was in consideration of the high number of asylum seekers arriving in Italy via sea from North Africa (See February 4, 2014 BBC Article), the infamous compounds for asylum seekers in places like Lampedusa (See December 2013 News on Migrant Centre in Lampedusa) , or Ethiopia’s ties with Italy since the end of their occupation in the last century. There could have been a whole host of considerations for preferring Geneva over Rome but regardless of how this all unfolds, the fact that this is taking place in Geneva, one of the epicentres of international law, and home to many of the world’s foremost refugee law experts, there is no doubt it will be interesting.

Photo of our Ethiopian Airlines plane after landing in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Photo of our Ethiopian Airlines plane after landing in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Having flown on this very Ethiopian Airlines flight between Addis and Geneva, this event did cause me to pause for a moment of reflection for reasons besides purely legal ones, such as security.

It took me back to an epic flight from Bahir Dar (coincidentally the hometown of the co-pilot) to Addis that I took on Ethiopian Airlines with an American friend; the flight had been postponed several times due to bad weather and when we were finally given the go-ahead to get on the road, our mini-bus was stopped by a man who appeared out of nowhere on the side of the road, wearing what appeared to be a garbage bag to protect himself from the rain and demanded our passports although we were nowhere near the airport yet.

After reluctantly handing over our passports to the unlikely gatekeeper we made our way to the hangar and just as my friend walked through the electronic screening gate there was a huge clash of lightening and the power in the airport went out, meaning she could have carried anything onto the plane – and we seemed to be the only two to notice. We couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of our night, as it continued on the plane when they announced they were doing away with pre-assigned seating and told us to just get on. We had no problem with that but many of the African political leaders on our flight (there for the African Union summit)evidently used to always getting their way certainly did not appreciate us being in their seats, nor the flight attendants telling them to just sit down.

Ethiopian Airlines did get us safely back to Addis through harrowing storms and I have to say I have only ever had good experiences with Ethiopian Airlines. Nonetheless this did cause me to reflect on the security of flying in certain areas, especially considering another headline yesterday was that a Nepal Airlines wreckage was found, a domestic flight (Kathmandu-Pokhara-Jumla) had crashed into the mountains with no survivors (February 17, 2014 Article). It brought me back to the domestic flights I took during my time working in Nepal years ago, including a particularly epic one my mother and I almost missed after our taxi broke down en route and we had no choice but to hitchhike to the Pokhara airport to make our Kathmandu flight in time, but I digress. The point being these type of headlines do make you pause to reflect on the life you are living, so far from where you started.

I wanted to come back to Geneva, where I started this phase of my life in international law, to be back where the action is and between the Davos Economic Forum and Syria Peace Talks this past month and waking up to news of a hijacking yesterday, I sure feel like I got what I asked for. I often hear people express their frustration that nothing really goes on in Geneva. It has never been a sentiment I identify with. To be fair those people are often comparing it to the pace of London or Paris, and really talking about nightlife not international affairs but regardless, if you’re in the news as often as Geneva is lately, something must be going on.

Stuff going on in Geneva, a colourful band plays in the street during the Escalade festival December 2013.

Stuff going on in Geneva, a colourful band plays in the street during the Escalade festival December 2013.

Geneva II: The View From Here

January 25, 2014

The view from our new apartment is glorious; you can see the white-capped mountains of the Jura in the distance, the majestic jet d’eau rising over the sparkling waters of Lac Leman in the forefront and in between those, every few minutes a plane taking off or landing at the Geneva Airport. These past two days I have sat here watching those planes bringing negotiators from the West from one direction and the Middle East from the other, wondering what if anything will come of their visit.

Politicians, negotiators, government representatives, and opposition leaders of all types are here for the Geneva II talks on the future of Syria. UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has cited the lofty goal of the talks as “to Save Syria” but on the ground and in the media, expectations are much lower. Since Wednesday Brahimi has had his hands full trying to convince each side to meet with the other. Yesterday was supposed to be the first day of substantive talks but things got off to a rocky start with government and opposition representatives refusing to meet. By the end of the day, things seemed to be looking up as both sides agreed to meet in the same room today.

Photo courtesy of Google images

Photo courtesy of Google images

BBC Video on Geneva II

As much as Brahimi seems to be masterfully spearheading these talks, the approach others have taken leaves anyone who has taken a basic negotiation course furrowing their brows. There are a few basic rules to good negotiating that every professional negotiator knows. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert negotiator but after five years as a lawyer, having negotiated during an armed conflict, and managing to navigate marriage to another lawyer, I’ve at least whet my chops as a negotiator. For those who haven’t taken a negotiation course, there is this book Getting to Yes that is the basic handbook for good negotiations – this is of course assuming you want to get somewhere with your negotiation. It outlines the basics of negotiations, how to expand the pie by thinking outside the box, and a whole host of other taglines – but as overused as some of the terms have become, the rules are simple and they work.

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Sitting across the lake from the Geneva II talks over the past few days, I couldn’t help thinking, excuse me, while I take these guys over a copy of Getting to Yes. All week it’s been shenanigans that would have gotten some of these guys a big fat C in a negotiations class- and that is being generous. All week leading up to the talks it was threats, ultimatums, attacking “the person, not the problem” – all textbook examples of how to sabotage a negotiation. On the one side we had John Kerry laying out his our-way-or the highway re: Assad needing to leave power is the only way forward or nothing, and then haughtily proclaiming no one has done more damage to Syria than Assad himself. Here’s an idea, if you actually want to get anywhere don’t start off a negotiation by personally attacking one party in public or making ultimatums, at the very least get to the table first. Then yesterday we had Syria threatening to leave if they don’t get down to serious talks immediately. It doesn’t mean these aren’t valid views; Kerry’s comments may be what the majority of the world is thinking, and one side’s frustration at coming to the table only to find finger-pointing rather than serious discussions is understandable – but that’s not the point: this is not a tribunal, this is not a court – these are negotiations to find a way out of three years of destruction of a people and their homeland your job is to negotiate a way out, if not then at least improve the situation, or at the very least come away with a better understanding of the situation. Your job here is to negotiate, the prosecutions will come.

The fact that this is an extremely difficult situation to negotiate is not a valid excuse; of course it is difficult, it may be a seemingly impossible negotiation but these are supposed to be the world’s expert negotiators on it – the skills match the problem. Just because the subject matter is extremely difficult doesn’t mean you drop those skills at the door, now it is more important than ever to rely on them. This is their Superbowl, their World Cup – not to make light of an armed conflict and its thousands of casualties the point is just that, like skills developed by athletes, these are learned skills negotiators have. Athletes don’t spend their whole sporting careers honing their skills just to drop them at the door and go back to chaos during the biggest competition of their lives – no, they take those skills and they apply them to the situation, and that’s what needs to happen here.

Enough games, enough threats, enough personal attacks, it’s time to check the egos at the door and get down to the business of negotiating.

The apparent impossibility of an immediate negotiated peace is not a reason to give up before you start, specific issues like humanitarian couloirs or plans for civilian safe-areas could be accomplished here, which seems to be the new goal of the talks since last night. So let’s give Brahimi and the others trying to move forward some support; you are all here, you didn’t come all this way to eat chocolate and ski (at least we hope), let’s get to it.

Even if you can’t get to “yes” at least you can get to something.


To Nadaam and Beyond: Mongolia’s Festival of 3 Manly Games

July 12, 2013

Mongolia 059

Six years on, memories from one epic month on the road to becoming a lawyer.

To Nadaam and Beyond: Mongolia's Festival of 3 Manly Games.

Following my Passion: 3 Years On, Scarier than Ever

May 22, 2013

Three years ago yesterday I stepped out of my Bay Street office for the last time.

My good friend LVS came downstairs to see me off, I want to see this, she said. What she saw was me whirling around with my last box of lawyerly things, twirling down Bay Street smiling, skipping naively into the unknown. When I arrived home a few minutes later my mother was waiting for me with open arms saying I love you so much.

I wondered what had gotten into both of them. Why did LVS want to, in her words, witness this with her own eyes and what had happened to my mom that day to make her so serious? It may have been that both of them had a better understanding of the profondeur of that day, of that decision, than I did at the time.

May 21, 2010, will forever be the day I gave up doing what I should do in exchange for what felt right.

Mom and I, Week 1 of my Post-Bay Street life, Easter Island.

Mom and I, Week 1 of my Post-Bay Street life, Easter Island.

Last June I wrote a post about returning to Geneva for the graduation ceremony of my LL.M. programme, I called it: Geneva One Year On: Not Quite as Scary Anymore (Read it here), and as tough of a time as I had during that year, returning to Geneva, having successfully completed my degree, with one international law contract under my belt and at the outset of a new one in Ethiopia, the old-school French academic rules, my fiance’s visa that never arrived, the isolationist attitudes – none of it seemed as scary anymore.

But here, now, 3 years to the day of leaving my firm, back in the very city I left, having no real plan for the immediate future, following my dreams is scarier than ever.

If someone had of told me, 3 years ago, that I would be sitting here in the same coffee shop where I studied for bar exams years ago, still not having a set plan, I never would have believed them. Up until that point I had pretty much been, in the words of Beyoncé, Schoolin’ Life, at least from the outside. Just cruising from one stage to the next. I figured by 2 years into this I would be well on my way in my new career as an international lawyer. If someone had told me I would still be here, figuring things out after so much time I would probably have brushed their comments aside. I had a plan; I was going to complete my LL.M. in international law, improve my Spanish and French enough to practice law in both, do the CBA Young Lawyer’s Abroad Programme (oh, and I was going to be leading 5.10s by my 30th birthday (sorry, necessary rock-climbing reference)) – and sure enough, somewhat through planning and somewhat through what could only have been fate, I followed that plan to a “T”. I ploughed ahead and did all of those things – so how can it be that I’m here now, still figuring things out?

It turns out that living the dream is hard to do. For me it has been much harder than when I was not living the dream.

When I made the decision to leave my firm some people commented about it being a hard decision. But to me leaving wasn’t hard, it was necessary. But now I see that maybe this was the part they were talking about, the “what next?” When people ask about the book I’m writing I joke that I started out writing it as some-kind of an inspirational follow your dreams book but that it has ended up being more Follow your dreams… and then what?

It is a much different story than I initially envisioned. A much different journey.

At home writing in Toronto, Winter 2013.

At home writing in Toronto, Winter 2013.

I thought I had made the decision three years ago and that was it, but it turns out that wasn’t the end of it; every single day I wake up and have to consciously re-commit to my decision. Some days the pull is so strong I have to stay indoors, for the fear that if I were let out I may start running up and down Bay Street, throwing my cv at every suit-clad passerby pleading take me back, it’s too hard, I’ll do anything, just let me bill some hours! Even if you write them off, I don’t care, just let me bill something!

Every single day I have to re-commit to my decision and plod along this new path, having faith that I’ve made the right decision for my life.

But the good news is; I have still, to this day, not once regretted my decision to leave. Although it has been harder, much harder, than I ever imagined, I never regret it. Not one day. Not while consoling each other on unexpectedly failed exams in Geneva, not while checking in with colleagues at 6 a.m. to confirm we hadn’t been kidnapped in the Darien Gap, and not now, writing this book and not knowing if I’ll ever find a publisher, or even a reader.

I am happy to report that I have never once regretted my decision, and that gives me the faith to go forward on this journey – destination to-be-determined.

After a few harrowing days in the Darien Gap area, el Choco, Colombia.

After a few harrowing days in the Darien Gap area, el Choco, Colombia.

Savasana of Life

May 17, 2013

Your first question might be what does “Savasana” mean? And you second question is probably What does this have to do with international law? Did she mean to post this on her “lifestyle” blog?

The answer to the first question is; it’s a yoga pose (For a more complete answer see Savasana ). The answer to the second question is; no, stick with me.

Although I usually keep my yoga musings (there are many) to my lifestyle blog (The Prodigal Adventurer), I decided this thought, though yoga-related, is more appropriate here, as part of this journey from corporate law to who-knows-where.

Since returning home from my last international law stint in Ethiopia (see Surprise I’m in Ethiopia!), I have discovered Yoga (A little late, I know, but I’ve been removed from North American culture for a few years).

During my first few weeks of yoga I was a bit perplexed by this one pose: Savasana, otherwise known as the dead body, or corpse, pose. You lie on your back on the mat, legs straight, feet flopped to the side, palms up to the sky – dead body pose.

Don't worry, Sarah's just in Savasana.

Don’t worry, Sarah’s just in Savasana.

The teacher would say; This is the most important pose of your practice. I would think Most important pose? How is this even considered a pose? I didn’t believe it for a second, but I was happy to let them think that while I enjoyed what I saw as my mid-workout rest. I figured I was pulling one over on them so I better keep quiet.

But then one day, the teacher explained that Savasana was crucial because by stopping and just “being” for a while, your body could take in the benefits from the work it did during the other poses. It was a chance for your body to not only rest, but to regroup and reset itself. Only then could you reap the benefits of your hard work.

In the words of the great guru herself (Oprah), that was a major Aha Moment for me.

In that moment I realized, I’m just having a Savasana of life.

In that moment I realized the value of this pause in my career. This pause could be for my life, what the Savasana was for my body (and mind).

Although I’ve been working on my book almost every day I am constantly stressing about the fact that I don’t really have a set plan going forward. Although I write every day I still sometimes feel like I’m not “doing” anything right now. And I feel guilty. Every day.

Maybe I need to just “be” for a while to really reap the benefits of the work I put in to this new path over the past three years in Switzerland, Colombia, and Ethiopia. It was similar to a thought that had been creeping in for some time already; that I am not reaping all the benefits of these experiences because I’ve been rushing like a madwoman from one to the next and not even stopping long enough to think about what just happened. I realized I’ve been zooming from one new country to the next, new organization to the next, new type of law to the next, that I never took stock of what I had just learned or reflect on whether I actually liked these new jobs, let alone stand still long enough to allow any opportunities to come from them.

In that moment, with that one thought, I was able to let go of the guilt (well okay, some of the guilt) and to see the value in this pause. To see this time not as a break from my career, but a necessary part of it. I understood that in able to ensure I make the most out of this path, to not only make the most meaningful contribution possible, but to also actually enjoy my life’s work (a relatively new concept to me) I needed to take this time to just be.

The beautiful ladies of Sat Nam Yoga in their Savasanas this morning.

The beautiful ladies of Sat Nam Yoga in their Savasanas this morning.


P.S. If you would like to read more of my writing on yoga check out To Om and Beyond , Paddling in Paradise , or my personal favourite, Angry Yoga People .

P.P.S. For more of my adventures in international law stayed tuned for new posts coming soon (in the meantime, feel free to check my archives (see “Archives” column on the right)!

Gratuitous yoga pic. Thanks for the photos ladies!

Gratuitous yoga pic. Thanks for the photos ladies!