Volunteering in Colombia

Global Health is something that has always been on my mind. Rather than be a Canadian nurse, I wish to be a nurse worldwide. I am interested in being part of different cultures and wish to expose myself to different challenges that allow for growth, sharing, learning, teaching…everything. I wish to be a nurse wherever the need is wherever I am in the world.

My recent trip to Colombia was the debut of my global involvement in a way I might not have thought possible. It was where I literally learnt how to be available for whatever was available for me. It was a time where I slept at odd hours because I received last minute requests to prepare lectures at the University. It was challenge overload and exhilaration all the time. There were times of overwhelm and self reflection when I saw challenges and wondered how I could empower others or inspire change. It was a time of flexibility, plans changing on a dime and still, beautiful surprises. It was a time of resourcefulness where I was able to reach out to my Canadian counterparts to assist with research that I needed for a lecture or group activity. It was also a time of love and joy and gratitude and connection and friendship.

Glen – Minga House

Glen made it happen for me. After speaking with him about what was on my heart and mind, he set to work. There were many roadblocks to acquiring the kind of volunteer experience that I desired. When I was about to give up, he called to tell me he had found something for me. Honestly, it was not what I thought I wanted but it ended up being what I did not know that I needed. Meeting him and being around his energizer kind of energy was an honor.

Eternally grateful to the faculty of the Catolica Universidad de Manizales

It would be a shame not to mention the people that accompanied me and made sure that language was not a barrier. They easily became my fave people and friends and had no reservations when it came to bothering assisting me. They threw coffee beans at me, pinched me, lifted me up or chased me for any and every reason. However, when the time came to get work done, they were 100% present and willing.

Andrés and Stiven – Minga House

I got to help out with the nursing program at the Catolica Universidad de Manizales. There, I gave some lectures and helped out with some of their English programs. It was a great opportunity to interact with the professors and be a witness to their passion to teach. I was part of amazing lectures and great conversations. What was even more interesting was being referred to as ‘Professor Liz’. In Spanish, I was la profesora or as students there say, ‘profe’. 

Before leaving for Colombia, I had prepared a lecture on Healthcare in Canada that ultimately showed the similarities of healthcare the world over. The lecture was meant to be for the students and I really had nothing else prepared. My plan was to collaborate with the professors at the university once I got to Colombia. Being given an hour’s notice to present to the health studies faculty was a bit disconcerting as I had to tweak the presentation to match the audience.


The presentation was a great success. There was an activity that involved naming things that were important to them as nurses in relation to the kind of nurses they hoped their students would be. As well, they named things that were important to them if they were to be patients. This forum opened up many conversations about institutional issues that prevented humanized care and it was a chance to re-ignite those passions to inspire change in whatever spaces they happened to be in.

The Director of Nursing at the Catolica Universidad de Manizales and the community clown team

I met many inspirational professors at the University. One of them is Professor Maria Duque who is a bioethics professor. She has the contagious desire to nurse outside the box and has created a clown team to work with people with learning disorders as well as children. It was inspiring to be around her.

The Director was great as well and facilitated my transition into all the classes that I was able to attend. On my birthday, she mentioned it to the cafeteria staff and when I went there for a cup of tea later, I was given a chocolate bar and told ‘feliz cumpleaños‘. She always had a smile on her face. We definitely had language barrier issues that we got around with the trusty help of Google translator. We spent an afternoon together on one of the days and between me stumbling through my Spanish and filling in the words with charades, we were able to talk at length about the joys and challenges of healthcare/nursing in Colombia.

History of Nursing class

To say that the classes were fun is an understatement. The students were fun, passionate and brilliant. There was never a dull moment. They were also very inquisitive! There was no class or group where students did not ask about my age, my relationship status and if I liked Colombian men!


I saw a great deal of creativity in many of the activities that the students were part of. I do not remember being as creative as these students were!

Occupational Health Class

In one of the classes, we had to create a song about the risks in various work settings. After that, we went to different faculties and sang about those risks! In Spanish! These students had these projects dialed down to a science! Their projects were great avenues for opening up conversations of all kinds.

Primary Care

In the primary care class, mental health and language barrier were focus points. The scenario I prepared highlighted how immigration is changing the backgrounds of the patients we see and how easy it is to overlook mental health issues when providing care. The students did some amazing work in their discussions and their ideas on how to communicate and be resourceful were refreshing.

Word and number exercises…yes, in Spanish

One of my favorite projects was the cognitive therapy sessions for the elderly in the community. A place was set up for the elderly to socialize as well as have exercises that allowed them to keep their minds engaged. Nursing students assisted with various activities such as teaching the elderly how to use walkers or canes to ambulate safely. I was fascinated at the level of involvement regarding the needs of the elderly in the community.

My other fantastic moment was English teaching at one of the elementary schools. The students in the said school are from ‘unsettled’ homes and a lot of them have many needs. In spite of that, they were still eager to learn and please. They enjoyed one on one time and were always up for hugs, smiles, and high fives.

The girl who made me wear her glasses on my birthday and take a picture with her. So cute!

I was able to visit a home for the elderly in Chinchiná with a doctor and friend from the United States. I trimmed finger nails and toe nails as well as gave massages to some of the residents. My colleague was able to do some physiotherapy and go for a walk with another resident. These casual interactions unearthed various other needs that needed attention. For example, the resident wore a pair of shoes a few sizes too big and the doctor was burdened by the need to get him a new pair of shoes. While it was a relaxed environment, the background story of the home and the man who runs it did nothing to relax me. The man who is in his sixties is a geriatric nurse who singlehandedly takes care of 14 other elderly individuals in his own home. He has done this for over three decades amidst periods of abject adversity. He cooks and cleans for them while working full time with the occasional help of his sister. The elderly individuals, whom he lovingly calls his ‘kids’, are either palliative or living with one chronic condition or other and have no pension or source of income. He told us that the hospitals usually call him and ask him to take a patient who is palliative without additional means or resources. Close to his place is a government funded facility for the elderly that is only accessible to the wealthy. The paradox.

This man has his own health issues that make him anxious about where his kids would go if he was unable to care for them. I got wind of the news that he has almost been evicted thrice in the last year alone when he is unable to come up with rent. I cannot imagine the emotional burden that he has to go through when he is unable to come up with rent money while taking care of 14 sick individuals. The thought of it makes me nauseous. Talks are underway to eliminate this anxiety and improve his quality of life so that he can effectively care for his kids – something he is passionate about. If anyone would like to know more, I am open to sharing about him and what he does as well as how my heart strings have been pulled towards facilitating his passion while eliminating stressors. I will share more as various other details come to light.

My time in Colombia was more than amazing. My experience will stay with me for a very long time. I was able to do things I did not think I could and it was highly rewarding. There is no stopping me now.



The stand-off

I am standing on Commercial drive ready to cross the street. I have time so I don’t particularly care that the lights are taking a while to allow crossing. Also I just worked a 12 hour night shift and I am in a bit of a trance. There’s a lady across the street also waiting to cross and she’s not pressing the button. And neither am I. What if the button has covid all over it? She makes a move as if to press the button and I can see her try to use her elbow. She is unable to because she is carrying some shopping bags. Then she looks at me. I look right back at her. Until she sees the #20 bus, puts her bags down, and hits the button furiously because she’s got to get on that bus. Me…I am just going to the bank across the street.

Commercial Drive

The wait

I get to the bank and use the ATM. There is a lady standing outside the doors but she’s not making a move to get in. She’s just standing there creepily. Is she waiting for someone? Is she planning on mugging me? I am not sure. I finish my transaction and open the door to exit. As I used my elbow to open the door, I see her looking for that window of opportunity where she doesn’t have to touch the door, and where she trusts that I’m Canadian enough to hold the door open for her. Well, I’m post-nights and no such kindness exists within me after my crazy 12 hour shift. Ha! What did she think…that I was gonna stand in the front line of covid for her? Lady’s got something coming. I have another errand across the street and the lady is still standing outside the bank. Waiting creepily.

The freak out moment

Well! What do you do if you can’t find something in the store and need to ask an attendant to help you while maintaining social distancing? Let me tell you about it! I am learning not to do this…wait…I am doing it more just to get a reaction…’good morning!’ *startled look on attendant’s face* More like…*these are scary times and you shouldn’t be talking to me!* ‘Could you please tell me where to find q-tips?’ ‘Aisle number 3!’ is the hasty spat out response while looking as far away from me as her sternocleidomastoid muscle will allow. I have a mask on, lady. Relax. I am also standing 7 feet away from you. I go to aisle number 3 and it’s the candy aisle. Should I go back and ask her again? Forget it. I’m gonna use my wash cloth for my ears and my finger for eyeliner.

I am on the 99 B-line the other day. It is rush hour and typical of this route, the bus is full. People are standing. On the aisle, just in front of me, is a lady on her phone with a mask on. I have a mask on as well but the guy seated next to me is crazy. He’s on a standing room only B-line at rush hour…without a mask. Then he sneezes. I am holding my breath so that I don’t breath in his potential covid (or other) cooties. The lady in front of me opens her eyes in sheer horror and moves a few steps away. But this guy is a couple-of-times sneezer and he lets out another few sneezes. The lady got off at the next stop. Me – I played out all the scenarios that covid is surely bound to get me as I held my breath until I couldn’t anymore.

The elevator

Elevator trips have been interesting. In my apartment building, the rule is only members of the same family can be on the elevator at the same time. This is fine because I mostly take the stairs. But elsewhere, I have seen people hog the door so that nobody else can enter even when the elevator is not up to capacity. Usually, they are going to the umpteenth floor while I need it for the..you know…fourth or fifth floor. I have found that if I join the hogging session, they will usually retreat to the back.

There are also the paper towel users who drop the paper towel ‘by mistake’ after punching in their floor number. And then they look at you with the ‘I can’t touch that now – surely you understand’ look. No, I don’t.

The beauty

I went to Jericho beach the other day and navigating the sidewalks was laughable at times. Sometimes you would both move to the grass, leaving the sidewalk empty, to provide each other the 2 meters of space. Other times, the person would walk right up to your side of the path and quite literally mow you out of it. I call it the sidewalk stand off. But it’s the kids that have been the most interesting to observe as they walked and played with each other as if this covid thing was nonexistent in their cute superhero masks. 

Elsewhere, my friend’s neighbor’s kid had a birthday party and he went to the downstairs apartment to invite my friend’s kids for his birthday party. Well, my friend and her kids went upstairs, a bit apprehensive on the insistence of the little child and perhaps questioning the kid’s mom’s choices of having a birthday party during the pandemic. When they got to their neighbor’s, the birthday kid’s mom was shocked and embarrassed because she had made no such invitation. The kid just wanted people at his birthday party to share cake with because that’s what people normally do!

We all seek human interaction and it is indeed beautiful to see the little ones completely unbothered and living their lives with reckless abandon. What I would hope is that with whatever new norm that is created and constantly evolving in response to the virus, we seek new depths of being where we truly live, truly love, and truly connect with others with careful but reckless abandon because we don’t know when those simple life sustaining and heart hugging elements might be snatched from us. 

Mama, I miss you…still

Mama, you planted so many flowers and trees in the home compound that dad wondered if there was any earth left to plant in. These days, he is the one constantly bringing flowers and shrubs that need planting while enjoying the fruit from the trees that you planted.

Mama, you and I talked so much and all the time that dad would always try to kick me out of the room so that he could sleep. These days, he and I talk so much that it surprises me that he had the gift of gab. Mama, the man can talk!

Mama, you were my number one go-to when I met someone I fancied or cried over a break up. You were my number one go-to when I was sick or when I just needed comforting. I do call dad these days but mama, the first time that dad asked me about my dating life, I was like…”whaat?!” Mama, can you believe that? Yeah, me neither!

Mama, you celebrated my strengths and called me out on my weaknesses. You took my point of view while also encouraging me to think of things from different perspectives. You were hands down my number one fan and I delighted in making you proud. You and dad definitely shared that and dad still wholeheartedly celebrates my accomplishments.

Mama, those flowers I was talking about that you planted, well, one of the rose bushes has one beautiful rose today. I showed it to dad and we smiled. Indeed, when we think of you, at times it draws sadness, but a lot of times, amidst the sadness, it draws smiles. You are very potent in our hearts and our minds.

Big sis

I don’t think words can really capture the essence of your being because you were larger than life. Everything you did was always, as we say, ‘extra’. The friends you made were extra. The things you did were extra. Even the words you spoke were extra.

But that is how you chose to live your life; in a way that sought to be seen but that also saw others. I remember walking with you in our younger years and while I wanted to hide and be unseen, you wanted to say hi to everyone and be seen. I can confidently say that many people that are here today are people you said hi to at one time or another. Many times, you were even more connected to my friends than I was. And whenever you saw them, you’d always send me a message to share about who you saw.

There is no box that could ever contain you. No rules that could stop you. You definitely were not born to be confined – and it is something I always admired about you. You definitely lived life on your own terms.


We have your daughter, my niece, Natasha. A girl who possesses the fierceness and boldness that you had. A girl whom we promise to nurture as best as we can. A girl whom we hope will continue to explore and learn and grow without limits. A girl we know you will continue to watch over as she grows up.

This loss leaves us confused, sad, lost. But we hope to continue to hold on to that vitality of life that you possessed right until your final days. And if we continue to do that, in our own way, we will have truly loved and honored you.

Rest in peace, big sister. Rest in peace, Faith.

One year later…mom, you remain missed


I have never been able to fully verbalize the thoughts and feelings around losing my mom a year ago. Today, it is very potent in my mind how I felt the day prior to my mom’s demise. I was in a clinical shift and that day felt oddly ‘off’. I remember telling a colleague that I needed to go home because my mom had been admitted to the hospital. It weighed on me the whole day and that evening, I pulled my instructor aside and told her that if I don’t show up for clinical the next day, I will have gone home. My dad and I had talked earlier and he had told me that she was doing OK and was stable but had been quite tired. But something in my heart still felt heavy and try as I could, I couldn’t shake it off.

I got home that evening and sent my dad a message asking him to call me as soon as he got to the hospital that morning. I started looking for flights and left the browser open to go to bed because I was quite tired as well. As tired as I was, I couldn’t sleep and just tossed and turned until my dad sent me a message saying he would call me when he got to the hospital. After that I woke up because I was afraid that I would sleep and miss his call.

The next message from him ripped through me in ways that I can’t explain. I was on the ground on my kitchen floor in so much pain that I wished that I would just disappear to a place where I couldn’t feel anything. One of my friends happened to send me a message around the same time and ended up dropping everything to come by. I pulled myself from the floor to open the door and collapsed again into sobbing convulsions. Everything hurt. It was difficult doing simple tasks like packing and finding and booking a flight and I’m thankful that my friend cried with me and guided me through the packing process. I couldn’t sleep and I woke up with my eyes swollen. I felt nauseous but the thought of food was not welcoming.

The trip ahead was one of the longest trips I have ever been on. Every airport official asked me the purpose of my trip and I would break down. By the time I boarded the plane, I was so worn out by the questioning and when I sat down, I finally fell asleep. I would wake up in tears and cry and then go back to sleep. I did not care who was beside me. All I knew in those moments was the pain that I felt. I was so petrified of getting home and the reality that I wasn’t walking into my mom’s loving hugs and cheek pinches was too much to bear. The reality that I was going home to my dad who had just lost his wife and my siblings who had just lost their mom as well as my niece who had just lost her grandma was overwhelming. La Familia

I got home and was picked up by my brother and cousin. That drive home…that drive home…

Upon getting home, I saw a big white tent outside. In Kenya, tents are representative of a function; usually a party, a wedding, a graduation, an engagement party, or a baby shower. They are also representative of a funeral. The sight of that tent was all it took to break me down into tears. My aunts (mom’s sisters) were there and we hugged. They had also lost their eldest sister.

The funeral plans that lay ahead were nothing I was prepared for. Nobody prepares you for this! Being approached and asked questions like which dress, which casket, what food, where are people sleeping…many times I just wanted to hide in my parents’ room where I used to have endless conversations with my mom. But there was no hiding. There was no recovering from jet lag. Everyday was packed with things to do and people to see! It was definitely a testament of the people whose lives mom had touched. It was also refreshing to have people just come in and take care of different aspects of the funeral planning.

On the burial day, I didn’t want to wake up. How I was going to go through that day, I really didn’t know. It felt too final. The end. She’s gone. But even in how bleak I felt the day to be, I saw people that I didn’t expect to see and was comforted by it.


If I could bring you back, mom, I totally would. I miss our long conversations. Dad would kick me out of the room because we would just hang out and talk about everything until he was too tired to stay awake. I miss you nagging me in my room – usually about boys or my nose ring. I miss us going into town together and you hanging out with me as I got my hair braided. I miss us going into town together and haggling in the market – you were soooo good at it! I miss how outspoken you always were! I miss you walking into my room to find out what books I had so that you could read them before I returned to Canada. I miss us sitting outside in the sun eating sugarcane and talking. I miss walking into the living room and just sitting on your lap and talking. I miss you calling me just to check on me – at times with your last few shillings of credit on your phone. I am thankful for all the life lessons you imparted on me. I am thankful for all your encouragement and advice throughout my life. You really were my favorite human being. I think of you every single day and the memories of you are definitely some of my best!


Colombia 2018

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Emotional farewell after two weeks of inspiration to live fully everyday – Photo cred M. Daughtridge

Colombia is a place that’s very near and dear to my heart. Making this second trip continued to reaffirm how excited this place continues to make me. I feel alive and free and connected to the sights and sounds and more importantly, the people.

Morning Assessments with Luis Eduardo and his dogs

This year, I focused on a project that really tagged at my heartstrings that came to me by chance last year. Minga House Foundation was my connection to the project that I was part of this year and they were amazing at helping me navigate and create my path for the time I had planned to be there. After multiple conversations through the months prior to this trip, I couldn’t wait to go and soak in every experience that this trip had in store for me. Indeed, I was completely blown away at how people, projects, and things amalgamated together to produce the most amazing results. Through Minga House, I met other volunteers and it was such an amazing experience. Every evening, we would talk about our days and I was amazed at how involved we were with each others’ various projects and often we cheered each other on or just brain stormed about various remedies. Sometimes we wanted to visit each others’ projects and it was heartwarming when some would come by and visit Don Ramiro’s house with flea medicine for the dogs, snacks, or just hang out.

Don Ramiro about to tell us about his life of service to the palliative homeless spanning 37 years – Photo Cred M. Daughtridge

To provide a bit of background, Don Ramiro is a gentleman that I met last year and whose project completely compelled me to be involved. He is a nurse by profession and an angel by definition. Don Ramiro is a true advocate who lives with palliative elderly and homeless people at his home. These people who are suffering from various ailments and come from all sorts of backgrounds are usually referred to him by friends. Others end up at his home when the hospital calls him about a patient who is palliative and has no place to go. As well, his ever open house always has people coming from various places for lunch or dinner. Any meal time has all the chairs filled as well as the door step and curb right outside his house enjoying a nutritious meal. Nobody is ever turned down. Amazingly, his cup runs over and does not run dry as there are always random people donating time as well as various items to the home. He does not receive government funding and a lot of times faces the anxiety of not having funds to take care of his ‘ninos’. But everyday, he wakes up and he lives to ensure that his ‘ninos’ are taken care of. Something that surprised me is hearing people say that they would rather live at Don Ramiro’s instead of a government funded facility because of how much attention Don Ramiro provides and how aware he is of every single person that lives at his house.

These lovely ladies – Noelia and Marta’s mom are always looking for ways to pile food on  everyone’s plate. They are so warm and kind and genuine and had no problems trying to understand my halting Spanish and teaching me new words. They clean and cook and feed some of the ‘ninos’ – and all with such love.

Don Ramiro was always on the go. He was able to take me to the homes of other sick people in the community and we were able to assess and clean wounds as well as offer recommendations.

Don Ramiro and I just about to go to the health ministry to advocate for specialist healthcare for some of the people that he cares for.

I woke up everyday excited for everything that the day had to offer. I met people who came through and made beautiful things happen. I was overwhelmed by the needs of that small microcosm but I was also overwhelmed by the willingness of people to be involved and helpful.

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The ease with which Don Ramiro gave and shared really exemplified the large heart he has

During my time there, Don Ramiro was able to write a wishlist of items that were needed in the home. We were able to fulfil most of his list which was such a blessing. As well, I had a burning desire to capture the lives of the people that live in the home on paper and video to create a legacy for him. Quite a few students and volunteers pass through the home and a platform that tells the stories of Don Ramiro’s ‘los ninos’ would be a way to see them through the eyes of love – just the way Don Ramiro sees them.

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Andreia and Ines – lovely pharmacists from Portugal whom I got to spend a lot of time with and who helped a lot with the collection and translation of the stories of Don Ramiro’s ‘ninos’.

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Gonzalo Lopez – an ever smiling, full of stories elderly man who lives on his own but comes for all his meals and company at Don Ramiro’s house. He had been in quite a bit of pain to his legs and wasn’t sure of how to take his PRN pain medications. We were able to go over and optimize his PRNs to ensure his pain was under control.

One of the bigger projects that miraculously got tackled by colleague volunteers was making bedsheets for all the beds in the home. It so happened that sets of bedsheets were quite expensive at the stores and it made more sense to purchase the material and sew them. One of the open volunteers, Valentina, knew how to use a sewing machine and was very enthusiastic about the project. Stiven, the social programs director at Minga House was only too happy to get a sewing machine that Valentina could use and then magic happened as the bedsheets began to take form.

Valentina skillfully working away – Photo Cred M. Daughtridge

Morgan – Photo Cred V. Pineda

I have to tell you guys about Morgan. Morgan was constantly bursting into song or dance around the house. She came by to Don Ramiro’s and when she felt compelled to do something, she just did it. Another free, enthusiastic and contagious spirit. She was happily on board with assisting with the bedsheets and with putting together the biographies.

Morgan, Don Ramiro, I and Valentina

I recently heard that two of the gentlemen at the home had passed away and my heart broke. I had told these guys that I’d see them in the coming year and had enjoyed their company both professionally and socially. I took their blood pressures, went over what the numbers meant, did massages and examined their skin, did muscle and joint exercises which they really liked, played Dominoes, shared meals and just talked. Who understands these things? On a personal level, it is clear that nobody is promised tomorrow. We have today and I hope that with the same enthusiasm that I enjoy every moment in Colombia, I enjoy every moment with the people around me wherever I may be on the globe.

In loving memory of Maximiliano Prada (pictured above) and Rohelio whom we never had a chance to photograph. Thanks for inviting me into your life and teaching me. 


Debt Freeeeee!!!

What a journey!

The borrower is a slave to the lender. I’m definitely unshackled now. Three years and nine months later, I paid the last bit of my $57, 900 student loan debt and have no other debt.  I cannot describe this feeling! Although I would do things a bit differently were I to return to school, I definitely appreciate the journey and the lessons on money that the last few years afforded me. Here are some of the things I did.

  1. Build a Budget

    The first budget I ever built (2014)

    …and make sure it works! It took me months to come up with a budget that balanced and aligned with the goals I wished to accomplish. Once it balanced, it was one of the ways I was able to tell my money exactly where it was going. Every cent was accounted for and every dollar I earned above my net income went straight to debt repayment. Now every dollar that I am no longer going to be spending on debt will be going into my awesome retirement fund and savings account. I was anticipating this day so much that I doubled my contributions to the respectable accounts as soon as I made that last payment.

  2. Read widely on the subject and crunch the numbers.

    Gail Vaz-Oxlade during her ‘Money Talks’ book tour (2015)

    I initially did the math to see how much I would be freely handing the student loan company if I opted to pay the debt over 10 years. My hard work would have given them $20,000 whereas my 45 months gave them $7,000. Damn, I wish I gave them even less or none at all. They no longer gain from me so I can be happy about that and take my $13,000 to the bank. In addition, I cannot tell you how many books I read to steer me in the right financial direction and propel me forward. I needed to learn and understand money. I read every Warren Buffet, Gail Vaz-Oxlade and Dave Ramsey book available. I read blogs by Mr Money Mustache and JL Collins and listened to every podcast by the Mad FIentist. What worked and still works for me is people that are upfront and are not afraid to ‘hurt my feelings’ when it comes to money. That is why I still listen to Dave Ramsey and get giddy every time someone wants to delve into conversations about money.

  3. Have a method and stick to it!

    My bi-weekly money reconciliation days.

    In keeping with my budget and debt repayment plan, I had to have a way to live that was clear, succinct, and intentional. Cash became king…and I have over three years worth of records of how I spent, if and when I overspent which was rare, when I won with money and had money left over in my jars, and when I needed to change my cash amounts. This allowed me to have more money to throw against my debt and hit it hard. As well, for me, using cash stung way more than swiping a card for transactions so I kept my card use to a minimum and will continue to do so. This method has created the discipline of planning and being mindful of my expenditures.

  4. Visualize It!

    Bathroom mirror reflections

    Having it staring at my face all the time as I used the throne, after a shower, when I washed my hands, when doing my makeup…this was not going to get ignored and it forced me to think of ways I could accelerate my payments and gave me the impetus to look forward to the next bathroom mirror update. It also became a good conversation starter with guests. Now it’s $0…I need to update that! Being one who enjoys forward movement, having an overkill type of spreadsheet also helped me to visualize my spending, my saving and my overall progress. Being in the negative in terms of networth was initially discouraging but seeing my networth go up as I attacked the debt was like salve to my soul.

    A year ago when I had just newly broken into the positive networth. (2017)

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    No more owed and a definitely positive networth
  5.  Talk About It! There’s nothing to keep you accountable like talking about it. At first, people think you’re weird when you openly admit to having debt and respect you once they see that you’re doing something about it. Many also admit to their own money follies and will ask for advice in changing their money habits. Money is, sadly, a taboo topic in our society and a lot of people are happy to pretend that they have money on the outside although are living with heaps of anxiety on the inside. It scares me to catch wind of statements like, “I have 23 cents between now and my next pay cheque” yet I have sympathy because I have lived like that in the past and refuse to live like that ever again.
  6. Life Happens! Having two major life emergencies happen just when I was getting intense on my debt repayment did not need to take me back into the financial red. Having a healthy emergency savings in place instead of using my credit card and struggling to pay it back later was helpful each time. The emergencies became a financial pause rather than a financial setback and I was still able to continue with life without the anxiety that comes along with not being prepared when emergencies strike. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of an emergency fund!
  7. Celebrate it! I am going to celebrate it big! Actually, there will be a series of celebrations. However, celebrating does not mean that I will suddenly change my lifestyle or become extravagant in my spending habits. What I have learnt in this journey is for a lifetime.

    Ok…it’s updated…DEBT FREE!!!



I absolutely love the song by Bruno Mars and Travie McCoy ‘Billionaire’. I listen to the song at least twice a week…usually more. I do really wish to be a billionaire…but the content of the song, for me, ends after the first line. The rest of the song promotes consumerism, extravagance, and wastefulness; all of which are things I have no warm and fuzzies for at all.

The last year and a quarter have had me on a very riveting, eye opening, and conscientious journey about how I don’t need more than half the things the world tells me that I need to be happy. I have resisted buying things for the sake of buying things and I am not a favorite of sales people who wish to upsell. I have no patience for sales pitches anymore. Just…just…no…no! NOOO! I don’t want the medium drink for an extra 50 cents! What is the joy of wishing to use the bathroom halfway through the movie? I also don’t want 1,000 Q-tips for $4.99! The ones I bought three years ago are not done yet and when I need more, I will know to buy them. I don’t want the turkey or the box of mangoes for spending $250 on groceries. Out of curiosity, why don’t they offer me the box of mangoes for spending…$10? No. No. Thanks. I don’t want to bundle up to save.

I just don’t need all these things. It actually makes me feel like I didn’t know what I was coming to purchase in the first place…like I somehow just waltzed into the store because I had nothing else to do than hear what offer was up for grabs for me that day. If I sense some underlying scheme to make me part with my money when I had not planned on it, I get despondent very quickly, especially if pushed after rejecting the offer. You are standing between me and my goal of financial independence.

Prior to this journey, my life had various levels of anxiety and worry when it came to my finances. I lived from pay check to pay check. Or if you wish, pay check to credit to paycheck. That was the norm I was used to. Some of the people I surrounded myself with lived the same way so I did not know any better and was not challenged to do any better. We would actually talk about all the bits of money we were expecting and how things would be bad if a source did not materialize. Funny enough, in some circles, you were doing pretty well if you could lend people money. If they didn’t pay you back by the stipulated date, however, you were sunk. I took trips – on credit, of course. I would go shopping when I had a bad day. I did not have a budget and had no financial plan whatsoever. Instant gratification was the way of life, and so was waste and clutter. I threw out food when it got bad because I had no discipline to finish the food I had before making new food. In the same vein, I had a storage room that was so full of things I thought I needed but ended up throwing out when I had to move.

I used to watch some finance shows and I saw a few news clips where they talked about the average college student not having anything saved up. I simply thought that I would start saving when I got a ‘real’ job. I wanted to enjoy my University experience and saving didn’t seem like a priority at the time.

Thankfully, I did not encounter any emergency because truth be told, I am not sure how I would have handled it, especially if it involved money.

A year and three months ago, after graduating and getting a ‘real’ job, I had the first ‘real’ look at my finances with a financial planner. It was mildly traumatizing. I could not comprehend how I got there and the ‘real’ picture was too much for me to handle. It really felt like I would never be able to dig myself out of the pit I had flippantly gotten myself into.

Things do happen in life for a reason. The reason is more meaningful if the intended lesson is learnt or experience appreciated. I met someone who was financially prudent and had just started himself on the path of frugal living and financial mindfulness. I became the sounding board for all the things discovered or read and received recommendations to blogs and books for my reading. Without fully realizing it, I threw myself into absorbing all the information I could regarding finances.

I plunged deep into the world of Gail Vaz-Oxlade[1] and read all her books and re-watched all her shows – I even met her and she helped me set goals and promised to cyber celebrate every met goal with me, something she has done faithfully. I also began reading a blog by Mr Money Mustache[1], a guy who retired at 30 alongside his wife and are raising a 9 year old son. I mention him because many people I have shared my financial aspirations with have said to me, ‘wait until you have kids!’ Mr Money Mustache and family have endeavored to reduce their carbon footprint by living on less and being mindful of the earth.

I switched to a cash only system except for automated payments. I now plan all aspects of my spending and carry cash when I need to buy something. If I have no cash, I am simply not going to spend. Yes, if I have to go out, I look at the menu ahead of time and calculate the amount plus tip before I leave the house. If I don’t, then I have to only spend what I have with me and not more. I know what things generally cost and can spot an overpriced item from a mile away. I always look forward to tallying up my receipts and seeing how much I have saved.

In a society where being cheap or being a tightwad is frowned upon, I have definitely received the odd look or the questioning comment every now and again. In a society where doing well is equated to having things, I am really failing. It can be a bit demoralizing – until I look at my upward trending net worth and I am OK. I always get to the end of the month before getting to the end of the money. I am able to live comfortably on 38 – 40% of my income and my goal is to get to 50%+ savings after my student loans are out of the way.

Wastefulness has significantly dropped and my purchases are more mindful. I have mastered the art of buying just what I need to last without going bad. I have also significantly parred down what I own in clothes, appliances, and furniture. I don’t have things in secret closets and my locker is empty. I figure that if I don’t use it, I don’t need it and therefore shouldn’t own it.

Last week, I had a check-in with my financial planner and he flat out said that I didn’t need him. Having slashed my debt in half and created a good emergency blubber with my savings, I am well on my way to financial independence. My goal is never to worry about money…and this journey has taken away a huge chunk of the anxiety because I can see progress. I do worry about wasting money. Where in the past I would not have been fazed, now, I cringe when I spend money on something I don’t need or a situation arises that makes me spend money that I had not planned on spending.

I seek financial independence because I don’t believe we were meant to punch in and punch out for the rest of our lives in order to make up for it with gifts/things in lieu of time spent with loved ones. I believe we were meant to build and thrive in the relationships that we create. Financial independence for me means being able to freely enjoy time with my partner, my children, my friends, my family, anyone that is in my life at whatever point of my life. I have no desire to miss out on life moments because I have to work. I have no desire to match or exceed the person next to me when it comes to things owned, purses carried, bling shined, cars driven, or places frequented. I want to continue drinking Pepsi-Cola like Warren Buffett even when I can afford $750 caviar with a $5,000 bottle of wine.

I do want to be a billionaire…but for different reasons than Bruno Mars and Travie McCoy. Ultimately, I yearn to continue finding joy in things that do not necessarily cost money.

[1] http://www.gailvazoxlade.com

[2] http://www.mrmoneymustache.com

Stop. Look Around. Be Happy.


I have managed to read five books in two months. The library has been my best friend and there still lies a number of unread books by my bedside. There does not seem to be enough time to read, I find. That means that outside of work, when I am not sleeping, I am reading.

My ears are well trained to listen for my destination announcement but I am unable to tell you what goes on between my boarding and my alighting as I am usually holed up in a book hoping to fit in a few more pages…or beat the book return deadline. I get around to most places without any clue as to who is beside me or around me on the bus or the skytrain. My avid reading tides me from one destination to another. It does help to filter out the nauseating lovey-dovey couples and the nose pickers. It doesn’t help so much with the coughers and the sneezers who will not cover their mouths.

A few days ago, I decided not to read and look around me. I decided to listen for every stop announcement and notice the people standing or sitting around me. While waiting for the bus, I noticed a lady poring over the phone of her screen smiling. Her face lit up like there was nobody around. It was a beautiful sight. Clearly, whatever she was reading or whoever she was chatting with was making her smile. That drew a smile out of me and warmed my heart.

One stop later, a mother with a child in a stroller hopped on. The child said hello to the stoic driver until he cracked and said a cheery hello back. Throughout the ride, the child looked around and said a loud ‘hello!’ to whoever would listen. When they got to their destination, the child happily said ‘thank you!’ and ‘bye!’ and drew another smile out of the stoic bus driver’s face. Again, that evoked some joy within me. This child was in the business of eliciting joy out of people!

When I got off the bus and waited for the light to allow me to cross the road, I casually glanced around and smiled to the people around me. They smiled back. I got into the elevator to get to my work place and instead of focusing on my phone, I smiled and said hi to the people in the elevator. They smiled and said hi back.

Happiness is contagious. I started my shift lighthearted and happy and, somehow, that was a force…a strength to get me through the shift.

I still read while in transit, but I try to glance up every once in a while so that I don’t miss a heartwarming moment.

Yappity do!

The last time I took the Greyhound to Kelowna, I sat beside a lady who talked…and talked…and TALKED all the way from Vancouver to Kelowna. Nonstop. She talked so much that she told me what medications her ex-husband’s father took right down to the dose and how often. I freaked out when I went through the seven rights and three checks of medication administration in my head. That was how much information I was receiving; too much!

I had a book in my hand that I was really keen on reading but I was not sure if not listening would be blatantly rude. Some rules of engagement are a bit vague. I mean, what do you do? Apologize and say that you want to read? Every time I thought she was done talking, she wasn’t. I did not even care that she did not ask me anything about myself…I just wanted her to stop talking. Moreover, the more she talked, the more I thought of Meghan Trainor’s song; Lips are Movin’. Yes, it was that bad.

I was really getting nowhere with my book. Common sense said I should have just shut it and focused on listening to her instead of holding a 1,000+ page book open. I thought that closing the book would further encourage her…although it did not seem like she needed any encouragement at all. There was no right thing to do. I mean, this lady was just piling on intimate detail after intimate detail.

‘I have a boyfriend.’

Hmmm. What should I have said? ‘Me, too!’ ‘Who cares?’ ‘No way!’ ‘Wonderful!!!’ ‘Is he hot?’ ‘You know, a lot of people have those!’ Believe it or not, I could not come up with an intelligible answer. I just nodded. Thirty minutes since meeting her, I doubt that we were THAT close that I could come up with a response that made sense. I did NOT want her to tell me about him. I did NOT want to open that line of conversation, or any other one, for that matter.

‘We see each other fairly often. I mean, we are not gonna get married or anything. My ex-husband and I are really close so I am happy with the arrangement.’

Great! Even with her level of disclosure, I am sure if I had asked her why her ex-husband and her were no longer together, she would have spared me no detail. If I asked her about her boyfriend, she would have told me. And she did! Without my soliciting the information.

‘He does not live too far from me. We like to drink at the end of the day. But I can’t drink too much because I spent last New Year’s Day in the drunk tank.’

Aaaah! Aaaah! Aaaaaaaaah!!! Pineapples!!!! Pineapplesssssss!!!!

She never stopped talking. She told me about her children, her grandchildren, where they lived, and their pets (honestly!). She even showed me pictures. At this point, my book was hurting my pinky finger but I was still unwilling to put it down. I thought holding it up was rude but that was not a deterrent to her nonstop talking. Sigh.

I thought that was a one off situation until I ran into a similar situation two weeks ago. I was headed to Hope and the bus was fairly empty. Most people did not have anyone seated beside them. We were about to leave when I heard a voice from behind me:

‘Nice hair! My friend is from Jamaica and he does hair. His name is Pato. Very friendly guy.  He has a client list so long that it can be hard for him to manage. His shop is on Main Street. Main Street and 29th…?’ (looking at me for confirmation)

How am I supposed to know where Pato’s shop is located? I don’t even know who Pato is!

‘I don’t know’  I responded weakly.

‘Yeah! Good guy, though! I don’t let anyone touch my hair except for my godfather. I’ve known him for 47 years. I’m turning 49 in a month but everyone says that I don’t look my age.’


‘Yeah! I’m going home to celebrate my birthday with my parents. We are going fishing.’


‘Yeah. People say I look like I’m in my thirties. You know, I exercise and eat well. I gotta take care of myself. I wanna be around for a while.’


‘I have a son. He’s six. I lived in Mexico and started a family and all that but it didn’t work out so I moved back here.’


‘I’ve traveled all over…Philippines, Colombia, Mexico, the United States and I still say that Canada is the best place in the world.’


I did not have a book this time. I had EARPHONES! I just wanted to listen to my music…’your lips are movin’.

Now, what is interesting is that this guy was out partying all night prior to his trip and he did reek of alcohol from the day before. Before the bus pulled off, he rushed out of the bus to find out if he had time to smoke, then rushed right back. He got out to puff at every single stop. I was OK with not sitting next to him but being in front of him did not offer me any advantage both with the conversation and odor.

I’m not sure which kind of unwelcome speech is preferable. A few weeks ago, I got on the bus in the city and sat down. The bus was not full so I did not have company. A guy moved a few rows up close to where I was, sat across from me and dove right in!

‘Are you married?’ I said no.

‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ I hesitated and responded in the affirmative. I do not know if any response would have mattered, anyway, and I thought that an affirmative response would get him off my case.

‘Is he serious about you?’ I was not getting uncomfortable or anything. I mean, I have this sort of banter all the time! Some people around me were watching amused. Others looked away. My eye brows were furrowed. PAIN!!! Nobody was going to rescue me. I got off at the next stop. Ten stops from my destination.

I wonder what gave him the reason to believe that it was OK to intrude my space and my personal life that way.

I wonder why some people dump their intricate details on strangers. If the norm of reciprocation is in action, sure! I have had conversations with people on the bus or plane that have been mutually un-creepy. But more recently, my experience has been that it does not matter to some people what they say to you or whether you listen.

No! No! Don’t anyone tell me that these people are lonely and need a listening ear! I do not want to be that listening ear by force! I just want to enjoy my ride to wherever I am going without feeling attacked or smothered.

In the words of Njugush, ‘Is it too much to ask?’