Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In Conversation With...Amy Tizzard

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Amy  Tizzard’s story proves two things: A little education (or a lot) can take you a long way, and no matter where a Nova Scotian goes, they always come home. 
When Amy graduated from Oxford Regional High School in 1998, her budding love of travel was evident in her choice of post-secondary education. She headed to Sir Sandford Fleming College’s School of Natural Resources in Lindsay, Ontario. 
“I knew going in that I wanted something hands-on and outdoors-oriented,” the 33-year-old says of her career plans. “I went there because in the first semester, you take Fish and Wildlife, Forestry, Geology, Drilling and Blasting. Then you specialize.”
After her first year, Amy specialized in geology. Out of all those possibilities, what grabbed her about geology is that it was the most interesting, a feeling clinched by her first summer job in geology.
“My first summer jobs were at Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, and that was fun. I was the one taking tour groups to the beach and talking about the rocks and the geological history including dinosaurs and the rock and mineral specimens you can collect.”
After graduating from Fleming with two diplomas, she was able to use those credits towards a geology degree at Acadia University in Wolfville. 
A sense of adventure is part of Amy’s love of learning and she calls a summer job on Baffin Island as the ‘hook, line and sinker of summer jobs’. 
“I had to map one side of the island to the next, mapping which direction the glaciers moved, what rocks they deposited where. We had a 500-hour helicopter budget so the job was heli-hiking across  Baffin Island.”
Her studies would take her even farther from home and on more adventures. She drove across Canada to the University of Victoria to begin a Master’s degree and ended up doing field work in the Yukon (more helicopter rides and one grizzly bear in her tent). While completing that degree, she moved to Australia where she spent three years working in the outback.
“It was amazing, awesome,” Amy grins. “It was a good experience.”
The need for home as well as a niggling urge to try something completely different brought her back to Cumberland County.
“I like going to new places and trying new things,” Amy says, “but I wanted to get bees and I couldn’t while living in the city in Australia so I came back home and started working independently.” 
After four months in Botswana, a country on the west coast of Africa, the global economic crisis hit and mineral exploration was slowing down so she settled into her parents’ home just outside of Oxford. She took up bee keeping, to which she applied the same dedication to learning that she applied to her degrees. She also returned to school for  a certificate in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) which is map-based science used in many industries. She also wanted to stay in Nova Scotia. 
“I wanted a local job,” Amy admits. “I didn’t want to keep going away for work anymore.”
By the time she completed her GIS training, she was working for a company in Halifax as a consultant, travelling anywhere in the world, including back to Australia a couple of times. But the combination of her geology degrees and the GIS made her extremely sought-after.
Accepting a job in Namibia, on Africa’s west coast, meant going independent again (and rehoming her bees) then hopping on a couple of planes for the 37-hour trip to a village called Kombat that is owned by the mining company for which she works. Amy’s work is to determine if the mine can be reopened. 
Working in a traditionally male-dominated field hasn’t been an issue for Amy.
“I have worked with other women in the industry and they’ve been very encouraging and inspiring,” she says. “Right now, I’m in a good position but there are those people who don’t respect younger females. I’ve only ever had a few problem people.”
Loving the unique work and being good at it is opening up the world to Amy. 
“In Geology, there’s a lot to learn, it’s a huge subject but I think the reason that I’m into that is getting paid to go travel and experience different places,” says Amy. “You go off the beaten track, where the tourists don’t go. That’s exciting.”
She says Namibia is very stable, politically.
“It’s very sparse. There’s tremendous potential there. It’s totally undeveloped in the mining sector but even in tourism. You don’t hear about it.”
She calls it a “different frontier”. On the 50-kilometre drive from the airport in Windoek to Kombat, she has seen wart hogs, zebras and a giraffe. Nearby is the Etosha National Park, a wildlife sanctuary. 
“It’s always good to see elephants,” Amy says. “They are bigger than you think they are.”
She shared her home with a tarantula for a few days. While she’s not scared of spiders, she holds a healthy fear for Namibia’s venomous snakes. 
“Snakes, yes, all the time. At the house, at the office. Very aggressive snakes. I had them install extra rubber along the bottom of the doors. I don’t get too worked up about it but I’m mostly in the office. If I was a field geologist like I was in Australia, then I’d be working in the bush.”
Amy is home now for a few months because of issues with her work visa but she expects to return to Namibia in July. For the time being, she’s fixing up the cottage she bought at Cameron Beach. 
“It’s always refreshing being in Africa and seeing what people live with there,” Amy says. “What you need versus what you want. They have almost nothing. So I try to simplify things here. I’m not looking to buy a big house. I just want a small cottage.”
Ideally, she’d love to spend the winters in Namibia and summers in Nova Scotia.
“It’s the best of both worlds. I get to travel and be in Namibia then come back here and be normal. I kind of stick out there. There are’t many white women in the area.”

Amy and her dog Maisy on the deck of her parents' home overlooking the River Philip.
For more about Amy's adventures with bees, check out this link: 

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