Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Australian customs take a turn in Bali, India

Happy Australia Day!

This morning we were eager to dig in to the vegemite, sao crackers and iced vovos we have been hoarding for the occasion. Belatedly, we realised that India day and Australia day fall on the same date - how appropriate! We took advantage of the empty office to make a mess of the kitchen as we cooked a huge batch of pancakes. Thank goodness Manju, the cook, is not here to see us or we might have to excuse our mess by convincing her that Australian cooking rituals involve splashing flour over the bench tops and our faces. No...we haven’t lied about Australian traditions to explain our quirky behaviour before - what are you talking about!
At the moment we are having a great time producing short videos documenting FEGG’s work for the website. Over the past few weeks, Claire has been surreptitiously gathering footage from around Bali. It is easy to capture great film from the safety of an auto-rickshaw (although the bumps don’t help much) but when we are standing amongst the action, it starts to feel a little awkward. We even found ourselves coaching people into a rickshaw yesterday for the sake of the camera and cheering aloud when we captured the footage we needed – a tad unprofessional. We were amused to find that people froze for a photo not realising that the camera took moving pictures, resulting in some hilarious footage of families arranging themselves in a pose and waiting for the click. Because Claire was trying to capture ‘natural’ scenes she was ironically stumped when she needed a clip to illustrate the strange looks we get in the street. Maybe we’re more foreign than the camera! While Claire painstakingly sorted through hours of footage on her precious Mac, ‘Evie’, Amelia got stuck in to writing the voice-over scripts on her stodgy PC, ‘Alfie’ (updates on this blooming romance will follow due to popular demand).
The voice-over scripts proved to take up quite a bit of our time. We practiced them endlessly repeating the passages slowly and with lots of expression, reminding each other to articulate ev-er-y syll-a-ble. After many a recording of both our voices, we tried to choose which one was best. After a rally of “I can’t decide – I think they’re both good?!” we settled on Claire’s dulcet tones.
Apart from our vanity regarding voice quality, one of the biggest challenges lay in recording the voice-overs without the background chorus of parrots, chai-wallahs calling out their wares, children playing in the street, motorcycles, Manju cooking dhal in the pressure steamer or Amelia yawning and bursting into giggles. Thankfully they’re done now and Claire has settled down into editing. Amelia then set her sights on writing up the stories of the girls who had been interviewed. While compiling the data, she shared snippets of the girls’ lives: a sober note to remind us of why FEGG, and in turn 2 Australian students, work here in Rajasthan. It is important that we never forget those girls who are the real reason that organisations like FEGG exist.

Week Four update in Pen by Sasha Perri

Our Weekend In Pen

This week we lost our beloved Christine to the States and as such, we were not very motivated to go anywhere. Gillian flew to Varinassi to write a paper and buy us some silk. Bertina, Alyce and I stayed home. There is not much to do in Pen of a weekend tourist wise that can not be done on a week day so Saturday was super relaxing. Alyce and Bertina went to Dr. Jane's clinic where they pretended to be patients and I went for a walk (Pen does not really have a gym, even so - how can you really go for a run in a sari?) and bought some much needed and long awaited toilet paper, mehendi cones and some stationary supplies for school including a red pen. Toilet paper is nearly impossible to find in Pen (or anywhere non-touristy). I found some at the long benched general store that is a part of the same building the post office is - near the cinema. Typical Indian directions. Everything is near the cinema these days. The sudden chunk of downtime and absence of Christine and Gillian made me feel a little bit homesick.
During the night our neighbours had a raging music party. By neighbours, I mean the middle aged couple next door. By party I mean, praying. By music, I mean Hindi doof doof chanting. By night I mean 10pm. Hahahaha... But when I say raging I mean raging, it was happy and loud. Ah India/Pen...
On Sunday, Alyce, Bertina and I volunteered our time to "help out" at a high school excursion to a biscuit factory with Sharad. It was so much fun. We awoke at 6am - or, Alyce awoke at 6am. Caught a bus to Pavel at 7.15am. Arrived at a large school hall and met some of the teachers and students. Boys and girls, although together were always kept sociallising and sitting separately. We were to be taking about 100 kids to this factory aged 12 to 18. They all wore their school uniform of a brown blouse/shirt with darker brown dress or pants (boys only). Very bland from the bright white, red and blue of Mother Teresa (apparently result of a parental boycott of the old grey and grey uniform - 1 point to the little people). Sewn onto their uniforms was the school crest - some where in English, others in Mahrati (or Hindi). Each uniform was very simple and upon closer observation you can notice that each child has had an abundance of repairs on their dress. You can see the fraying and the stitching back and the size adjustments made, probably by parents, so that these kids can go to school.
So, 100+ children plus several adults/teachers, plus us three piled onto 2 buses - seating ability of each bus was approximately 30 seated. Air conditioning = open windows. It. Was. Hot. But we enjoyed the bus rides as the children made us laugh. Everybody was singing on the bus - the only song we recognised was "All Iz Well" from hit Bollywood new release The Three Idiots. As SOON as I get back I am downloading the soundtrack. It is a fantastic song. Hilarious.
The bus began to slow down and the children began to remove their shoes and socks. Our first stop was at a Hindu temple. Under instruction, I kept my shoes on at first. Upon entering the temple there was an astro turf walkway that lead past a large shoe area/metal shoe rack (like book cases) where we left our shoes neatly. Walking across a largem white cold floor I caught up with the kids to ask for instructions on what to do. From inside the temple you can see a gushing riverway that is really peaceful to look at. I supervised some boys as they misbehaved by trying to push each other in. As soon as I stood near them they stopped. Magic.
I wandered around the inside of the temple for a while enjoying the moment as no photographs were allowed (or, as I was later informed, no photographs allowed Sometimes - when no one is looking). I was dwarfed against the high white and red ceiling, my bare feet on the cold flat ground felt nice and relaxing and picturesque. Some children showed me how to bow to a statue and put my hands over some smoke and over my head (or something).
We moved through a gate to the next statue - same tranquil setting, nice green grassy lands, surrounded by statues and priests. I rang the bell that hung from the ceiling in front of a statue and after bowing to another statue a little girl with pigtails gave me the bindi.
All relaxed and happy we began our trek. Barefoot, we walked across a popular pathway to another shrine. The ground was worn away and a little rocky so we jumped between tuffs of grass. On the way i was swamped by 12 - 18 year old boys who all wanted to know 99999 things about me - What is your name? Where are you (from)? What is your mothers name? What is your fathers name? Do you have brother? You like sport? Are you teacher? What do you do in Australia? You know Hindi? Who is your (film) hero? &c. &c.
We reached some ashfelt road, entered the next shrine with the bell ringing and prayed to a giant rock. The boys explained to me that this was the Rock God. Then we prayed to a sitting couple statue and a picture. Although I can't recall any of the names of these Gods, it was a really nice thing to be a part of. At every moment I had minimum of 20 kids asking me questions (by this point Sharad, Alyce and Bertina where Somewhere Else on the Track). I managed to salvage from the conversation around me that we were about to walk up a big mountain. I looked up and saw a red Ohm symbol painted on a white circle. We had to do it barefoot. The road was all ashfelt. I was keen. It was a decent slope the whole way up but during the steepest sections, it was definately worthwhile to run. Everybody was watching me. Occasionally a group would grab my arms and ask the 99999 questions again - What is (your) favorite dish? And there I was running barefoot up a spiritual mountain side wearing the traditional Indian pants and dress combination... Ah India.
Near the top was a spiritual stop off. The girls grabbed me and showed me how to pray to this particular statue. It was difficult to copy because they all do it differently. I guess this means there is no real wrong answer. One of the girls gave me another bindi which resulted in my spending the morning with a Super Bindi (like a bindi only smudged). Continuing up the mountain we reached stairs. If I could do this everyday, I would. Climbing the 9999 stairs we reached the heavily graffitied Ohm. Success. Now, into the cave. Using what English they had, the boys tried to explain to me that the cave was scary and dark. Once I had grasped this concept they told me "Ladies First" - I had been holding up a line of 50 boys because out of respect (or Something) the women had to be the first to pray to the statue. Ops. I bowed and prayed and a priestess (or equivalent) gave me a handful of peanuts and sugar. Terrified I discreetly slipped the peanuts into my bag just in case I HAD to eat them. I ate the sugar lumps though. Outside the tiny cave, some students were entertaining a monkey by throwing him biscuits. We all laughed and fed the money. Then, about 10 more appeared... Then 20 more and more, more, more monkey... They were super cute and throwing small rocks at us. We started our way back down the mountain.
Walking down the mountain was harder than going up and one of the kind teachers engaged my in conversation and asked a new set of 99999 questions about Australian life. I noticed one of the girls had not taken her shoes off. She is muslim and it is against her religion to take her shoes off outdoors thus they made an exception and she was allowed to wear shoes.
Taking a different route back to the temple along much rockier ground I got a fantastic view of the ground and forgot to look up. As we had almost made it to smooth ground, I looked around and saw I had been missing the most fantastic scenery of green trees and water and irrigation and people and such. I get the feeling that the trees were evenly spaced. It was fair beautiful.
Back through the temple, out a side door, along the street a little and we were back at our beloved shoes. Ahhh.... the luxury.
In an attempt to get everyone back on the bus the teachers yelled at the kids to get on the bus as they bombarded a street seller of small chip packets (rs 5) and pepsi and non-cold water bottles (rs 15, white). In India, things have the Maximum Retail Price printed like a use by date on things unlike in Australia there is the Recommended Retail Price. In India, you do not sell for the MRR - you sell for slightly less than the MRR. In Australia, the RRP is generally the minimum cost you'll find something without a Sale. And then there is the White Price, generally for white skin in India you'll pay the MRR because the sellers assume we can afford it. The thing is, we can.
Another overheated bus trip went by slowly with some students singing, some sleeping and some doing both. We reached an office similar to CFI (Children's Future India). We strolled through their development project success room where the people had made scale models of the land and how these people had made the land more fertile over time for the people to live off specializing in herbal medicines, trees and plants such as Aloe Vera. They gave the girls a lecture in Hindi and us booklets in English... We drank chai.  As you always do in India. On the wall in one of the office rooms I noticed a schedule. It went something like this:
11am: morning tea break
11.30am: the caste system
12: lunch break
12.30: tea break
1pm: empowering women of low caste
1.30pm: tea break
2: troubles in the household (tea included)
2.30: tea break
                        .... classic.
After our stroll through, it was time for the next lot of students to go through. Alyce, Bertina and I sat in an outdoor, circular, gazebo type thing and watched the girls play a game. The best way to learn the game, I discovered, is to actually just try to play it.
The girls hold hands in a circle and run in the same direction. As they spin they call out "Bongo" (or similar) They let go to find themselves dispersed in a circle in the area. One girl starts. She turns to her left. Girl 1 and Girl 2 face each other. Girl 1 is the one in charge. Girl 1 needs to get Girl 2 out or she will have only passed the jump. Girl 2 must jump at the same time as Girl 1 or be out. If Girl 1 steps on Girl 2's foot then Girl 2 is out. If Girl 2 jumps before Girl 1 - she is out. If Girl 2 successfully jumps out of the way or in time with Girl 1 then Girl 2 becomes Girl 1 and she must turn to her left and jump on Girl 3's foot. When a girl finally gets out, all girls must go back into the centre to spin and call out "Bongo" again. Complete until there are only 2 girls left who face off to the same rules. A fun game, good for large groups.
Back on that oven of a bus.
Finally, we arrived at the Parle Biscuit Factory. No phones. No photography. No loud noises. Please respect the workers. I waved to the workers out of habit (when you're a celebrity it is polite to wave at everyone) and they smiled and waved back. We started to watch a Hindi advertisment for Parle which was a elaborate and hilarious cartoon of the Parle company's history. (To become a celebrity is simple - have white skin in Pen, Raigard, India.) Starving, we were taken as guests to the food hall of the employee's and served plates (tv dinner style) of 1 vegetarian curry, 1 dhal, rice, chappati and papadaums. Being white our food was brought to our table (normally a self serve system) and we were served first. Being white, we were also given spoons - I didn't touch them. Being white, the mess hall's lights and fans were turned on. Being white, they used less spice to make it mild. Mild in India is not Mild in Australia by a long shot. I enjoyed the searingly spicy meal and have learnt a new Life Lesson: RESIST the temptation to drink water during a spicy meal; wait until you have finished eating.
Finally, finally, finally, the cookies! (a bit of a "When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory!?" day) Escorted into the oven - it was swelteringly hot. We saw the cookie dough being mixed and cut into rectangle cookie shapes through a long oven. The smell was to die for, so delicious and so MUCH of it. I wish I had been filming, the repetitive action was so mesmerising.
Everything happens in one long room to the speed of the conveyor belts from the dough to the boxing (and awesome automatic sticky tape machines). If you leapt off the visitor balcony, you'd score a mouthful of biscuits (before plunging onto a 280 degree oven). Piles of biscuits were discarded for not being rectangular enough or broken. Quality control was one man standing and staring at packets of biscuits being conveyor belted along in front of him before being automatically packaged then manually grouped into plastic bags by 2 seated men and onto another conveyor belt. We watched the whole process of half the factory, I guess the same thing happens 4 times over through the room. It was fascinating. Wish I had footage because I can't describe the pattern the biscuits fell in (optical illusion) from the cookie cutter to the oven.
Afterwards, the children were rewarded with packets of Parle biscuits for answering Hindi questions in Hindi. Others were rewarded for singing. Singing for biscuits. They all had a fantastic time. I have some footage of this that I'll upload in Australia. Alyce, Bertina and I each got 5 packets of Parle biscuits. They taste identical to Arnott's milk biscuits (the oval ones). I'm going to give my packets to the kids at Mother Teresa.
All in all a good day with the kids.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Amy Wilson reporting back from Pokhara, Nepal

Its has been an amazing three weeks, and we are all having a ball and getting on like a house on fire!!!

So, we flew into Kathmandu and had a night there on the 2nd of Jan. I was overwhelmed by the pollution and the sheer noise of Kathmandu.  I was lucky, I had met up with the other Sydney volunteers in the departure lounge at Sydney airport and we had had 9 hours in Bangkok to bond and get to know each other on the way to Kathmandu, which was really good, we already felt like one big family before we even arrived in Nepal (and that feeling has been cemented over the last few weeks). That night in Kathmandu we met up with the other volunteers and all had dinner in the city. We had Dal bhart, not realizing how ofetn we were going to eat later on, otherwise I think we would have had a western dish as a lst good bye.

We only had that one night in Kathmandu the next morning we left really early (6:30am) and got on a bus to Pokhara, the bus ride was 7 hours but we passed the time listening to our ipods and playing Marfia. We had one night in a hotel in Pokhara (where we ate dhal bhat again) and then we we taken to the Tibetan Refugee village where we are living and met our families. I am staying with a lovely widow called Tashi, with Laura and Sarah. Tashi is a great cook. We eat a vegeterian meal every night and she knows how to make vegetables taste really yummy, and every morning she makes us traditional Tibetan bread for breakfast.

Sarah and I are teaching together in a school in Lakeside (the main tourist part of Pokhara) called Good Will Activity school. It is a Christian missionary school and half the children there are orphans who live in a boarding house behind the school. The children are lovely and so far I have taught years 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, so a little bit of everything!!!! But now we have a timetable but we still ge to teach around 5 classes  day and everything from social and English to maths and science. The kids are so cute and having been teaching us to play their games and some Nepali as well!!

All the volunteers (all 13 of us), the first weekend we were officially on our placements, hiked up to Sanrongkok to watch the sunset over the mountains and then the next morning to watch the sunrise (we stayed in a hotel up there). The mountains were beautiful!! To get back down the mountain we decided to paraglide down, it was AMAZING!!!! The views were spectacular and my pilot did some aerobatics on the way down which was some much fun!!!!!!!!!

This weekend 8 of us have travelled to Chitwan and it has been amazing!!! We spent yesterday visiting the elephant breeding centre and taking in a cultural show and then today we went on an elephant safari and saw 5 rhinos in the wild, had a bath with an elephant which was so much fun, went canoeing down the river followed by a jungle walk so a very action packed day!!!

Otherwise its has been an amazing three weeks, and we are all having a ball and getting on like a house on fire!!!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Zoe on the outdoor project in Northern Thailand

Hope all is well in your part of the world. Thought I should send around a lovely little update.

Well this week we had homestay which is basically where we stay at a village and either help 

in building something or/and teaching. We left at about lunch time on Tuesday and headed what we think was north. The first village we stayed at was quite small, it had about 30 families living there, they were a Lahu tribe. 

Very interestingly for us they were about to celebrate New Years which consists of building a tower using bamboo, decorating it with ribbon and bright paper and then placing rice patties and a pig's head on top. Then they light a fire and we spent the night dancing around the pigs head!! 

It was so much fun, one of our guides explained to us that the men of the Lahu tribe are of a lower status to the women and they celebrate New Years over 10 days, the first 5 to the women and the second to the men. So we danced the night away.

The next day we were off to the next tribe, where we were actually going to spend the majority of our stay. Once getting there we were put straight to work, Ken and myself helped build a storage area for a children's school room. The others had to head off trekking to find and cut down bamboo to make the walls of our storage room. The fun bit was when a truck came along and dumped a massive pile of sand and pebbles below us, which we then had to one bucket at a time bring up to the teaching area. That nearly killed us all, we had a line going of pass the bucket but it was still
very slow going. Some of the men of the village that were there also jumped in to help, thankfully!!

After our long hard day of working we were off to party again for the Lahu New Year, more dancing around a fire this time ( and no pig's head). The children loved taking pictures of themselves using our cameras but they loved even more so, was taking pictures of us using our cameras. I have about 10 or so closeup pictures of me!! They were so cute and we had a blast with them.

Sam and I stayed in one of the families homes, was very interesting sleeping there on bamboo, no mattress, just a floor mat and sleeping bag. Some of the other girls were freezing so much during the night they actually tried sleeping under the mat!! 

Thursday was meant to be spent finishing our building but we had finished our work the day before, so we went sight seeing around the area. We went to a temple saw an amazing big white buddha and then were off to Hot Springs in a national park. They were amazing, and so warm (55-65C). 

Considering all we get at home and on homestay are cold showers the hot spring where heaven!! 

We stayed so long in them. Thursday night we were at a different village, still Lahu and celebrated yet again New Year with them!! By this stage we were all pretty over New Year and ended up leaving quite early for bed.

Friday we left our homestay village and headed back to Mirror, very casual and chilled out. Some of us were sick so it was good to be back home. 

Today was an amazing day, we got up early and headed out to the elephant park. We got to ride and feed the elephants they were amazing, and so beautiful and gentle. Except for one elephant who was after food (sugar cane and bananas)  in a plastic bag and ended up putting his trunk into my actual bag!!!! 

But yeah it was awesome! Then we went to the temple where some of the indoor people teach the monks english and got to have a look around. The temple was of course amazingly beautiful but it was also the home of the Emerald Buddha which currently resides in Bangkok.

Tomorrow a few of us are heading off to The Golden Triangle, we should be able to see Burma, Laos and China if we are lucky, and we are catching one of the boats up the river. Should be a great day.

Update from Alyce - UniBreak Health volunteer in India

Harrowing,Exciting and the Mumbai revenge

This week began with another trip out on the medical van, maybe slightly more rewarding than the first week with regards to learning opportunities, I have realized that is just a really good way to explore the tribal villages and even with no Marahti under my belt yet, I have almost perfected the head wobble and the locals seem to find that fairly amusing along with my inability to keep my dupatta in place for any longer than 30 seconds even in the absence of wind or any movement on my part……
Decided I would start a project and presented it to the doctor on the medical van who shot it down quicker than I could get it out which was slightly demoralizing and yet so India, that I quickly reformulated and have decided instead to write a report on HIV infection in an attempt to preserve the already fatherless families that are rampant around Pen.
Had our first visit to the Leprosy clinic and saw some amazing ulcers which when described in graphic detail to our little family in the Pen guest house were met with fear and revulsion equally and I have come to realize that people with a medical background are of a class of their own and what I consider polite dinner conversation is obviously not……..
Went back to surgery and managed to stay a little longer but was overcome with intense travel sickness also named ‘Mumbai revenge’ amongst our little family was forced into the doctors toilet where I was confronted with the now familiar cup of water, but the not so familiar stick with a rag tied to the end, still not exactly sure what it was for, but I could guess and I shudder to think……..
Visited Dr Jain’s clinic which will be staple, he is amazing and willing to teach.
Ended the week with a trip to Goa which began on a bus that would not have been out of place in the arctic and being snuggled by a random tourist to keep in the heat, not necessarily my idea of a great night out!!!!! Although compared to Pen….. the nightlife was a step up.
The rest of the weekend will remain censored for your sake and mine, needless to say we bonded as a family and have many stories that require a couple of beers and darkness to divulge.
Again it was with sheer relief that we returned to Pen after another harrowing night on a frozen sleeper bus with a Mahrati lady who prefers to speak Hindi in her sleep and again enjoys a little snuggle……

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Unibreak Thailand - lots going on!

Dinner at Paul and Kanchana's - how to make a spring roll!

I just had dinner with all the volunteers accept Morgan (she is out in Yafu village on homestay)

All are good and having fun.  After dinner at my house I dropped them off at a farewell party for some of the Thai interns - so as you can imagine life here is pretty tough - Not.

What have they been doing this week?

Weekend gone - they went to Huay Mae Sai waterfall, White Temple and Black Temple.  (A picture of white temple is attached).
Weekend coming - they are planning on going to Chiang Mai for the Bo Sang Umbrella Fair.  (

Zoe - has been enjoying working in the Outdoor team and has been making a lot of bricks.  She is still trying to beat the record for the number of bricks made in a day.  She has also taught a couple of English classes and had a day cleaning and arranging the volunteer office - THANKS!! (that office clean up was much needed)

Emma - Has taught a couple of English classes, taught at the Special School and helped cheer up kids at hospital.

Kayla - Taught at Special School, done child care at Jalae and Pu Kor villages and helped cheer up kids at hospital.

Samantha - Has been teaching English and making bricks and had a day cleaning and arranging the volunteer office - THANKS!! (that office clean up was much needed).  She is also helping write a funding proposal for our Anti-Human Trafficking Project and I have been discussing with her some ideas for work with the youth groups.

Jane - Jane has been out with attending meetings and gaining information with the Thai Citizenship Project.  Also today I arranged for her to visit an IDP (Internally Displaced People)'s camp in Fang district later in the month.

Alicia - Has been doing child care, taught at Special School and helped cheer up kids at hospital.

Morgan - is out in a Lahu village.

James - His last week!  :-(  Child care, teaching the EBannok project workers and teaching at Special School.  James leaves us this week and heads off for a tour of Vietnam and Cambodia.  James has been an excellent volunteer and I wouldn't be surprised to see him back visiting at some stage in the future.

UniBreak India Sasha's second update - a great insight!

It is currently 4.22pm on Tuesday, 19th January (Tuesday week 3) and there is a large red powdered smear between my eyebrows.

Bertina has been kind enough to allow me to use her laptop. Alyce is downstairs doing some reading. Christine is out buying our tickets to see The Three Idiots. Gillian is still at a temple celebrating Ganesha's birthday. I have just gotten home from lunch with the teachers. It is currently 4.22pm on Tuesday, 19th January (Tuesday week 3) and there is a large red powdered smear between my eyebrows.
Today is the Birthday of Ganesh. His story – his mother wanted a child and prayed to a God. She made a statue of a little boy and said a mantra and rubbed special cream into her skin and the statue came to life. She told this little boy she was to have a bath and that he should protect the house and refuse entry to all. The woman's partner turns up and the little boy, unknowing that this is his 'father' refuses him entry, in anger, the guy decapitated the little boy. Hearing a commotion the mother comes out and goes nuts at her partner for killing their son so she sends him away to resurrect him. The man goes off and decapitates n elephant, brings the elephant head forth and places it on the little boys body. So Ganesh awakes with an elephanty head. The end... vaguely.
The little girl who told me the story said that she and her friends runs to the Ganesh temple if it is dark as they are afraid but after they visit ganesh they have his protection so they walk back home. (For all you worried guys out there about girls wondering home in the dark they live practically next to the temple).
I went to lunch with the teachers at a house which had been converted into a roof top restaurant. You leave your shoes in the driveway turned rice kitchen. In the lounge room aka shrine to Ganesha you wait. I was served crisp potato chips on a paper plate with chai in a plastic cup. They sat us down (me being Western they insist on me being in a throne/big chair). Then we stood and sang and clapped for about 30 minutes. We then kneeled to Ganesh and gave him flowers, powder and Rs.11. I;m guessing that is called paying our bill because that is the only money we handed over.
Upstairs (no banisters, strange how odd this was) on the roof of this house was a concrete floor with a long strip of thin material where we ate with our hands. Of course, I have been eating with my hands since my arrival but today – I've realised I've not been doing it the right way. I've been taking a square of chappatti, wrapping that around a chunk of food and in the mouth, But Indian people have an innate magic skill of creating food balls. So they all laughed at me and got sick of me taking so long to eat. I normally eat slowly but these people eat so fast... honestly, I can't keep up. They got me a spoon. BUT I haven't used cutlery in 2 weeks so I was just as clumsy. Anyways, the food was fantastic. I fell in love with these green tuby vegetables that I have never seen before called “drumsticks”...
Everyone has been asking me about how the food is:
We have a female cook who lives nearby. She cooks us three meals a day. Every meal is at a later time than in Australia but we run on India time and I like this. Indian meals work like: lunch at 9am(ish), lunch at 2pm (3.30pm) and dinner at 8pm (10pm). Breakfast is like a lunch, we have had spicy breakfasts. I normally throw in a banana to whatever it is. At lunch and dinner we always get a vegetarian curry, dhal, chappatti and rice. We don't really eat much of the rice and there are some puppies that were born during our first week here so we leave our rice in a chappatti on the side of the road near the puppies and watch them edge towards the pile of food before lunging. I have no issues with the food here. It is all vegetables and mostly spicy and delicious. In Goa I ate butter chicken (so I could say that I did it but butter chicken is actually a Western dish) one night and fish the next night but at first I ordered the mixed vege curry. So good.
We also drink chai – constantly.
Tip: if you do not want to eat something offered just say “it is my fasting day”. People fast for all sorts of reasons so make it up.
Aside: In the villages – the people would rather go hungry for the day than not feed you a huge meal. You HAVE to eat.
If the food is blessed - you eat it. Even if it looks like mouldy fish and still twitching, you eat it. Fortunately, I have not yet been stuck in that situation but on occasion I've had no choice but to drink the water.  I took a vaccine before I left against the water bugs and I drink filtered and bottled water the rest of the time so I'm sure I'll live.
Week 2 was a short week as Thursday was a religious holiday. I have no idea what for because everybody I asked either had a different story or told me in another language. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I taught the children as per usual and they are now accustomed to me being there and occasionally present me with drawings and show me their workbooks for me to check because I always say things like “good work” and “excellent”... I have also taught them the 'thumbs up' concept. This thumbs up concept is great to use on the children who have limited English. Today, one of my favorites who I  have never heard speak any English apart from “teacher”, “question” , “answer” and “I write” showed me his book, when I stuck my thumbs up and smiled he said “good work”. Ah! I taught him a new phrase. I also seriously wish I remembered to bring merit stamps and stickers because writing out praise by hand in 100 text books can get tiring but the children absolutely love it when I write things like “wow” and “great work” because they never get that. It's fantastic to see how happy they are.

So apart from trying to get enough nerve to actually approach the now-scary school principal I have been developing my relationships with my fellow teachers who frequently ask me for help with grammar and get me to teach a range of subjects such as English, Math (hardly), Science, General Knowledge on Australian Life (a new subject which can occur at random), and Value Education. The children were so amazed to see Australian currency. I brought in a collection of Bertina's unexchanged currency and tried to explain what dollars and cents were and what the exchange rate is at the moment – how could one $1 coin actually be 42Rs when that was so much money... One of my smaller classes placed the coins under thei paper and rubbed with their pencils to get the image. 100 cents = 1 dollar and 1 dollar is 42Rs so 5 cents is what? (They still don't really get the concept but neither do I. Five cents to them is still Rs. 5 but I know it is less.)

The children are sponsored by NGO (so if you want to sponsor a kid and be assured that the money really does go to a child then sponsor through NGO because I teach these sponsored kids and can tell you the money is in the right place.) and they bring everything from home (throught their sponsorship) to school. All higher education (University level) is in English here so for these kids to achieve their dreams (as I asked them they want to be teachers, doctors... &c.) a school  like MT is an excellent place since it is English Medium. The school itself has no actually supplies – they can not get merit cards, stickers, treats, &c. They don't even have Western toilets (but they're used to this and the Western toilet in our sharehouse has foot holds on the opening for those who are used to or prefer squatting). The local cinema has nicer toilets than the local hospitals. I've learnt to hold it.
Last week we (12 student sized class) were making houses out of paddle pop sticks, matchboxes and paper for Craft. So, the day before they were told to come to school prepared with these materials to make these houses (because the school has no craft supplies itself). One of my favorite kids brought all his supplies but his interpretation of “paddle pop sticks”  left out the paddle pop part so he brought sticks. I tried so hard but gluing twigs to matchboxes with camel paste is not as easy as it may sound. I even got super creative when he gave up on his twigs and made sticks our of paper and cardboard but he was not impressed because everyone else had sticks. When you are seven years old and everyone else has sticks - it matters that yours is made from paper. The whole time I was asking kids to give this little one their spare sticks – he only needed 4 (even though the instructions use about 10). But none of the kids would give away their paddle pop sticks because – and I quote - “my mother will beat me if she counts I have some missing”. A sentence  like that in an Australia school to a teacher would lead to so many interviews and questions and an obligation to call the police and report it to the Department of Children's services and school counseling.....Western ideals. Eventually I managed to scavange 4 paddlepop sticks from different kids and made them promise to not tell their parents that they shared their supplies. Oh the conflict. I had left Australia as a young, University student, youngest employee of a retail chain, teenager, eldest child, independent traveller, passionate about Human Rights across the globe, most likely to do something  amazing. And here I was. This little boy was going to cry if his matchbox house wasn't going to work, these other kids were going to be beaten if they did not bring home   x  amount of paddle pop sticks and I was Teacher. Authority. Adult. Responsible. Saviour. Only fluent English speaker. Most educated person. In a school that I fell in love with from day 1 only to discover that my ideas are just that.
So, he got his paddlepop house after 30 minutes of my personal anguish as I helped the other 11 kids to build their houses. Just as the bell was ringing and the Paddle Pop Kid was filling his bag - the zipper broke. This kid was destined to be beaten up by his father and no matter how hard I tried to fix it, it was broken. It was then I re-realised that I can't fix everything for this kid. There were a hundred kids around me wanting my attention as I worked on this one zipper.
By Friday of this week I will have started to set some wheels in motion to get this anti-violence campaign going. The only problem is that it is such a big problem, it is everywhere and I can't fix it. I know from experience that all my Western Ideals on justice, fairness, equality and merit card systems that all my passion could very well come to nothing. After all I am here for less than 4 more weeks. Who can change the world in 4 weeks?
At least I will have tried.I choose to feel empowered by my situation.

Sasha's tips and hints on everything from Bollywood to Goa

 I recall wondering in Film tutorials as to why Bollywood was so popular. Here are my revelations based on a Pen, Raigard movie experience:

Just got home from watching The Three Idiots. New release Bollywood film with the classic Bollywood movie traits in Hindi. I recall wondering in Film tutorials as to why Bollywood was so popular. Here are my revelations based on a Pen, Raigard movie experience:

1. The cinema is the cleanest place (it is cleaner than the hospitals)
2. Everybody is treated the same (unless you're white in which case everybody looks at you instead of the screen perhaps wondering if you understand and why you mostly only laugh at the slapstick.)
3. It is the only place in Pen with Air Conditioning
4. It is  40 to 70 Rs per ticket ($AU1 = Rs. 42)
5. The films are typically feel-good and fantastical - things have to be rock-bottom bad before they are so good and all expectations are fulfilled
6. Songs are catchy, I will get the three idiots soundtrack as soon as I get home
7. People don't have tv
8. Books are difficult to come by
9. In Pen, there are two movie theatres in the cinema complex, so it's a real treat to get tickets
10. The door boys say "namaste" - first and only time a "namaste" has been offered to me (they assume white people only need a "hi" in greeting; fair call.)
11. A range of toilets to choose from. (of course no toilet paper or soap but at least there are Western loo's) Ps: there are STILL mozzies; no escape.

The more time I spend in India, the more I understand the way the road system works. I tried to explain to one of the kids that people only beep their horns in anger, frustration or for a negative action. She simply didn't understand "But how do you know if there is someone who wants to get through?" We use lights and signs and everybody obeys the signs and rules. The concept of orderly traffic is so foreign to the locals; no wonder they stare at us, we are aliens.

I have learn't how to cross the road. At first I simply followed the locals but they walk at times where I simply wouldn't dare. The thing to understand is that people don't drive very fast. It is nearly impossibly to drive fast when there are sellers, motorbikes, bicycles, autorickshaws, dogs, cows, pedestrians, rubble, buses (never think a government bus will dodge you just because every single other vehicle will - it won't),  cars and who knows what else. Motorbikes are safer than bicycles. Taxi's are not found in rural areas as they are much more pricey than an autorickshaw (Maximum price Rs. 20 in Pen to somewhere in Pen) and a more touristy means of transport. Even so you can go in a half an hour taxi ride for less than Rs 300 (that was between 5 of us). 

The more city you get - the autorickshaws die out. The more rural - the taxi's die out. These vehicles are yellow and black, avoid the front seat and be stern. Fix a price and haggle it down before jumping in. Blue and white buses and taxi's are air conditioned and expensive. I wouldn't bother. If you are in a sleeper bus or an AC bus - bring woolens. It is icy. I was sleeping next to Christine and we were frozen, it was so difficult to sleep in minus zero. Well worth lugging warm stuff around on hot days to survive the AC bus.

So far our family of five has been to Mumbai and Goa on separate weekends.

To get to Mumbai from Pen it is a bus ride (Rs 23) to Panvil, rickshaw ride(Rs. 150) to the train station (where the rickshaw driver may or may not stop in the middle of nowhere and try to sell you a different means of transport to Mumbai for more than quadruple the normal price, we were just stern and demanding because after all - we are the ones who call the shots. 

This guy, who tried to explain to us with little English wanted us to take his friends taxi for Rs 500 or something to Mumbai - our train tickets were Rs 15 each) and from the train straight into the heart of Mumbai where white people roam around in Western clothing. It was a real shock. So much for my traditional dress and pants combo - this was the first time I had showed my knees in public. The problem I had with this part of Mumbai was that the line between the rich and the poor is so visual. Talking about it and reading about it can make you get an idea but, of course, it is nothing like actually seeing it and feeling it. The Gate Of India is beautiful and we enjoyed taking family photo's but the people around it are just so poor. There are not too many beggars, the most of beggars I saw was while in a bus or taxi or car. (As soon as i came out of the airport our taxi was approached by a young teen boy wrapped in Ram Ram cloth.) 

They approach the bus and ask for money for school or something. Another form of this is selling things like drinks, sweets, picture books, fruit, (bad) smelly flowers or they want you to put coins into a tin with a picture of a God. Reminds me of the Northbourne Ave window washer in Canberra. In Mumbai they sell packets of balloons "for sister or daughter or mother...", postcards, maps and touristy stuff. In hindsight I wish I'd grabbed balloons for the kids but I automatically turn approachers down due to personal safety and not wanting to hold up the group. So, there is a mass amount of poverty around but the city is essentially very clean and Western. I don't recall the normal piles of garbage on the roadside, or blue tarp which is everywhere else and a sincere sign of poverty. The people make more money because they are in the touristy city and their asking prices are Western prices (i call it the White Markup or White Price). 

I have seen items identical to items in Tree of Life and the asking price is very similar to our shelf price - the settling price however is dramatacally less. They like to see how far you would accept. Always haggle in Westernised areas. It is fun and worth your while. Some sellers even know the exchange rates, they are tough to haggle and they know that Rs 250 is not that much money to us so why would Rs. 100 matter. They also know when you really want  something. My best bargains are from when I walked away. So, I bought my silver (brutally haggled) in Goa and it was way cheaper.Anyways, the point is, Mumbai was fun and I really got a feel for what cost things should and should not be or at least on how is works. In Pen, there is not really a White Markup because there are only 5 Westerners in Pen at the moment.

We spent the night at a YWCA Hotel. $20 each for 5 of us. Nice. Western toilet, toilet paper, water pressure, our own beds and stuff, locker storage, fans, free/included breakfast and dinner. Bottled water was Rs. 20 so that was a rip off... shouldn't have needed to have spent more than Rs. 15. I recommend it.

On our second day in Mumbai, we visited The Taj Palace Hotel and Resort thing. This is where the wealth contrast struck me so visually. The important thing to remember is that spending a few hours at The Taj was a fun, fantasy land moment. Beauty care is still in Rs. so Rs 600 for a decent pedicure, i hear, was well spent. I personally didn't get anything done at the beauty parlour but the girls really enjoyed it like nothing else. I went with Bertina for a walk around The Taj. We snuck into The Taj swimming pool - it's beautiful. The pool boy even assumed we were guests until after he took our photo and I confessed. He said so long as we didn't do anything it was ok despite the fact we waltzed past the "Residents Only" sign. We went into The Taj shops and everything was so expensive. Rs 10 000 for a jacket. The service was amazing though. Also snuck into a main restaurant. It was beautiful. Everywhere you go in The Taj has (Bertina's description) Sim's style music. She is so right. It is a repetitive, mood setting tune that plays softly in the background to add a sense of atmosphere. It was in the bar that it hit me at the wealth divide. The bar overlooks the beautiful harbour with coloured boats. Through the window you can see the clean street with people in brightly coloured sari's and turbans walking past each other, some selling and some buying wares. And all it is is a window between the rich and the poor. 

We gawk through the glass, placed firmly on either side. It was difficult to see especially the balloon sellers - brightly coloured, happy, eager, eye catching yet so terribly poor this is their livelihood. It is the contrast that gets me. How awful would it be if this experience was all you ever  had of India. Sitting in The Taj with a drink after a hair cut in Indian silk listening to easy jazz watching the coloured fabrics. and from the other side? They have everything money can buy yet they won't part with Rs 100 for some balloons. 

I stole a stack of tissues (very soft) and a "The Taj" piece of phone paper (hilarious). One for the travel diary and one because you can't buy tissues. Romantasised, unrealistic and just one great divide. It was fun and novel to sneak around the Taj until we were starting to get followed around by the security staff. It would've been an easier transition if we were in the suburbs like on my first night in the Mumbai guesthouse and it would've been easier if I didn't philosophies on Coloba. I will probably go back there for some hand and foot care before i return to Australia because the DIRT here is just so inescapable and non removable that a few hours at a disgustingly wealthy hotel salon is called for. I also had the choice to eat non-veg but... i ate veg anyways. Veg is good. Mumbai was fun but i prefer real India which starts in the suburbs and just gets more real as you go out and the people have less belongings.

 To get to Goa from Pen, you must travel to Panvil to buy bus tickets for Rs 650. The bus stopped in Pen to pick us up and it was freezing cold. We tried to sleep in recliner chairs but this was less than fantastic. Wasn't too bad though. We got off at Mapusa and caught a prepaid taxi to Anjuna Beach for Rs 250 (i think). We had no bookings for accommodation and it was 7.30am and people don't check out til 10am to 1pm so we went into a cafe and had breakfast. Pretty quickly an employee of the Sea Queen called to us as we walked down a hotel strip wearing our big backpacks and such. We scored a room for all 5 of us (we refused to be separated) for Rs 1000 per night. We stayed for 2 nights but paid for 3 nights so we could stay after the 10am checkout time as our bus wasn't to leave til 9.30pm in Mapusa. Goa is a dodgey area but if you're smart it doesn't have to be. The Indian beach town wasn't always a part of India but it is very wealthy so i think India forced Goa to be a part of it. There are lots of people types in Goa. You can wear whatever you want in Goa. You can eat what you want in Goa. It is a tourist town so people are culturally relaxed. Some classic visions were on the beach and old couples wearing nothing but a too small ugly g-string plus knee length dread locks occurred more than I care to recall - pretty hilarious. 

We ate at a place called Curlies several times which is on the sand of a nice beach. Everywhere you go in Goa - the people live off the water by selling boat rides, water sports, massages, drinks, henna.... they don't give up either. Christine and I went Jet Skiing and Tubing while Bertina lay on one of the free yellow fold out chairs (blue ones range from Rs 50 and up). All the beach bars employ people to invite tourists to eat and drink at their particular bar, etc... it is impossible to get RID of these sellers. They are fairly harmless. The women vendors however grab, pinch, scratch, complain and will drag you to their shop by your hair.

 It happened to me - my arm was grabbed to a stall - luckily I was always with somebody and luckily when it comes down to it, I was the one with the wallet and ability to say no to insanely whitely marked up prices. The shopping in Goa is good. It's like a giant Tree of Life on the beach... I bought pants Rs250, a swimsuit Rs200, fooooooooooooood Rs don't ask and had a fantastic time in the warm Arabian Sea. I wish I had taken out more cash. I did not get burnt. I was able to wear a dress that showed both my knees and shoulders.I could wear my hair down and out. I felt like a girl. It was nice to not be so oppressed by clothing. i had no idea how it actually made me feel to wear such baggy pants and dresses all day to protect my figure from being viewed until I didn't have to anymore. But in saying that, Goa is still a part of India and full of Indians shouting "you want taxi? taxi?  taxi?" after you only when you don't need a taxi. but the beaches are fantastic and you can buy anything at anytime laying on that beach from necklaces to lighters to coconuts. 

It's pretty cool. There are beggars (those spiritual guys who leave everything behind because of a calling or something) but they earn quite a lot, I watched one for a while and the coins came pouring in. I personally don't give to beggars.

Deakin University student Daniel updates on life in Nepal

Pokhara is Fantastic!

Pokhara is fantastic, so much better then Kathmandu, which is a little nuts! The Nepali lifestyle is mind-boggling, that in Australia everyone gets up and goes to work yet in Nepal many don't have jobs. I'd go stir-crazy if I spent all day sitting around my house! We had a few earlier hiccups with our host family, but now things are going very well, they are only disappointed that we have to leave as there is much they want to show us.

Working in the orphanage has been good. Last week was better, they were studying for exams so we had a specific task to help them revise. This week is a little different, they are back at school so we just watch them while they do their homework and help out where we can. I also spent last week weeding and clearing some garden beds at the home where Kathryn and Hayley were, which was good cos you could actually see your progress in something physical!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Deakin Group B

Thulakhet Life

We are in Thulakhet and Pame and can come into town once a week - hard to access emails.

Kathmandu was one crazy place. We all had a ball enjoying the cheap drink prices Nepal has to offer, the amazing sights and atmosphere. From wandering Hindu holy men to Budhist monks to the crazy trafic to the breathtaking pollution, its one amazing and cool place. We were very well looked after by Asim and his team especially Chitiz.

Our bus trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara was an experience, it was rough and scary with a traffic jam due to a couple of overturned buses on the road but amazingly beautiful scenery overall we all enjoyed it and many stories have come out of it.

Pokhara is a beautiful and peaceful town the complete opposite to Kathmandu and our 1st night was spent at the Grand Holiday Inn before being split into 2 groups A and B and sent off to our villages. Group A stayed locally to do orphanage work and group B which I belonged to were taken to our villages of Pame and Thulakhet.

James, myself, Nishi and Kwele are staying in Thulakhet, Ryan, Julian, Raymond and Simon are in Palme staying next door to each other. We are all very happy with our host famillies and really love the village life. Before the construction started we all were designated to teach in the local schools, private and government. The four of us in Thulakhet took care of the Resource centre in the village and taught in the schools during the day.

The construction started last Sunday and all 8 of us from Deakin Group B work on it together, the guys from Palme walk 1 hour each way everyday to get to our village to help out. It has been stressfull as none of us have any experience with digging up and levelling a field, luckily with a German volunteer, Thomas who is the engineer of the project we have the direction.

The construction is 28m by 20m, on a very uneven and rocky surface, and our frustration comes mainly from not having enough tools or the right tools for the job. We have 2 picks and 2 shovels between all 9 of us to dig and try levelling such a uneven and big surface, it is a very physically demanding task. We've asked for a wheel burrow to shift bigger piles of dirt around but we haven't recieved anything so far, so we just use the 4 pans they gave us to shift dirt around. I hope we can get the job done by the deadline, it would be amazing to see all that hard work paying off before we leave.

Anyway, we all love Nepal and think the place is amazing and the people even more so. We are all having a blast especially when we arrive back to Pokhara, and the bus ride from the villages into town is an adventure in itself especially riding on top of the bus.

From the rooftop of the world bye for now

Venturers Nepal

The final days in Kathmandu!

We have just returned to Kathmandu this afternoon after a great time at the Community Project and in Chitwan. After 5 days spent with the Monks and students from Mustang it was hard to leave them behind! However when we reached Chitwan, it was delightful to see Elephants, Rhinos and Deer to name a few...more details tomorrow!
Best wishes from All.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

New Year celebrations in style

Last blog entry from James in Thailand

To celebrate New Year's, a couple of volunteers I'm working with decided to head down to Bangkok for a few days. It was a lot cheaper to get there by bus rather than plane, so we caught a 12 hour bus to Bangkok. The bus ride was an experience to say the least; 12 hours in a bus with no air con or toilet and being told by the male bus attendant that I was very beautiful made it an experience I won't forget for a long time! We got into Bangkok around 5:30am after a night of no sleep, but we still had fun. We went exploring around the city to numerous temples and on the way got stalked and intimidated by a pack of stray dogs. We even saw the same pack of dogs chasing a man down the street - we decided that it was the last time we take a short cut!
We also decided to brave the crowds and watch the fireworks in the main square at Bangkok. After waiting around for two and a half hours in a massive crowd and not being able to move, the fireworks began at 12:00am and lasted for a grand spanking two minutes! The crowd went absolutely crazy for them but we were a bit annoyed - all that time for two minutes of fireworks! Especially after not having sleep for almost 48 hours, being extremely tired and in a massive crowd I wasn't a happy chappy!
The next day was a lot better - we got up after a good sleep to explore more temple complexes. They are amazing here, and it's amazing how calm you feel when you step into a temple. We went to one temple (being the typical tourist, I can't remember the name!) and it was insanely hard work getting around. It consisted of two layers, and to get up to each level, you had to walk up these extremely steep and unsafe steps that would not pass any OHS test in Australia. It was a great experience and the view was amazing, but coming down these stairs was a bit scary especially when someone (read: myself) tripped. After a brief cardiac arrest, I was fine and grabbed the rail - the only safety precaution! That afternoon we went to the Grand Palace to see the Buddha made out of emerald. Considering that it was a public holiday, half of Bangkok decided to go as well and the crowds (and heat!) were pretty unbearable. As we were going into the palace, I got stopped and was told I couldn't go in because I was wearing shorts. I was pretty annoyed because there was a group of girls who got in before me with mini shorts and tank tops - the guards must have turned a blind eye! How convenient! 
On our last day in Bangkok, we went to explore the floating markets about an hour out of Bangkok. We loved it - we would travel in this canoe in this little town (think of an asian version of Venice) and would be pulled in to buy all sorts of goods and food. We then went on to see the Bridge over the River Kwai (think of the movie with Alec Guiness) which was constructed by POW's in WWII. After that we drove on for about another half an hour to go to the tiger temple, which is a sanctuary for tigers and many other animals and is run by monks. It was a surreal experience lying down next to a sleeping tiger - I had never been so close to one before and it was a bit nerve racking at first, but they were so beautiful. After we finished playing with the big kitty's, we caught our bus back home to Chiang Rai and were back home before we knew it!
The last few days I've been teaching a fair bit which has kept me busy and out of trouble. Out of my last two weeks here, I've done a lot of work at the local child care centre's looking after 4 - 6 year olds. They are incredibly cute and full of life, and despite the language barrier they are amazing children. I've also been playing with some of the children at the local hospital one afternoon a week, and I had my first chance to teach monks last week. Teaching them has been the highlight of my trip so far. They were absolutely hilarious and so interesting to talk to. We taught them all about emotions and then asked them to come out and act each of the emotions in front of the class, and they would just sit there and mock each other and make fun of everyone! They were hilarious and I spent about half an hour talking to one monk about whose better: Manchester United or Liverpool. One of the monks also told me I had to do his homework for him; I playfully told him that cheating is very bad and he got very embarrassed but we spent a long time doing it together, and it was a great experience to help them. They were great fun and I even got one of the monk's email addresses to keep in contact with him - apparently whenever I come back to Thailand I have to stay in his room with him and he'll show me around Thailand (monk style!).
On the 9th January, we celebrated the national holiday - Children's Day. We had a staggering 2,100 children come to celebrate. We had stalls, shows, a live band, rides - it was a HUGE day and there was a lot of preparation involved. We spent hours the night before making sticky rice parcels and then woke up early the next morning to help prepare more food! It was a very busy day and having 2,100 children come to our stall to play a game of throwing a ball in a hoop was pretty exhausting! Extremely fun but extremely tiring!
I did have a challenging day recently - myself and three other volunteers spent a very long day at a school for special children. We were teaching a class of about 10 - 15 children who were full of life and were extremely funny. After about two hours, we had taught them everything that we had planned, so we spent the rest of the day playing games with them. One game consisted of getting a bottle of baby powder and singing a song, then when the music stops the person with the baby powder gets to put the powder in their hand and smother it over someone else's face. The kids absolutely loved it and everyone in the room had a a thick layer of baby powder all over their face. I found it quite challenging at the school though because the students (about 200) and teachers live there 24/7. I have enormous respect for those teachers who live there to teach, feed and care for these students all the time. 
So I finish up this coming Sunday and then I'm off to spend some time travelling around Vietnam, Cambodia and southern Thailand for another three weeks. I've had a great time here and I'm actually a lot sadder than I thought I would be to leave.   It's been such a rewarding experience and I cannot even put into words what I've got out of the last six weeks. 

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Intense week for Amelia and Claire in India - their degrees come in handy!

FEGG receives International visitors

So it’s been a busy (and noisy) week for everyone at the Foundation to Educate Girls Globally Office in Bali and we’ve learned a great deal!

FEGG was very fortunate to have two professional photographers and one assistant visit to support the documentation of the success stories Amelia has been working on. The interviews around the Pali district were translated by Parthi, a representative from another NGO, DASRA and together with the field coordinators they recorded 24 unique interviews with re-enrolled drop-out girls, Bal Sabha (girls’ council) and School Development Management Committee members. The various stories shed light on some of the issues affecting girls’ education in rural Rajasthan. Amelia is currently working to piece together the interview data to help FEGG paint a picture of the situation and the real-life challenges that face girls seeking education. Amelia was buzzed to find that many of the research concepts introduced in her Social Inquiry degree being put into practice here in remote India. The highlight of the interview series was a visit to a home in the Tribal Belt. Sitting in the dusty yard with goats merrily jumping around they interviewed two teenage girls who had worked to save the money for their books, uniforms and accommodation close enough to their school. Amelia was blown away by their resourcefulness and determination to continue their education despite a multitude of obstacles.

We suffered our first pangs of separation anxiety as we parted each day for the different projects in the field. Spending every minute together for the last two months meant we couldn’t wait to be reunited and tell each other everything that happened throughout the day. So while Amelia met lots of new people and busily took research notes, Claire was gathering footage of Creative Learning Techniques in action. One of the predominant reasons parents do not see the worth in sending their girls to school is simply that the quality of education is lacking. FEGG is developing a CLT training program to help teachers build supportive, inclusive and interactive learning environments, which increase attendance and retention in classes. Claire will collaborate with a professional in Mumbai to edit together a dvd package that will serve as a training tool for widespread use. This will be particularly useful as many schools have only one or two teachers and cannot spare a teacher for a training course. Again, Claire is thrilled to see concepts mirrored from her Adult Education degree in the ideals of CLT. The exciting methodology that Claire has been sinking her teeth into all year is now so very relevant. We need classrooms where there is continual dialogue between teacher and student and where learning how to learn is paramount.

We loved going out on the field trips every day and flopping into bed at night recalling the day’s events. We loved how busy the office was and sharing our impressions of India with our new photographer friends from New Zealand, America and Poland! Packed into the dining room for lunch with the international visitors, Safeena, Aparna, Dinesh and Parthi, we laughed at who could and who couldn’t eat chilli and who managed to eat the most chapatti. Amelia, who is lactose intolerant found a companion in Kim who also struggles in the land of ghee (unclarified butter).

We still haven’t gotten used to the apparent protocol of visiting schools. A warm welcome is followed by a stalemate-like meeting in the headmaster’s office. We soon learnt that it was pointless to refuse the countless offers of chai, biscuits and seats on arrival but we can’t help but get a little suspicious when we hear “Hindi hindi hindi Australia hindi hindi.”! This process is rapport-building but to one who is used to the frenetic pace of business in Australia, it can be frustrating to sit through awkward silences and dream about all of the things that need to be done!

Photos taken by Kim Seidl from America who visited FEGG this week.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Nepal UniBreak - A selection of Paul's photos

What a view!

This is the rest of the post

Sasha's update on life in India

I have recently arrived home from buying pencils (with free sharpener and eraser), hair ties and imitation m&m’s called “Gems” = approximately Rs. 50 all up.

Today is Monday, 12th January 2010. I am sitting at our glass, round dinner table. Bertina is asleep on our couch. Gillian and Alyce have gone to the Internet café. Alyce will head to the hospital.
Every weekday I get personally taken by Sharad to Mother Teresa English Medium School.
I teach the higher standards. How they divide the students into their standards I am unsure of as three of the classes I teach are all from the age of 6 to 8.
School starts at 8am (8.30am) and I do not arrive until about 9am (9.30am). Punctuality isn’t valued in India. I never had any anyways. At 8am (8.45am) the children recite the equivalent pledge of allegiance of India and sing a national song (possibly the national anthem). Then the lessons begin.
When I first arrived I was surprised at the high quality of the school. From pictures I was expecting the children to be seated on the cold floor, concrete walls with no pictures or colour whatsoever and for the children to have limited English. At Mother Teresa, this is not the case. The school is well built of concrete, every room has a black board, every student has English textbooks for every subject, the windows are like balconies and have big corrugated iron sheets as shutters. There are no lightbulbs so this big open space in the wall is practical and important.
When you walk into the school from the side and main entrance, and open the little iron gate on your left is the first junior classroom. The next doorway is the entrance to the principal’s office. This is the front office. All it is are old desks, repaired with masking tape covered with files. Files in India are mainly handwritten into plain, poor quality exercise books but the people take great care with handling these. Sticky tapes to the door is a laminated sign clearly reading “PRINCIPALS OFFICE”. There is a little stool in front of this door which is always getting in the way. I don’t know why the stool is here. None of the children fear sitting on it or anything so it is not disciplinary. I just don’t know why it is there. The point is it blocks the entrance. The office is quite spacious and the Principal sits at a plastic chair behind a desk that is covered with a nice table cloth. She has a black telephone on her desk. In the office with her is a 2 year old student who learns English by pointing at pictures on the wall with a stick. The Principal and the 2 year old speak different languages as it is. So English is their common ground. She seems very fond of him. He is rather cute. On my first day she said “to be a teacher you must imagine what it is like to be that child”. She was very cheery and very nice. She seems like a capable woman to be running a school like Mother Teresa.
Next to the Principal’s office is an area covered by a red curtain. These are the washrooms. I have not been in here. You can smell them if you stand close. It’s not too bad. Just damp.
Directly opposite the Principal’s office are two other junior classes. These students sit on tiny brightly coloured plastic chairs. I don’t teach them but they are simply the cutest.
Up the concrete stairs and through another gate are the classes I teach. Again opposite the stairs are the long drops. These things flush but I can’t use them. Typical Westerner.
To the left of the stairs is one door. Through this door are four classes.
In the first section is my favorite class. (Yes, I have favorites.) 12 students here.
To the right is a solid wall (and a door with a second section and class). 30 to 50 very young (younger than 6) students approximately. I don’t teach this class.
Further along this wall is another door that opens into a third class. Again 30 – 50 kids. I don’t teach here. All younger than 6.
At the back of my favorite class is a paper thin wall which separates these students from the fourth section of the area. 40 – 50 students aged 6 – 8, I teach this class and it is hard work.
From the main door you can see all the way down to the back. To describe this properly I may have to draw it. The point is, these four classes are more or less in the same area and students move around the whole area to go to the bathroom, to get drinks and to come back again. There is a lot of noise that happens in this area which I can see the teachers find stressful. To me – so long as the kids are getting the work done and learning they can be as talkative as they like. I figure – they are only seven years old and probably never get to see each other outside of class. Other teachers do not seem to take my view. Children are punished for moving seats, for being talkative and generally messy. Punishment at Mother Teresa is another story. Let’s just say I wish to pursue a project that introduces a new disciplinary system.
Opposite this large room is another door with tiny class of 7 students. The school captain and vice captain are in this class. I have a feeling these are the eldest and smartest of the children at the school. Their English is excellent. Next to this class is another large class of 6 to 8 year olds. There are about 50 students. It is a fairly small room and incredibly difficult to teach in such a small space but kids are kids and they’re ok.
At a random time, the children have tiffin (recess). As a sign of love or gratitude or respect they give a bite sized portion of their food to the teacher, me. If I get worms – this will be why. Since my first week I have learnt tactics to avoid getting sick from all these random bites of food. Firstly, I remove myself from the class of 50 to the class of 7 or 12. Or I go outside for a few minutes until they forget I am around and finish their food.
The problem is, the food is so yummy I want to try all these home made bites.
Now I have seriously cracked down on hand washing. I feel better about accepting bites now but still wary. I am not allowed to refuse the food. You can only understand this if you are here. It’s like… refusing a nice thank you gift from a poor person. Hard to explain really but I am in India and sometimes it’s just how things happen. You go with it. So hand washing today, tomorrow – hand washing WITH SOAP. Then the next day, hand washing with soap followed by hand sanitizer – another project. (When I say “day” I mean day in India. Day doesn’t always mean 24 hours. Just like 10 minutes means one hour and  3.00pm means 5.30pm. Bottom line is, the food is really yummy and all the children bring very nice tiffin. Today (Monday week 2) I brought tiffin from our cook and gave portions to the children in the 12 sized class (my favorites). This concept was so alien to them. I was returning the gesture. The first three children couldn’t accept the portion but to the fourth child in the row I said the same things she had said to me earlier about taking the food and once she accepted – everyone did. I explained it was all vegetarian. And there was a moment of washed hands swapping my food for theirs as they till gave me portions in return. It was nice....

Monday, 11 January 2010

Venturers Nepal

We arrived at the community project yesterday afternoon.

As soon as stepped off the bus we had a very warm welcome from all the children and monks..a little accident from Emma who managed to fall down a rather obvious big drainage pipe.. however we are all safe and are having a good time building a fence around the school. We are off again Friday morning to Chitwan national park which we are all looking forward to.

Miss you all
love from us (Emma and Sarah) :)

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Venturers Nepal

This is our update including photos from our expedition

We had a great time on trek although some of us found it rather difficult going up hill, but all is good here in Pokhara everyone is safe and well and enjoying being out of the tents. We bonded with the porters on trek and had a couple of games of keram board and football (soccer). The weather in Pokhara is much warmer as a few mornings there was ice on the tents and ground, but everyone was very warm in their many layers. we had a very clear view of the mountains almost the entire time we were trekking and it was well worth going up to Poon Hill for sunrise.
Justin from the venturers team.

Venturers - Nepal

We are back safe and sound in Pokhara!

We have just had a shower and a great meal in Pokhara after our trek. Many of the team are now looking through the shops of Pokhara, before we head to our Community Project tomorrow.
The trek was an amazing experience and we will upload some photos and more on the trek tomorrow.
Wishing you all well at home, the Venturers Team.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Kay says goodbye to Cambodia

Very humbling experience - very hard to say goodbye

The final week.
I visited the National Museum. It was very impressive and could have spent longer than the two hours there. In hindsight I think it would have been good to go there before the temples to get a better background. Apparently it's not well patronised as it was a joint venture with the neighbouring govt.
Most of my school time spent with Pien working out our training for the teachers day. Watched some DVD's about the Tonle Sap Lake at the guesthouse. They were really good. Had a meal out at the Soria Moria Hotel (Scandinavian). That was very relaxing.
Our teacher workshop went very well with So doing the translating. We've done all we can there so now it is up to the teachers to implement the program properly using all the resources they have been given.
My last day at school. Unbelievable emotions. It was a special bonus to have a traditional lunch at Kong's home and see a monkey as I came back through the village.
I had to say goodbye to each of the classes I had been involved with. Most teachers and students said a thank you to me in English and then an individual sompere and goodbye as they filed out of the classroom. It's hard to explain how singing a final "Five Little Ducks" with all ages through to adults could affect you so much. This was as well as the school's "theme song", "If You're Happy and You Know It". After many tears, goodbyes and the final photos I left with so many wonderful memories of fantastic, friendly people.
Karla and I had a quiet night and saw in the Australian New Year.
My last day was very relaxing and pleasant. Rachel and I went to West Barray (the Brighton of Siem Reap!) where we relaxed in our hammocks over the water and our tuk tuk driver slept off his late night. We then had a terrific Khmer massage which left us so relaxed we couldn't do anything.
Jo and Tom took me to the airport. It still didn't feel like I was leaving when I said goodbye to them. The tears flowed as the plane flew off. This was the best holiday I have ever had. Each and every person I came in contact with made it so special for me in their own way. The caring and sharing I experienced has showed me how much good there is in so many people. It has been a very humbling experience and I hope I can carry "plan26" and a more relaxed attitude through my life.
Jasmine waited until I left the country before she gave birth to her and Kunn's son. Seven new volunteer teachers were coming in to replace me!!!
Part of me has still not returned home.
Thank you to everyone who has been part of this experience.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The adventures of India Interns Claire and Amelia continue

Chilling train rides, Pakistan border and the Taj Mahal

On our return to our humble home in Bali we wish to recount to you the amazing week we have just had travelling the northern states of India. It feels like we have been away for a month!

We enjoyed a very special Christmas Day here in Bali, full of excited calls with our families and treasured ferrero rochers that we had kept safe since our trip to Jaipur. Plus we will never forget our stroll down the main road in salwar kameez dress complete with Santa hats, catching many a bemused stare and the odd ‘Happy Christmas Day’ when our Indian neighbours connected our outfits with the Christian holiday.

We set off that night for our big week trip that surprised us with the most wonderful and, we have to admit, horrible moments. Unfortunately it started with a tick in the horrible box on our first sleeper class train experience to Amritsar. We were completely unprepared. The windows wouldn’t close, the neighbouring squat toilet sent us wafts of its faecal delights, icy - and we mean icy - air continuously tunnelled through, seeking muscles and bones we didn’t know we had. We seemed to have lucked out with our company as well as our carriage. Armed guards and passengers kept warning us with a sinister tone to beware of our safety and possessions and we had a nasty encounter with two young bullying men who got a kick out of disturbing us. But there was good to come out of this hellish train journey. We had broken all barriers. We shared everything from the gory details of bodily functions to moments of great beauty and those little things that one might notice out a window. We actually kept forgetting to correct people who assumed we were sisters and we kinda liked it that way.

Before we go on, we want to emphasise that this first sleeper class experience was a one-off. We were delighted to share later berths with lovely ladies, doting families, friendly old men and young lads who went out of their way to help us negotiate the train system. As one commented to Claire, “If I were using the Eurorail, I’d be just as lost as you!”

We arrived in Amristar with the cold still lingering in our bones. We nearly cried when our hotel owner explained that the hot water was temporarily unavailable due to the current renovations (we hadn’t realised that the renovations were not restricted to unoccupied rooms when Amelia spied a man with a hammer through a rather large hole in our wall). Off to the Waggah Border we were in for a ridiculously exciting and unfathomable performance of passion and patriotism. The spectacle involved an M.C egging on the crowds, high-kicking border guards and monotone calls reverberating through the speakers and the final simultaneous lowering of the flags on both sides of the India – Pakistan border. What really got us was the intensity of the people who were loaded into the grandstands. The whole attention of the crowd was focused on the Pakistan side and proceedings and not one person held back from the chants.

Our peaceful evening drastically contrasted with the theatrics of the border. The Golden Temple, the reason for our visit, was just around the corner from our hotel. We stumbled across the kitchens. The rhythmic clanging of the mass washing-up production line welcomed us to a place that famously houses and feeds thousands of Sikh pilgrims and foreigners every day. We were gently guided to the shoe stalls where again the efficiency and general goodwill astounded us. Now barefoot, we followed the crowds in an almost zombie-like manner towards the glittering gold reflected in the surrounding water. The small golden temple had a powerful presence and magnetism as we circled it along with hundreds of devoted pilgrims. We left the Temple reluctant but uplifted, consciously treasuring the experience. We weren’t sure it could get much better.

But, with no fear of hyperbole we can say the Taj Mahal is simply the most beautiful thing we have ever seen. We were awestruck and in love. The memory of us side by side soaking it in makes even the roughest night in sleeper class well worth it.

The finale of our travel week was a Himalayan New Year. We rugged up around a woodfire on the rooftop of our hotel. With a glass of red in one hand and a stunner view of Nainital’s volcanic lake and jagged mountains we brought in 2010 in style. We couldn’t have been happier.

We’ll quickly skim over terrible food poisoning, train vomiting, dehydration and exhaustion and skip to now where we look forward to sinking our teeth into the intense week planned by FEGG.

Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Venturers Nepal

Hello from the MIDDLE of our trek!!!

We find ourselves in Ghorepani a small town at the begining of the major trekking route and in all places of the world we find an internet cafe. We just want to tell you all that we're safe and happy. We've had some ups and down (literally) but we're loving the sights, sounds, food and steps. From here we continue onwards for another 3 days and then back to the hustle bustle of Pokhara. Soon we will have PLENTY of photos and we're hoping to upload them for you all to see.

Love and miss you all

The Nepal Venturers Team

Monday, 4 January 2010

Incredible India...a wonderful update from Rowan Montgomery

While I am discovering many things in India, the gift of hindsight is not one of them

It is the start of the weekend and there is a special kind of hyperactivity in the air…. I am putting it down to the India vibe…. Although if I was to be entirely honest, I would say that it has come from the India ‘lollies’ we have just eaten which are kind of like diabetes in a bit sized piece. Rainbow colored and covered in edible silver foil, the first bite is a sweet combination of cookie dough, sugar and honey. It melts in your mouth and the sugar hit is almost instant and leaves a cloying taste in your mouth long after you have swallowed. While I am discovering many things in India, the gift of hindsight is not one of them….. In hindsight, we should not have eaten such sickly sweet food before an everlasting journey that comprised of buses, ferries and rickshaws.

The first leg of our epic weekend adventures begins on what could be called India’s answer to public transport. The big red buses that filled me with foreboding in previous tales have come back to haunt me first thing on Saturday morning….. India is not a place for queues and this becomes abundantly clear as every person waiting for the bus to Alibaug tries to jam themselves into the bus door without a second thought to other people’s appendages that may be getting twisted into unnatural angles in the fight for a seat.

After much shoving and swearing in Hindi, Marathi and English we are on the bus. But the sweet taste of success is far off as all three of us end up standing or more swaying for the hour long ride to Alibaug beach. Our bus driver is like a rally driver on speed and the familiar taste of those lollies are coming back to haunt me. We finally arrive at our destination only to find that the ferry we wanted had just left and we needed to wait an hour and a half for the next one. I have become somewhat accustomed to this sort of waiting in India, so we decide to take a rickshaw down to the actual ‘beachfront’ of Alibaug.

Golden sands, roaring blue waves and tangy salt air…… are not what Alibaug beach has to offer….jagged rocks, grayish water and dirty sand is what this beach consists of…. To complete the picture a horse so malnourished its ribs are showing slowly trots along to the cruel whip of the horseman who is trying to offer us a ride. A little dismayed we opt for ice-cream instead. In a packet marked with expiry: November 2009 is delicious chocolate so, I persuade the logical side of my brain that it must be a misprint.

Back for the next leg of our journey we are transported by bus to the ‘ferry’ which we are to catch to Elephanta Island. Ferry is a somewhat of a loose term, a more apt description would be planks of wood pieced together with nails and a motor in the middle. Nonetheless we survive the hour and a bit trip to Mumbai. Hapless travelers that we are, we have inadvertently managed to catch the ferry that took us to the gateway of India in Colaba harbor, Mumbai. Not directly to Elephanta island as we had hoped. We disembark from our boat and find another that will take us to Elephanta Island, fortuitously it leaves in just 15 minutes…. This is the fastest waiting time of the trip thus far. With just enough time to stroll around the gateway of India (a massive structure that sits ominously on the harbor front, next to the Taj Mahal hotel) we enjoy a bit of shameless tourist gawking before clambering the next boat that will take us to Elephanta Island. Finally.

It takes just under an hour to get to the island and by this point it is 4pm in the afternoon. We had left Pen at 10am. It is just the way it goes here, time seems to blend together in a nonfigurative way; it is the easiest and the worst place to loose yourself because if you’re not careful, you cannot make it back from the long fall down the dark passage of time. Luckily this time, we scramble out onto the dock of Elephanta Island only to be told that the final boat leaves at 5.30pm….. Without even a flicker of surprise we decide to power walk up the hundreds of steps so we can meander our way through the Buddhist caves.

They are beautiful and historic and we manage to complete our appropriate amazed expressions in record time. Leaving just enough time for me to hide behind Jax from the monkeys and complete one of my missions from Laura: ‘buy tacky tourist shit’ (I apologize in advance if you are on the receiving end of one of these gifts)

We are back in Mumbai in record time and manage to find vacancy in the second hotel we stumble across: Hotel Causeway. On a chaotic main street in Colaba that is a stones throw away from Leopold’s café we check in for one night. While the manager takes down our passport details, he makes conversation. ‘What are you doing in Pen?’ Jax, pipes up from behind a Hindi paper. ‘Worki--Ow!’ she receives a sharp kick from Tessa. Oh Jax, as a frog and monkey protector you are invaluable. As a stealthy volunteer on a tourist visa, you are not. Luckily the manager is oblivious to our exchange and hands as a room key. With three beds, a hot shower, TV and mini-bar it is paradise at $25 dollars each.

We refresh and head down to the infamous Leopold’s café for a drink and bite to eat (for those who have read shantaram: insert excitement here). Leopold’s is a world away from the description in Shantaram. I suppose it might have something to do with the fact that shantaram was written twenty or so years ago. But even so, it is somewhat gaudy and tasteless with tacky decorations and the waiters wearing matching shirts. With a pile of the actual books for sale on the counter, I can’t help but feel it is the café that has sold itself out. However, as you head up the muggy stairs into the darkness a dash of the deception and dark dealings that leap out at you from the book, could be envisaged taking place in the smoky corners and suspicious eyes that follow your movements. But mostly, the over the top music and blaring TV cuts through any visual representations you can invoke.

The next morning after a quick bite to eat we take a tour of Mumbai, several taxi rides later we have exhausted ourselves by swearing in Australian while being quizzed in Hindi, hysterical laughing at how lost we are, and gazing in absolute wonder at this city whose secrets and spirit are displayed in every sacred temple atop a rambling business district, black market amongst bazaars and twisted alleyways that house some of the worlds most concentrated poverty. We conclude our afternoon with the time honored tradition of shopping and after such an exhausting weekend in which people tried to sell us a car, a pet monkey and drugs we collapse on the bus in relief as we head back to what we think of as home in Pen.

The week has continued as normal as I delve more into my work at the Suhit Jevan trust I begin to fall more in love with what I am doing. I have decided to spend the rest of my time in India at this school for disabled children instead of moving to a larger school to help teach English. The last two days I have spent sitting cross legged on the floor with a little boy who smells like coconut oil in my lap. His name is Yogesh and from my previous tale he was the boy who continually pulled his pants off. I have spent two days massaging his arms and hands while he sits in my lap and stares at me with the saddest eyes I have ever seen, And while I cannot feel my legs anymore I am enjoying spending time with him and realizing that at least while I am here he can spend the day in my lap, instead of tied to a chair.

The school closes for Christmas break as of today and I find myself somewhat sad that I will miss seeing all my kids until Monday but I am vastly excited about spending the Christmas period in Goa.