Turn the Colombian beat around

‘The sky was all purple; There were people runnin’ everywhere;
Tryin’ to run from the destruction; You know I didn’t even care’
— Prince, 1999

A Colombian soldier  on security duty in 2012 in La Macarena. Photo: US Special Operations Command South

A Colombian soldier on security duty in 2012 in La Macarena. Photo: US Special Operations Command South

Colombia in the 1980s was the place Canadians liked to visit. So it seemed only natural in 1989 when working abroad in Toronto that my flatmate and I decided we wanted to party like it was 1999 for one week in the Caribbean resort of Cartagena.

Our plane took off on November 27, 1989. Almost three hours in the captain made an announcement. The plane would be diverted to the United States. The air space over Colombia wasn’t safe. He was waiting for further instructions.

Twenty minutes later the captain announced our plane would land in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Those on board who wanted to stay could, or return to Toronto via New York that day.

The speed at which the flight attendants found out what all passengers on board wanted was amazing. We were told our holiday in Cartagena could be transferred to a resort in Puerto Plato, north of the capital. We would stay at a 4-star resort for the week and guaranteed a flight back on our nominated return date. Wow!

Colombia it seemed was under terrorist siege! All foreign aircraft heading to the region had been cancelled after a domestic Colombian flight was destroyed by a bomb. Five minutes into Avianca Airlines Flight 203 took off from Bogotá an explosive detonated killing all 101 passengers and six crew on board. Another three on the ground lost their lives. No one in Colombia was partying in 1989.

On landing in San Domingo and transported to our 4-star resort sanctuary in Puerto Plato we discovered the bombing of Flight 203 was the deadliest single criminal attack in the many decades of Colombian  violence. The Medellin drug cartel planned the bomb in hope it would kill presidential candidate César Gaviria Trujillo. He wasn’t on board and went on to become the 28th President of Colombia, from 1990 to 1994. Gaviria was also successful in leading the fight against the cartels.

Life's a beach at Puerto Plata.

Life’s a beach at Puerto Plata.

That night, Prince’s chart-topping apocalyptic song 1999, released in 1983 and again in 1985, was on repeat play on the turntable. Guests on the Puerto Plato resort were urged to party like they didn’t care. The Dominican Republic was a Caribbean cartel-free safe haven.

From then on I always wanted to return to Colombia but it never felt safe. It has only been in the past few years that the Bacrim [Bandas Criminales]— aka Colombia’s narco-paramilitary gangs — have been in decline and touted as the reason behind Mexican cartel activity ramping up instead.

Though this doesn’t mean organised crime or violence on the streets of Colombia will go away, there is a renewed sense of purpose among locals that life in their country has much to offer, and there are plenty of people hoping to share in that sentiment by teaching Colombians English as a second language as a way of raising the bar on communication.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist and blogger who is also ESL accredited and hopes to visit Colombia some day soon to bring business English skills to locals. 

Fine line between yes or no

‘There are many talented people who haven’t fulfilled their dreams because they over-thought it, or they were too cautious, and were unwilling to make the leap of faith.’ James Cameron

Sometimes the journey we want to take gets diverted. A setback if you will or a temptation put in your path to confuse, leaving you with a decision to make: take a chance and stay on course, or play it safe.

It’s tough enough to believe in yourself when few around you do and it’s tougher still to stay the course when so many want you to remain in the “this is enough” club.

It seems when you identify the work you can’t not do and take a leap of faith to follow it, it makes others nervous when you return to the fold. Refreshed and with a renewed sense of purpose that has put life into perspective, you’re often met with suspicion, even derision.

3555228460_216541cd89_bTrying to get a foot back into the nine-to-five door after a year-and-a-half pursuing a dream overseas has been tough to say the least. Sure, that dream will still be pursued on a part-time basis but that’s perhaps where the problem lies. People don’t trust that you’re 100 per cent committed to the job you’re applying for. Amazingly they distrust your motives.

Instead of celebrating an opportunity that broadened your skills and gave you a better understanding even inside edge into an evolving workplace, it’s seen as a betrayal to those who remained behind.

I guess it is the times we are in. With unemployment set to rise above 6.5 per cent in Australia and a print media industry in turmoil as thousands are laid off to accommodate the coming of the digital era, the message is clear. Be prepared to accept whatever’s going at whatever price. Be grateful to even get considered for a look-in. Don’t mention other interests.

During a recent job discussion that left me wondering whether the company was interested in hiring given two weeks had passed without a firm offer, I decided I should move on to finding work elsewhere. So when I forced the issue by stating there were other things I could pursue, it sent the person negotiating with me over the edge. It wasn’t meant to.

As one friend said, the universe is telling you to wait or miss out on an offer to participate! In hindsight, I obviously viewed it as a diversion that stopped me focusing on the things I really wanted to do.

During this time of applying, waiting, applying for more jobs, waiting longer still, I spent the time wisely gaining new skills from online courses which culminated in the book I hoped to publish being accepted on Amazon’s Kindle platform.

So when all job hopes dried up at least I would have something positive to hang onto and perhaps a new skill base to pursue!

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist, blogger and more recently children’s author after securing self-publishing rights with Amazon.

Set a plan before the horse bolts

Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success. Dale Carnegie


Tame the distraction beast.

Strap yourself in for a galloping 12 months as the Year of the Horse takes off. If you haven’t been kicked yet, it may be around the corner because this Chinese New Year is likely to bring great highs and lows.

The best way to combat the lows is to stay positive. As American self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie attests it is possible to change other people’s behaviour by changing your behaviour towards them. His modern-day counterpart Ken Blanchard agrees.

So it is all down to you to create your destiny and achieve something great. You just need to get started and as luck would have it there’s plenty of people around to help. You just have to identify those “people who can” and apply the things that worked for them to your project.

One inspiring person “who can” is Chicago-based author Bryan Cohen. He’s joined the ranks of helping others to help himself. He’s not only written 36 e-books but he’s also running a Udemy course on How to Work for Yourself.

You’d think the course would be how to set up a business plan, but Cohen focuses on motivating people to get a side project up. And he’s good at it. His mantra is people who take action are miles ahead of planners.

Don’t get him wrong, you still have to plan. One to get started, one to keep you on target, one that lists your daily goals, another to capture things that didn’t get done, a 90-day-plan, a creative plan… Cohen sure knows how to help you plan to make every minute of your life count!

After finishing the course in just one day I wrote down all my goals for the year. Broke them down into a step-by-step process to allow me to achieve them in bite-size chunks, then refined those chunks down even further to create set tasks to experience progress daily.

Think then plan! The Thinker in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Think then plan! The Thinker in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Now that I’m on the right path to creating something great, I just need to schedule reading time for those proven success formula texts such as Tom Hopkin’s Official Guide to Success and Ken Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager. Blanchard’s idea of being a servant leader really resonates.

Then there’s those websites to trawl including LeechBlock — a simple productivity tool designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day. Really good for Facebook addicts.

I particularly like the Stayfocused challenge where you work for 25 minutes straight and then break for five minutes. Whoever thinks this stuff up is a genius.

However my favourite is the recommended app Couch to 5k. If you want to work full-time and make progress on a side project you need to be fit and just like Cohen’s suggestion to just get something done daily, this app inspires you to start with a brisk 5-minute walk, then alternate 60 seconds of running. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist and blogger trying to achieve a side-project goal to publish the FREE children’s e-book she wrote in 2013. Watch this space!