Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Introducing Matt, Ingrid and Anna: FEGG India Scholarship winners!

Matt, Ingrid and Anna in Pali - week one of their scholarship adventureNamaste,

After an initial misunderstanding with Mother Nature, who apparently forgot that it was meant to be sunny and mild and instead greeted us with rain and mud. With no wet-weather gear or umbrellas, we braved the desert rains in t-shirts and arrived at the FEGG guesthouse in Pali. Week one over and we are happy to report that India is now exactly as we expected: blue skies, sunshine and happiness all round. The guesthouse and immediate surrounds are alive with creatures and critters. So far spotted: geckoes (in the girls' bedroom), a rat (in the house), squirrels (who have been dubbed 'squizzes' by Ingrid), cows (in the front yard), plus numerous spiders and crickets and bugs that we share our house with.

So much has happened already in so few days. Our home, simply known in the area to locals as ‘Guesthouse’ is a modest two story house complete with five bedrooms (we occupy two between the three of us but other FEGG staff are coming and going so the house always seems full), one kitchen, one bathroom with western style toilet (no flush, getting used to the old manual flush method), one squatty potty (good for leg toneage), a shower that on occasion delivers no more than a minute of hot water, a balcony and a beautiful open rooftop.

We have an amazing cook/housekeeper called Manju, who we all adore, firstly because she is absolutely lovely, but also, importantly, because she feeds us and her food is amazing. Breakfast can be anything from toast to halawa, a sweet bready cakey type thing, to rice, potato and veg. Lunch and dinner is generally a combination of sabjee (different types of vegetable dishes), daal, rice and chapatti. No meat here but we definitely will not be shedding any pounds! Oh and at least 7 or 8 cups of chai a day. At least. Which brings us to Indian hospitality. Within our first week we have dined or had tea at three different houses in our village and had three other dinner invitations (from people on the street and shop owners); we are going to need a diary to start making appointments. People here are just so hospitable and so friendly. And they are constantly checking “everything ok? No problem?”.

We've had two days in the field already to see some of FEGG's work first-hand. FEGG is working to improve girls' enrolment and attendance in school through community mobilisation as well as infrastructure (female toilets etc), more female teachers, establishing girls councils in schools, a more female friendly curriculum (focussing on life skills as well as academia) etc. They have tried and tested a model that works on 500 schools in the district and are now operating in over 2400 schools. They are in the process of replicating this model and expanding to 5000 schools by 2011. We are here to help them in that expansion process. After briefings and a day spent in the field visiting schools we were given our first project – interviewing teachers and students on camera for success stories to be used for a digital newsletter. We spent all day Thursday in a very remote area interviewing students and teachers not in English, not even in Hindi, but in tribal dialects - an extremely challenging task. We spent the following day editing the material without the aid of a transcript – hopefully it makes sense.
The girls we've met have really been inspirational. And crazy! They look so innocent and shy when you first arrive but once they are comfortable with you, which doesn’t take long, they all want to grab you and touch you and hold your hand. Anna and Ingrid have been attacked several times, it’s akin to a moshpit in those classrooms when the girls unleash! Not to be outdone, Matt has also experienced a bonding ritual with the male FEGG staff members over a spot of Paan, a betel leaf with filling that seems to be exclusively enjoyed by men.

This weekend we had our first opportunity to do a spot of travel in Rajasthan and opted to visit Udaipur, India's renowned 'City of Lakes'. We braved an early morning start in order to arrive in good time, anticipating a solid three and a half hour bus ride to traverse the 120km standing between us and our destination. Optimistic fools we were; while taking a pit-stop at the three hour mark we were casually informed that there was "only another 3 hours to go". Upon arrival we were all a wee bit worse for wear, but Udaipur did not disappoint - narrow alleyways littered with budget hotels and handicraft shops wind around the city's hilly contours, all set to the scenic backdrop of palaces perched among idyllic mountains and lakes.

As with just about anywhere in India, Udaipur's streets were also littered with cows, and Matt has taken it upon himself to become spiritually 'in tune' with the sacred animal of Hinduism. This is decidedly best achieved through the 'cow pat' (wherein he cautiously pats a bull's head and hopes not to anger the beast) - he aspires to master the art by the end of our stay and has so far accumulated a respectable tally of 10 pats. In equal abundance to the cows are Udaipur's rooftop restaurants and after checking in we quickly found ourselves soaking up some sun whilst enjoy a panoramic view of our surroundings. This soon progressed into a team-bonding exercise that began with sampling local beer and spirits on a variety of rooftops and culminated in each of us enduring an impromptu body piercing.

Shub-raa¬-tri [Goodnight],
Matt, Ingrid and Anna

Sommerville House Team A, report back from Nepal

Namaste all!
Our trip so far has been a roaring success! Landed safely, with a bump, after flying over Kathmandu and seeing the Himalayas from above. A miracle has occurred - all of us safely survived two plane trips without tv. WOW! It was a little shocking coming from the order of the international terminals to the chaos (but fun chaos) of the Kathmandu airport car park. Particularly loved the makeshift jamming band sitting atop a bus, going against the traffic (although the traffic had no definite direction). The city has AMAZING shopping and it only gets more chaotic further in, with dogs, cats, birds, cows, goats, sheep, and babies on motorcycles all making their different pathways and noises. The hotel is cosy and cute and colourful, tucked away in a quiet corner of Thamel (quieter), and the chai tea was FANTASTICALLY GREAT! On average so far the team knows 3 words in Nepalese - Hello (Namaste), Bye Bye (Janusla) and Thank you (Dhannebhat). Everyone is safe, happy and as Vidya keeps checking, "well and healthy". Looking forward to the rest of our stay in this so far AWESOME country!

Sending love and delicious chai tea vibes,
over and out
The A Team

Monday, 29 November 2010

Wrapping up in Argentina

I write this with equal parts of sadness, nerves and excitement as we prepare to leave the fantastic place which is Buenos Aires. Emily, Lucie and myself are departing in a few hours via bus to Mendoza, where we start our two month journey through Southern Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Josh, Chirag and Julian have already left for Peru. Some of us will stay in Buenos Aires for an extra night or two - I know Ali will be here for several days to meet up with some of her friends from Sydney. Julz and Dani are heading back to Melbourne and Perth tonight. It's awful to think that the relationships we have developed with the other residents and people on the program will disappear without the constant presence of each other which we have become so used to. The majority of the Antips group is from Sydney - so maintaining contact between us should be relatively easy, or between Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. But staying friends with those
from Britain, USA or Canada will definitely be more difficult but I'm certain we can stay in contact.

I have had an incredible, incredible three months. The volunteer work has been extremely challenging but worthwhile, and I am so glad we persevered through the problems we had. Saying goodbye to the children was very hard, but Lucie and I bought a collection of balls to give as a farewell present, which they loved. We also gave them a collection of Australian stickers - so hopefully our legacy will live on in the through kangaroos and Australian flags stuck in inconvenient places.
It is a bittersweet thing saying goodbye to such a fantastic city which has become our home for the past three months, but I am almost certain I will return to this place with better Spanish skills and more money!
Buenos Aires en mi corazon para siempre. Chau.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Diani Beach and the unstoppable Jiggers

Returning home (to Muhaka) from Tsavo was a long but relaxing drive. We got home and on the Friday got stuck into work at the school. We were clearing the classrooms that had junk in them and putting rooves on them.

The weekend was much cherished as we had all worked so hard and it felt so good to have some time to relax and unwind.

Last Sunday we received some very unfortunate news that Mama passed away due to sickness. It was extremely sad to hear as we were so close to finishing the shower and toilet block and handing it over to her. We visited her grave and paid our respects to her. Her three grandchildren (who now have no next of kin) have to look after themselves but live in very poor conditions. We became aware of the state they have to live in so we all put in a donation that will go to a Trust so their Secondary Schooling and essentials are helped paid for. Due to her mourning we worked at the school last week completing what we started on the Friday back in Muhaka. It seems like the sun is getting hotter and more blistering as we all sweated up a storm. I think everyone would be proud to hear that my manual labour skills have improved a heck of a lot! I can actually saw through a piece of thick wood and hammer nails in straight (these were both personal challenges beforehand!)

It is so great to see everyone so stuck into work and wanting to get everything done. Glancing at everyone throughout the week, it really made me feel like we are such a strong team, achieving such great things and it is so rewarding!

This week a group of us wenk to Camp Kaya, a 20 minute walk from Muhaka. Here we stayed in tents and worked on planting more trees for the forest which is absolutely beautiful We cleared unwanted weeds and harmful trees and planted some lovely new ones. I now realise how much I love gardening and I think when I get home I want to start a Vegetable Garden (not sure how long that is going to last though). I enjoyed staying at Kaya a lot apart from getting a jigga in my toe EW! But it was removed thank goodness. No one has had a good run at all with jigga's, one boy had 12 jigga's in his feet! He ended up having to get them removed from hospital, poor guy! He's better now though :)

On Friday we went to the Diani Beach Colobus Trust where we learnt all about monkeys and helped their habitat by planting trees and building another crossing ladder that is placed above the main road so they don't get hurt when crossing the road (its a really good idea!)

I have enjoyed every second of being here. From the minute of landing up until now, there have been up's and downs but it has all been a part of the experience. Now with only two weeks to remain we get stuck into the last lot of project work. The other group has gone to Tsavo which means we won't see them again now :( It was a sad depart, but we are all sure to catch up again soon. The rest of us are going to Makongeni this week for Marine Conservation and then complete our final week working at the school and completing Mama's toilet to hand it over to her three grandchildren. I am so sad that our placement is coming to a close, I don't want to say goodbye!

I will update you all next week!

And the snow begins to fall....

Saturday the 13th of November, 2010 will possess a special status in my mind for the rest of time, for in no conceivable way at all did it turn out as planned- I mean, almost every idea we had for the day was abandoned.

Awaking before the sun rises is generally seen as an obscurity for youths, and I can honestly say that I fit this stereotype. It was 5.15am, well below 0 degrees outside of my window, however it wasn’t an entirely horrible experience. Puddles were frozen over. Condensation about, rain drops bleeding down the glass. The wonderful sight of snow on ledges and roofs. Snow, how I love it so! Just two days prior to this particular morning, Shenyang experienced it’s for snow for this autumn/winter season, and I for the first time in my life.

I remember the initial sighting. My 10.30am class. The head teacher is called Rau. Hilarious woman. She often gives me packaged Chinese foods, like spicy peas and milk tea. Good lass. So, this class was concluding, with a ye olde rendition of ‘B-I-N-G-O’ playing, performed by myself and the 3 to 4 year old children. I gaze out the window for no reason apparent to myself; but much to my delight, and bewilderment I see snow falling simultaneously with rain. Ohh, it was a sight to see. I got far too excited and stopped singing, instead yelling, “SNOW!” “It’s snowing.” As well as various other word combinations; all alluding to the same fact. The teachers, clearly not as impressed as myself did not run to collect their coats and wander outside to experience, well, the snow.

I was quite speedy in putting on the apropriate attire and collecting the necessary materials- case in point- umbrella, however, I did not want to be self-centered at this moment, I wanted to share my joy with others, namely Jessica. So I waited for her to prepare for our outside adventure. After what felt like hours of her doing so, we went downstairs, but to my disappointment snow was no longer.

Later that evening, I was sitting on the couch in our apartment when I look out the window, and visible beneath the light of a street lamp, I see it is snowing once again. It definitely was necessary for me to take a short walk to the shops and purchase some consumer goods at this precise moment. I did so with such an intense smile. You can make your own inferences.

So back to this morning on the 13th of November 2010. Dressed to impress, I walked outside, in none other than canvas shoes. Bad move, but the only one I could take in the shoe wearing department.I have winter boots now though. My feet were wet instantly, but as I repeated throughout the day when the sludginess of my feet became apparent, I remarked upon how they glimmered like a pair of shoes Lady Gaga may possibly wear. We caught a taxi to the bus station, but made a quick pitstop to McDondalds prior, to fuel up for the day. Can I just say as a side note, with no vanity intended, I ate my hot cakes remarkably fast, so much so, indigestion was feared by those surrounding me.

Boarded the bus, with no time to spare (hence why I ate the hot cakes so quickly, we were running late for a very important date). The bus ride was supposed to be 3 hours, but was extended to 3.5 due to the crazy snow and rain. I consistently dozed off during the bus ride. But for the initial half of the trek, we passed lovely mountain scapes of white snow. I do wish I was awake for the moment, or many moments when the snow just dissappeared. That would have been nice.

Where did this bus take us? I’m sure that must have crossed your mind by now, right? Well, I shall dispose of the suspense right this moment. Dandong. A smallish city in Eastern China. Why did I use body effort to transport myself here? Well, ‘Linnea the Swede’ (That’s like her viking name) had one of her friends visit Shenyang, and Shenyang, as much as I love this city- for tourists, wanting to do touristy things whilst in China, 2 days would suffice. Yes, so Dandong was ideal. None of us Shenyangers had been there. It was reasonably close. There was supposed to be a reasonably untarnished segment of the Great Wall to climb and views of North Korea by a ferry.

We had high hopes for Dandong, but upon our arrival, hopes were disintegrating one by one. The first necessary thing to do was to purchase our bus tickets back to Shenyang, but due to the weather conditions, this was not possible. “Okay, so let’s catch a train back.” After braving the windy and wet streets of Dandong- I cannot emphasise how wet- for some time period which escapes me, we discovered the train station. Purhcased our tickets (at a cheaper price) for later that evening. And set off on the day’s adventures. But there was some confusion as to what the days adventures would be, as it was like monsoon weather. Would the Great Wall be open? Did the ferry sink yet?

Lunch was the next appropriate, and logical step at 11.40am. Dandong had the most lovely people. So helpful. Being foreigners and all except one of us knowing what amounts to no Chinese; having a smiley face, or Chinese people trying to utilise your knowledge of the English language with theirs, it’s quite nice. One woman was ever so kind, and lead us to the bus station which takes you to the Great Wall. I sometimes do wonder how that day would have gone without Emily, who I can proudly say is Australian and on another level, a fellow Adelaidean. She knows Chinese. Amazing.

As the bus to the Great Wall drove further out of the CBD, the rain began to subside and what appeared to be a beautiful 4 degree day was awaiting us outside. The Wall was, as stated in several guide books, quite untarnished. Moderately steep and surrounded by brown trees. Autumn is a grand time. There is this unique feeling when you walk the Great Wall. I don’t know exactly what it is, therefore I cannot put it into a sequential set of words. But it’s nice. Simply, nice. The views from this part of the Wall (called ‘Hushan’ or ‘Tiger Mountain’), were vast and far-reaching. You could see the city. The empty, desolate fields. Shadows of mountains. And a beautifully coloured, but clear sky. The further we climbed, the more I could feel my respitory system failing and altitude rising.

At the top of the wall, a South Korean gentleman made note of the fact that North Korea was just behind us. You couldn’t see much of this secluded part of the world, perhaps a dangy-looking village in the distance. I do remember looking down and seeing a river- very small- presumably the end of the Yalu River, which seperates the P.R China and North Korea. Docked by the river we saw boats. It is not wrong to assume that we presumed these boats to be the ferry ride which allows you to see a glimpse of North Korea. Other western teachers who had taken the ferry ride had explained it to be a nice cruise which allows you to see a ‘staged’ exhibition of North Korean workers. That did not look like this boat ride, but maybe further up the river we pondered? These boats were old. Made of wood. In the distance it was ambiguous as to whether it was motorised or man powered. Either way, we wanted to see North Korea.

What would life be without risks? They make life interesting, they keep the adrenaline rushing and regrets at a minimum. I should make note of the different degrees of a risk, some are harmless, some are harmful and some may seem harmless but in reality, turn out to be harmful. Catching this boat ride to North Korea, beforehand, it’s risk value did not even cross my mind.

So we made our way down to the boats. First reading the rules you must abide by upon taking the boat. Pay close attention, I am paraphrasing though. Apologies.

1- Do not communicate with the people on the other side of the border.
2- Do not swap or exhange goods with people on the other side of the border.
3- Do not cross the border.

The boat driver had a very thick Chinese accent, but by immense luck a South Korean gentleman could understand it and was able to do negotiating on our behalf. There were like 12 westerners, and 3 South Koreans on this boat. Dingy little thing, but it served it’s function more than fine. There was a small layer of black water on the bottom of the boat. Not sure why it was black. So yes, made our way down the river, quite slowly. Taking pictures of North Korea, which from our viewpoint consisted of a small slope of yellowish grass and some willowing plants, and a fence at the top. I remember seeing North Korean soldiers near a tree and was quite chuffed by that sighting alone. They shook their hands as to say ‘no photographs’. So we put our cameras down. It gets better.

I was on the opposite end of the boat to the Koreans, so I only recieved hearsay. But I kept hearing from my friends, “give this guy five yuan (not even one Australian dollar, and the boat ride itself was 10 yuan, not even 2 Australian dollars) and we’ll be able to take pictures of the guards.” Quite excited by this prospect, we handed our money over.

Three soldiers were standing by a broken part of the fence, presumably fixing it. We attempted to take a few photographs of their existence but the driver waved his hands to disband. I remember this moment quite vividly. The sky was a vibrant orange in the background, making the soldiers perfect silhouettes. One of the soldiers took out his gun and pointed it towards the boat, making a shooting action. I must have looked paralysed at that moment. Afterwards I could see his head move in syncronicty with the direction of the boat, until we were out of sight. I guess he doesn’t like westerners.

The next tangent in which tried to explain what our money was for, was that it would be given to the poor in North Korea. Which we were all happy to support. But this ideal became suspect when the Korean gentleman began waving the money at some guards further down the river. Then the boat headed in the direction of those guards. It was a series of mixed feelings we felt here, a crossfire of excitement and anxiety. The Korean gentleman that liased with the boat driver and had our money, jumped off the boat as soon as it docked, running towards the broken gate supposed to be enclosing North Korea. We were all quite confused by his body actions. His eyes searching for soldiers. Arms waving several 5 yuan notes in the air. HhhhhhhhvjgjSFDUHHhHHe was running at times- looking fearful. Then he would turn around to us smiling. It was at this point I touched North Korea! I placed my hand on it’s soil. Merely because.

After no success on that front, the boat began heading back, but two soldiers were almost running, (perhaps you could say a light jog) after the boat. So we turned back, logically. And finally the use of our money was revealed, it was to give to the North Korean soldiers. From what I understand from readings in Australia, North Korea is a very poor country, hence why they risk their lives to accept foreign money and food. I recall when Vaishale gave one of the guards a bread item she purchased earlier that day. He put it in his jacket and looked about with such suspicion. He eventually shook all of our hands but I think it wasn’t so much out of gratitude, but compulsion. It still meant quite a lot to us westerners. After the excitement died down, we went back to town- to a Canadian restaurant for dinner. I got a ham and cheese toastie (not to be taken for granted ever again), and blueberry tea. Yes, you read correctly Allie Borgelt.(It was splendid by the way)

On a Chinese computer I cannot read any information about North Korea. Every internet page concerning it, is censored. So are Western blogs and just about every social networking sight known to man. As are images of Toy Story (the films), weather pictures, giraffes- all on Google.

I suppose you could say I have been discussing taboo topics (by Chinese standards) of late. With some teachers that took me out to dinner, (hotpot, grand times) I was enquiring about their opinions on Mao Zedong, and why he is so revered. What they know about Facebook, Twitter and Youtube censorship; internet censorship as a whole. About Chang Kai-Shek, and the nationalist party. Taiwan. The Japanese. The Dalai Lama. Tibet. The Uyghur region and peoples. The Chinese Government itself. If they know what a democracy is. Things I probably shouldn’t.

This is their modern culture though, and I want to know their opinions. It’s interesting. Google got kicked out of China last year I believe and is rarely used at my school. But ‘Baidu’, which is a Chinese created search engine that pro-actively cooperates with the Chinese Government on it’s censorship policies is the most popular. Even despite it turning up the most useless web results. Be thankful for your freedoms, they may not be written into our constitution, but at this moment in history they exist and they are something to fight for.

I remember during the dinner I asked one teacher why she personally disliked Japan. Her explanation was basically due to their mutual history. This appears to be an institutionalised reason amongst most Chinese people. Understandable though, Japan was an imperialist power that controlled an extensive amount of North-Eastern China during World War II and prior. Interestingly enough, the Mukden incident in the 1930’s which is seen as the first occassion when Sino-Japanese hostilities broke out during that period, occured in my home city, Shenyang. The ‘Rape of Nanjing’, I do believe is the key reason and what occured there is easily on par with the atrocities of the Holocaust

She did however go on to explain how Japan refuses to acknowledge it’s committed actions and in it’s history books. In fact, makes no mention of them. This is when my fabricated-history radar went off. It bewlidered me how they can be so critical and knowledgable of the Japanese falsifying their history, but not their own. Comparatively, her reverence of Mao Zedong and his actions beyond the 1949 revolution are equally the same. She is taught to love him, but not as to why. And I assume this love is taught in history books, consolidated by parents. It’s equally as blind though. One reason she did provide for the reverence was that Mao drastically improved Chinese labour laws. What about the crazy agricultural policies he instigated which resulted in a 3 year famine killing millions? Bit 1984-esque wouldn’t you say? To even out the playing field, one Chinese person I have spoken to admitted to some of Mao’s faults, particularly during the Cultural Revolution.

I love it here. Be adventurous today.

Tyler Gleason

Thursday, 18 November 2010

CQU Nepal Facebook Page

One of our motivated UniBreak Groups, Central Queensland University Nursing and Midwifery, have created a Facebook page documenting their experiences in Nepal. The students are regularly uploading photos, stories and notes on their experience working with the developing community. Below are some of their stories from abroad. Go here to check out their page , and check out the Antipodeans page here while your at it!
We are a group of 14 Students, 7 of which are registered nurses studying midwifery and 7 are undergraduate nurses with 2 lecturers accompanying us. We are embarking on a 24 day health promotion trip to Nepal on Tuesday the 9th November 2010. The trip will be coordinated via an Antipodeans Abroad Program (www.antipodens.com.au) and forms part the Central Queensland University (CQU) program for both undergraduate nurses and post graduate midwifery students, in 2010.

Working in the community will give us insight to the health of the street children, leprosy rehabilitation, womens health, health of those living in urban slums, sufferers of HIV and AIDS, drug addiction, childrens mental health issues and Tibetan refugees.

The kinds of things we are hoping to take with us include
-baby clothes
-birthing kits
-hand sanitiser
-toothbrushes & toothpaste
-dolls for demonstration
-pelvis for demonstration
-foetal heart dopplers ($900 ea)
-medical gloves

The trip is going to be tough, rewarding and an amazing experience for all of us.

Amanda Hackett Post:
" Hi all, Wednesday - another very busy day. Mannipal hospital in the morning most went for a lecture on tuberucolosis and a couple went to theatre to witness ceasearean Nepali style. Then off to the TB hopsital in the community which was closed due to the fact it was a public holiday. Public holiday was called by the government yesterday to celebrate a muslim event. Didn't see any muslim celebrations but we did become involved in a Hindu festival where they were singing and dancing and re enacting a ceremony with people dressed up to represent their Gods. They also prayed and threw flowers in the river. We were once agin blessed with big red stripes on our foreheads which sprinkled on to our noses so we all looked like Rudolph.
We were then lucky enough to be given the afternoon off so we could .... you guessed it - do more shopping!!!!

Lisa F and Anna stayed at the hopsital to support a labouring woman.
Shopping was fun and we were all treated later to music from Emily's new drum - oh joy very musical indeed. A few picked material and ordered pants and tunic Indian style. Sooo cheap less that $30 for materail and sewing. Let you know what they are like when we get them in 5 days. May even be able to pose for photos and post on this site. Something to look forward to.

At 5pm we went to a couple of orphanages to deliver some more goods and money. Kids are sooo cute and love seeing us and playing with the baby doll we have as a mascot.
Anna and Lisa F returned where they did get to witness a birth Nepali style which is not quite the same as an Australian one. Bit of debriefing and then off to Moondance for tea where a few jugs of Sangria was the order of the day. All in all a very long and busy day which is now over so off to bed and up in time for a 9am start and off to health camps and an aged care home. Until next time love to all our family and friends."

Nepal has Come and Gone

Well our placement is over. There were four boys out of the 25 people in the three families, and they were the only ones not crying. So I think that is a good indicator that the placement was a success and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. We will miss the families and students so much! It was also a very satisfying day for Megan, Kiri and I having finished the library! Just in the nick of time, only thing is we were sad because we can't use it! Oh well, a very very good feeling seeing our paint job and excellent floor laying skills (:/) finished.
Dashain was a fun festival! Not to mention extra good food. Yes the goat sacrifice, the vegetarians amongst us went for a nice walk, and the remaining meat eaters turned vego after witnessing the beheading and everything that followed. We all had a go on the 'ping' (giant bamboo swing). Some of us more competent than others. We watched all the Nepalese going to gravity defying heights, quite scary and all of us thinking this would never happen in a playground in Australia. The tika ceremony was quite fun. We received tika after tika!
Yes a number of brave girls took the jump of a 160m bridge. That was too much for me and was quite happy sticking to the rafting, also so much fun!! The videos are all very funny of their jumps.
Nicole's dad is absolutely lovely. I'm not just saying that because he brought us all some vegemite and timtams. The suitcases he brought over were incredible. A most welcome donation, especially for our school.

We are all in disbelief that our time is over. It started off hard (as you predicted) and now all of a sudden we are all getting ready for what is next.

Hope you are well,

Teary Farewells & The Amazon Jungle

Well what an amazing two weeks it has been!

The highlights of the Amazon were holding a caiman out on the lagoon,
seeing a sloth hanging in a tree, visiting the Shaman and Nacho the
monkey at the indigenous community, catching piranhas out of the
lagoon - which involved a lot of squealing on our behalf, with Jess
showing her expertise and taking them off the hooks - and canoeing to
the Enchanted Lagoon, where no motor boats were allowed. Our guide
also taught us about the uses of native plants including a tree whose
sap is called dragon blood and is used to heal cuts, and another tree
which can be used as a cure to malaria. I also had a very interesting
run in with a palm, resulting in some excellent paddling on our canoe

Apart from caiman and many different types of monkeys, we also saw
pink river dolphins which was a very special experience, many
different types of birds including wood peckers and black vultures and
two types of snakes, an Amazonian Boa Constrictor and a Tree Boa! It
was quite an amazing thing to think we were in the middle of the
Amazon jungle just cruising along! It was an experience that I don't
think any of us will ever forget - we have so many photos I don't
think it would be possible to forget.

The rest of the group - Garri, Mel, Alex, Steph, Klara, Katy, Sam,
Chloe, Tess, Edwina and Katelyn all headed off to the coast over the
long weekend. It was a week of relaxing, swimming and beach fires and
sounds like a lot of fun! They started at Canoa, west of Quito and
headed down to Montanita, a very nice, relaxed beach further south.
Days were spent relaxing and visiting what we have been told is an
unmissable crepe shop with absolutely amazing food, and nights having
lots of fun with bonfires on the beach and making lots of new friends!
On the way home, Alex, Garri and Mel stopped off in colonial Cuenca
which is apparently a beautiful city they have now recommended we all
visit if we get the chance! Definitely on the list of things to do.

Placement has also been going well, with people now seriously
considering how they might be able to get their favourite child home
in their suitcase. Everyone is starting to feel sad at the thought of
leaving their children who we have all gotten to know, and whose
smiles light up our days. I know at all the placements, but speaking
from my own experience at INSFIDIM, coming in each morning and having
so many kids so happy to see you, even when they might not be having
the best time is more than enough reward and incentive for getting up
and going that extra mile for the kids. It is certainly an experience
like no other!

Over our last three weeks in Ecuador, apart from placement, the group
has split a little and is continuing with travelling, with various
people visiting the Amazon, Galapagos, the coast, heading back to the
markets to do some shopping and saying a very teary farewell to our
kids! No doubt by the next blog there will be lots more amazing
adventures and scintillating stories :)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Zoe's last blog from Peru!

LAST BLOG - short but sweet... hopefully

When we first arrived in Cusco some 3 months ago many new doors were opened to us. We have seen the saltlines in Nazca, surfed sand dunes in Ica and soared over the sacred valley with only a parachute. We have been able to see things no-one could even imagine, like our school kids falling over purely for our entertainment, a truckful of cabeza de vaca (severed cow heads) and our family´s outrageous ability to eat every food with just a spoon.

Being able to be housed with the same family in the same place has been a blessing, giving us the opportunity to become not gringos, but gringos with at least a little idea of what we are doing and what we should pay. I love that we have come from asking every bus that goes past if they stop at Graci Laso to rushing for the `Wimpillay Chocco´ because we know that, although slower than `Satelite´ and `Pegasus´, it always has the most seats available, or being able to watch the eggs in our back garden hatch and become fully grown, ready to eat ducks. I also love that I have spent enought time with the kids to realise that the disruptive kid, Luis-Angel, is just very intelligent and if you give him enough to do he will not only stop fighting but will also start hugging you when you get to school. More than everything else, however, I love that when I talk about my mother at home I call her my `Australian Mother´ because we all know that my real mother is downstairs cooking cow´s heart and worrying that her strange gringa-daughters will end up in the clinic.

I have realised that it is not the events that have shaped my experience in this beautiful, busy, panpipe-playing, tongue-eating, gringo-teasing country but rather it´s the people, from the sweet, loving terrors at the school to Arlich, our Peruvian in country agent, who delights in giving us advice, like `watch out for the poisonous snakes on the hills´ (we only found out 8 terrifying hours later he was joking). The wonderful Doctor in the clinic is no different. When I was admitted recently he walked in, pointed at my IV and shouted `Oh my God!´. He waited until I was white with fear before laughing hysterically, assuring me everything was okay and asking how I `felt today´. These things made me feel better about having my camera stolen the other week because I was able to see that the best parts of this country were never caught on camera and all of these people and places are so vivid and awe-inspiring that, even without the photos, I can´t imagine forgetting one second of the time I´ve spent here.

With The Wall finally completed and the kids knowing a couple more words of English (and each owning their very own animal made out of balloons or having drawn yet another dream-house on Paint) it is time for us to part ways and travel the remaining world. Three amazing months have passed and although, in the beginning, everything may have seemed strange and exotic, just today I ate a thin steak of beef with nothing but a table spoon and a lot of concentration. This trip has changed each and every one of us. Whether we have become happier, stronger, more confident or just more prone to Amoeba doesn´t really matter because we have all had experiences here that can only ever be understated, even by the most immense hyperboles or flowery words. I´m sure when i return home the time will come where it will be expected of me, but to be honest, I hope I never go back to using a fork.
Over and out

Monday, 15 November 2010

Never Forget Cambodia - Alex ponders his last few weeks in Siem Reap

There are a lot of things that I don’t want to forget about this trip. Even though I know that it’s inevitable that I will forget a large portion of it by the time I’m home and will be unable to recall everything I’d like to at a moment’s notice, I’m still holding onto the hope that my memory will hold out more than I give it credit for. My naivety concerning this topic is reflected in my travel journal, where my initially constant updates have become significantly less constant over the past few weeks.

Some of these things that I never want to forget include the way the students light up when they answer a question correctly or recall a difficult word, or the way I feel when I see a student of mine and notice my excitement mirrored in theirs. I don’t want to forget Mitch’s quick one-liners and Alex’s commendable dance moves, or Christie’s explanations of how bogan she is (and every so often adding an “oi, you” into the conversation to drive the point home) or even the way Sally comes back with a new purchase daily. I never want to forget the way the owner of Jasmin Lodge laughs or the way the director of SHCC talks and I don’t want to forget how excited Sochea (a teacher at SHCC) gets when you fall for one of his many pranks. I don’t want to forget any conversation I’ve had with anyone while over here and I never want to forget any of the countless moments where I have been truly, genuinely happy doing something that I have dreamed of doing for years now.

In the last few weeks we’ve been busy cramming in everything we had previously missed – Battambang with Hak (the manager of Jasmin), cooking classes and birthday parties, a Wedding to attend on Tuesday, Sangkheum students’ soccer matches, dinners out, additional trips to Blue Pumpkin (a brilliant, though completely westernised, icecream store) and completing as much work around our set placements as possible. At SHCC this means that Mitch has completed his paving, the bridges are all complete, the fish ponds are almost finished, we’ve scrubbed all the classrooms clean from top to bottom and have now begun to paint. The Jay's School volunteers have managed to clean out all the rooms which had an astronomical build-up of dust, dirt and useless paraphernalia cluttering the already limited space available in the past few days, ready to begin painting. The Sangkheum girls have been preparing for upcoming tests and weekly soccer matches with the students, and have managed to discover a new breed of animal which is supposedly a pig mixed with a dog, which they ‘fondly’ refer to (as fondly as you can refer to a pig-dog) as Pog.

With only two weeks to go everyone has finally begun their independent travel planning (something which has been put off for as long as possible, apparently) for post-antips and their last minute shopping at the markets, it’s all feeling as though it’s drawing to a close – I’m still not sure how I feel about this.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Katie's Interview in the Sydney Morning Herald

We're pretty chuffed that one of our future GapBreak students, Katie Parris-Veale from Barker College, made it onto page 3 of the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday! Katie talks here about her decision to travel to Ghana with Antipodeans Abroad next year, and why she is choosing to travel abroad after her HSC.

Have a read!

Ghana, I'll miss you!

Hello from Ghana.
Today is everyone's second last day with our host families. We cannot
believe it has come on so quickly. School is becoming quite emotional
as we tell our kids that we will soon leave them. There are so many
things that seem like home to us these days that I forget are so
foreign to you reading the blog back home. So here's a list of all the
things that I will miss about my home in Agona Swedru and my stay with
my host family.

Wandering down the streets of Swedru is like walking through different
people's backyards. You experience small kids washing and brushing
their teeth and adults cooking outside on their fire stoves. Just down
the street from us we have a lady who makes banku and sells it (a
local dish made of maize and cassava). I will miss the baby goats who
roam the streets bleating for their mothers who tend to walk a little
bit too fast for their short legs. It's also common to see chickens
wandering around with their little babies, all spray painted pink so
that they can be identified by their owners. Usually all the animals
know what house to return to no matter how far they have strayed.

I will miss the cute little local kids greeting me in the mornings
with "Obroni1!!!!" (meaning foreigner) and i will never get over how
excited they are to see us every morning. Brightening our day with
their excited squeals as we walk down the road to school.

I will miss our students and how they rush out to greet us before we
have even stepped within the school grounds. We can hear cries of
"MADAME" as we approach and almost get bowled over by excited little
kids who are so happy to have us as their teachers. Some of the girls
have even started calling me their mother and they sit in wonder as
they play with my blond straight hair and place stickers all over my
arms and face. Siobhan told me that one of her kids asked her to
remove her wig (which is what many women wear here as their hair is
thick and wiry and hard to maintain). They cannot believe we have
naturally straight hair.

On Saturday we are all traveling as a group up north. Starting in the
Volta region we plan to see the Wli falls and a monkey village before
taking a 3 day cruise up the Volta river!

This past weekend. Siobhan, Hannah, MJ, Georgia, Tony and I traveled
across the Ghanaian boarder to Togo. It was like entering another
world and i have to say it was one of my highlights. Especially the
Fetish market where Voodoo practitioners and white magic doctors sold
all kinds of animal parts to perform healing and magic. There was
everything from dried chameleons to an elephant skull, hyena, monkey,
leopard and dog heads and many other grotesque and interesting things.
It was one of the major highlights of my trip to Africa. We also
visited Togo's version of Mc Donalds (Al Donalds) but didn't eat there
as it looked very dubious and we did not want to get sick.

Hopefully while traveling up north I can update you on our last day
and a half in swedru and everyone's experiences leaving their families.

Until Next time. Eleanor!!!!

From Paris With Love - Brooke's last few weeks in France

Hello everyone!

I'm back from two very busy weeks of travelling!

Lyon was a very beautiful city, plenty of good shopping, eating and drinking to be done, which is exactly what we did! I went with Laeticia (the ex-wife of my French father - the family dynamics are a little confusing) and we stayed for two nights at the home of her cousins. In total there were 6 girls, so it was a girls only weekend. We hired bikes, a very efficient way of getting around the city (and smells better than the subway too). We lunched at a typical French restaurant and went shopping in very expensive French stores. Needless to say, I bought nothing in those stores. Then home for dinner before heading out to the river that runs through Lyon, to go dancing... on a boat! Very peculiar place for a pub, but entertaining if nothing else!

Then home to the quiet town of Saint Pierre de Vassols (estimated population of 200 people), only to leave the next morning! Spent the week at the other grandparents, who are both very nice and welcoming. It was very sweet when Jean-Claude (the grandad) tried to show me how to work facebook, he thought I might need help. And even more sweet was waking up and having the lovely Jinette (grandma) prepare a delicious breakfast for me, freshly baked bread, home-made jam, tea and all laid out on a little tray! I'm being very spoilt, that's a certainty! The cousins came over for lunch and were all fascinated to know various facts about Australia.

Then again back to my tiny town, and again left the next morning, this time for the beautiful capital of France, Paris! Had a bit of trouble getting there, had to catch a train from Avignon to Marseille then to Paris... so 5 and a half hours later I finally get there! Then more trains, this time on the Metro (which for everyone's information smells terrible) to pick up Christophe, the friend of the family, to drive the two hours to the beautiful Normandie! We stayed with Lucille's parents, who are once more very very nice people. Normandie is amazingly beautiful and I considered never leaving it, but as always, all good things must end... Then onwards (or rather backwards) to Paris again! This time I stayed for a week with Christophe and Lucille. Lucille isn't working at the moment, so it was good to have a friend to do touristy things with. And half the things we did, she had never done before either (even though she's been living in Paris for 4 years). We saw the Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Arc de Triumph and took a day trip out to see the Chateau de Versailles. All very large and pretty!

It's good to be back home though, despite all the fun of travelling. The kids were very excited to see me again and have been very chatty with me lately too. They were thrilled with the free pens and pencils that I gave them (Lucille used to work for the company BIC - they make pens funnily enough). So I've attached photos of both travels and of the kids too for you all to see what life is like in France!

Much love to everyone!!

Love Brooke xoxo

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Iguazu and Mendoza - 2 months in Argentina

The two month milestone of our time in Buenos Aires has come and gone, much to our dismay. Time here travels in such a strange way - our arrival to the city seems years ago although everyday passes so

The group has been travelling around Argentina in the past few weeks. Ali, Sam and three other residents in the house traveled to Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina for the weekend. A highlight of the trip was a cycling tour of some vineyards - although their co-ordination became somewhat compromised as their day went on, ending in some near scrapes with semi-trailers. They also explored the city of Mendoza and went to the nearby hot springs.

Lucie, Josh, Chirag, Em and I travelled to Cataratas de Iguazu (Iguazu falls) the following weekend. We left for Puerto Iguazu - the small, sleepy town on the Argentine side of the falls - on Thursday midday, and 20 hours later, with the aid of sleeping pills and severalquestionable meals (why must everything be vanilla flavoured or have ham in it?) we arrived at our hostel. Drowsy although excited we set off for Parque Nacional Iguazu - words really can't describe the falls - the roar of falling water which can be heard from so far away or the spray of water when you get close really needs to be experienced first hand. We spent our first and second days at the waterfalls, walking the different trails and undertaking the scariest yet most exhilarating boat ride which actually went underneath some of the
waterfalls. The third day was spent lazing around the hostel and walking to the three country lookout (I can see Brazil...and Paraguay! But I'm still in Argentina?) before boarding the bus back home. Nikki, Jules, Julian and Dani travelled to Iguazu with their volunteer organisation, called LIFE. Their first stop was a small, isolated Indigenous Argentinian village. The village was totally surrounded by
jungle and was without running water so they needed to fetch massive buckets of water from the nearby river. Julian (who sort of liked the job) was given the majority of that work. There was also cooking and cleaning to do, as well as spending time with the nearby children. However the people in the community didn't speak Spanish, but a language called Guarani, making communication difficult. They also visited the waterfalls and entered Paraguay and Brazil (however not strictly legally).

Lucie, Em, Ali and I, who work for the Argentine organisation, Voluntario Global have been enjoying our work, although there are many ups and downs. Not speaking Spanish is still the hardest challenge - spanish skills are almost a necessity in our work, but we are starting to accept how big a commitment learning a foreign language is. We are learning more about the children at our orphanage - it is truly awful to think where some of these children have come from, and the huge challenges they will continue to face throughout their lives - whether because of HIV infections, intellectual disabilities, other illnesses or simply trying to escape the cycle of poverty.

The boys at the local private schools are enjoying their work albeit
don't seem to do that much. Although we have been here for over two months, the city still continues to surprise me and I'm loving it more with each day. The coffee culture, the shopping, the bars and clubs, the fantastic food and restaurants - it seems almost ridiculous that one city can offer so much.
Talk soon!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Learning your ABC's - Molly's wintery Shenyang, China

It's a cold Monday morning, and I just had two of my baby classes. In my second one there is a hilarious girl who I named Rachel. We sing a song called 'Ready for School' each day, and she gets into that one hardcore. She sings so loudly and in this deep guttural (gutteral? I'm not sure) voice, and almost takes the other kids out when she performs her actions. Every day, without fail. It makes me laugh. so hello.

So far I'm up to the letter G with those two classes, but with Tilly/Smile's class (she was Smile but then she wanted a new one so now it's Tilly, short for Matilda) we're up to H/I and they know pretty much all the songs. Those two/3 year olds are bright sparks. My favourite kid is in that class. His name is Alvin, and he knows he can make me laugh. He'll pull the strangest face and stare at me, until I laugh and then he'll pull another one. He has the best smile. My older 4 year olds I'm supposed to be concentrating on the concept of friends, cooperation and sharing. Which is a bit hard, considering the language barrier. There's one kid, Josh, who, when I'm teaching will come up to me and say good work, good work. I'm like, thanks Josh.

So now I am past the half way point in my teaching semester. Only ten weeks at Kid Castle remain. Which is rather saddening. I have to say Konny and I were so incredibly lucky to be placed here, this kindergarten is so accomodating and the teachers and staff are so open and friendly. I am really going to miss this place.
This past weekend I spent in Beijing. Arrived there 10:30 Friday night, and got back to Shenyang 10:00 last night. It was such a good weekend, so chilled. There were only five of us; Oonagh, Emily, Linnea, her friend from Sweden, and myself. Ate some good food, had some good times, caught up with other TTCers based in Beijing. Two Danish girls from TTC, Emma Liva and Leah, are thinking of staying and teaching next year in Beijing. They gave me the number of their school, apparently they are always looking for new english teachers. I think if everything works out, Beijing is definitely the place where I'd stay and work next year. I love the city, there is just something about it. It's exciting and interesting and big and different to Shenyang. I'm glad I'm in Shenyang this year, gave me an opportunity to live and work somewhere different. But Beijing for sure.

Apparently it snowed yesterday in Shenyang! And I missed it. Beijing was really nice weather, sunny, blue skies, and it got up to 18 degrees. And for the past two weeks Shenyang has also been really nice, warm (15 degrees is classified as warm) and again clear skies. But I think that's the end of the good weather. Winter has definitely set in, at the moment it's 5 during the day and minus temperature at night. And it's going to keep getting colder. Also the river freezes over in winter and you can go iceskating on it! 10 kwai (like $1.50) for iceskating as long as you'd like. I know, amazing. So I guess winter is actually pretty exciting. This weeked we're going to Dandong and take a cruise to see North Korea. Should be good, I'll tell you about it.

Anyway everything is going well, everyone is fine.
Until next time!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Snakes on a Plane

[No. I do not wish to frighten you parents with this set of news; it is purely to inform you of the accumulation of snakes. However we are now becoming immune to our fear of them. This, I assure you, is a good thing. Plus there’s like, none, now because it’s cold. So don’t worry. (Winters coming… ergh. I’ve got to get out my thermals.)]

On Sunday the 3rd of October 2010 (Nepal 2067) a black with green bellied snake was found slithering around in Jane Eldershaw, Bee Tapp and Jennifer Calacoci’s tree house bedroom looking for (what they had hoped was) mice.

The snake was found after a joke was made my Miss Tapp after the sighting of a previous snake earlier that week; another black with a green belly, was found by a Miss Rachel Finch wrapped around the wooden roof planks in her bedroom.

“I was just lying in Suza and my bed, eating my mars bar”, announced Miss Finch, “when I looked up and saw the snake. So I very quickly hid my mars bar so my Nepali sisters wouldn’t see it, and ran from the room.”

Miss Finch was commended by Miss Tapp earlier that day for having stashed her mars bar first, to prevent questions being asked by her Nepali family before escaping the snake.

The events of the later sighting, seen by Miss Calacoci, occurred approximately an hour after she arrived back at her Nepali house, as she sat on the balcony, exhibiting her collection of Bhaktapur items.

As Miss Eldershaw and Miss Tapp excitingly examined the few (2 bags full – few, being slightly controversial) items Miss Calacoci had to display, book thumps were heard upon the floor.

“As we (Eldershaw, Tapp and Calacoci) heard the thumps on the floor,” recalled Miss Tapp with a slight anxious, yet compelling tone, “We automatically thought aloud; ‘Moosa’ (mouse). We were suddenly settled and relaxed by knowing the source of the noise. Immediately, I was unsettled again by the recollection of the snake in the house next door, so I relayed my gradually increasing worry to Jen and Jane.”

The place where the sound occurred was then investigated by Miss Calacoci. The snake was found almost immediately. Miss Calacoci continues; “I distinctly remember opening the door and quickly peeking into the room, expecting to see only sprawled books on the floor the moosa left behind. I guess it was this expectation that led to my hurried and gob smacked second glance that led to the sighting of a slowly slithering green two metre, not thin, snake on the floor.”

Miss Calacoci then hurriedly deserted her items as she instructed very clearly to everyone on the verandah to “Get out!”

“I didn’t believe her at first. I thought it merely a cruel joke, as she very well knows I’m not very good with snakes – in the slightest” says Miss Tapp.

Inevitably, Miss Tapp and Miss Calacoci hurriedly proceeded down the stairs and out the door, whereas a brave Miss Eldershaw stayed upstairs.

Miss Eldershaw witnessed the account from the upstairs balcony with her Nepali sister Sabina. “I was very disturbed that there was a snake slithering around in my weekly food stash. It was just one big shock. My worry was later transferred from the snake to Bee’s state and Jen’s hysterics.”

“I was very concerned,” relays Miss Finch, “when I heard screaming and a good carrying on, followed by the quick exit of Jen and Bee out their front door towards the toilet block. They revealed to me there was a snake so I asked if it was green and black. The automatic yes from the hysterical laughter and crying of Jen made me realize it was the same snake.”

Miss Tapp then declared she was going for a walk, and asked if she was able to walk to the path and out, down (or up) the road. As her sister Miss Sabina Subedi replied to her closer to the scene that she was able to, Mr. Pradip Subedi, her brother, throws the snake (he had excessively sprayed with fly spray) out the bedroom window, to the beginning of the path.

More tears proceeded from Miss Calacoci, and frantic screams flew from Miss Tapp’s voice as she fled to the water well, attempting, unsuccessfully, to climb on to the toilet block roof, and thus, get away.

The snake was beaten by a stick, sighted by all, and deposited in the garden. The snake was not to be sighted again.
“I have seen snakes since that, smaller, and much thinner, on the road on my way to school,” retells Miss Tapp, “and I’m glad to say, I’m becoming immune to them. My fear for snakes is slowly, but surely depleting.”

Miss Finch continues, “It was undeniably a tough ordeal for Bee, but the white kit kat chunkie that was later consumed by her that day would surely not have been hidden from her sisters, prior to heading downstairs if she was snacking on it at the time of the sighting.” Miss Calacoci and Miss Tapp were later witnessed sitting on a high hill far from the scene, eating the chocolate.

“It was all we could do,” says Miss Tapp, “we couldn’t escape, so the only alternative was chocolate.”

Miss Calacoci nods and agrees. “We needed a break, so we had a kit kat – chunkie, for the extent of the ordeal. I believe the chocolate helped us mentally. Just like the chocolate Lupin gave to Harry after his ordeal with the dementors had helped him.

Despite all allegations, Miss Tapp later claimed she would much rather be in any catastrophe than be put in the same room with a snake.
Mr. Subedi later assisted the scarred girls by replacing the holes in the room with corn cobs. “The corn is used for cow, but, I think, we make Bee and Jen feel better with corn.”

Miss Subedi also offered her room for the night as comfort.

“Nah its okay,” replies Bee, “I think the jellyfish will make us alright. I don’t know what I would do without the jelly.”

Although this has not been the last snake sighting in the village, it’s certainly the last of the 2 metre black and green snake.

Bolivia and the witch markets

We barely had 2 weeks between our Nazca and Bolivia trips but we were itching to get back on the road and experience more of South America.

We took a long bus ride to Puno for a good morning’s sleep and a connecting boat to Lake Titicaca. Unfortunately due to a communication error in booking we arrived at our hotel at 4 in the morning only to find that the only room available to us was a small pre-natal clinic room for storing our bags. In the end we managed to fit 18 large bags and 16 people in this tiny room for two hours sleep, sheltered under jackets and loose clothing for warmth. Lying on the lino, staring up at the educational birthing styles poster and dreaming of the infamous floating islands that we were just hours away from visiting - it was definitely an interesting start to the journey.


As the sun rose we clambered put of the clinic and made our way to the harbor. The boat we were in pulled up the shore of the floating islands and we were astonished. There were literally miles of Islands made entirely out of reeds that crunched and shifted under you feet, the whole platform rocking on the water’s surface. We were treated to a speech regarding the islands construction, a tour of the houses, a traditional dance by the women and a reed-boat ride on the lake before we journeyed to a nearby island where we would stay the night with a local family.

Marlena (our host for the night) led us over the fields and stone walls, into her house, introducing us to her mother and three children. Although the language barrier was an issue she did everything she could to make us feel at home and we did everything we could to make awkward small-talk about the weather and her beautiful home.

The night rolled around and entered we entered the kitchen for dinner (after hitting our heads on the Peruvian-sized threshold). Marlena was waiting for us with traditional dresses to put on. As it turns out we were on our way to a dance. We ambled to the hall where all our friends and host families stood in large skirts and ponchos, dancing to a lively Peruvian band. A tourist attraction maybe, but well worth it.
From here we continued on to Bolivia – first stop, The Amazon.

When I was in year 11, dreaming about my gap year, I never though t it would involve taking a casual ride down the Amazon surrounded by crocodiles and capyburas. A welcome surprise.

It was extremely hot and humid so dangling our toes in the water was a relieving sensation, however we were a little worried about the possibility of having them bitten off by the crocs swimming along-side us and sun-baking, jaws open, on the shore. This fear was quickly amplified as our canoe was bogged and our guide told us we had to get out and push it past the sand bank. We all laughed.
He wasn´t joking.

This happened many more times before we made it to our destination.
Hammocks, cold drinks and ethereal mosquito nets over our bunks, this was quite possibly the best place I have ever been. The cold showers were well welcomed and we slept brilliantly, awaking to the sound of the forest animals greeting the morning light. Over the next few days we had an Amazon mud-fight, searched for snakes in the savanna-style surroundings, swam with piranhas and went fishing off the banks with a little wire and some raw meat. The time passed too quickly and soon we were on our way to LaPaz. The highest capital city in the world stretched out before us. Outrageously overpopulated, with buildings and markets squeezes side by side and barely enough room for cars and yet the lively atmosphere was exactly what we were hoping for.

The best place to be in LaPaz is the ´Witch markets´. Named, no doubt, for tourist-appeal, and, as we found out, it works brilliantly. The first few shops were filled with dried and stuffed baby llamas, toads and countless other rather disturbing spectacles but just a few meters down, the traditional shops begin. Colourful cloth hanging between roves and glittering trinkets spilling onto the streets, we arrived just in time for a parade. Incan creatures and live Bolivian music consumed the streets.
During this fiesta the majority of the group was bike-riding down ´Death Road´. It is one of the most dangerous roads in the world, only meters wide with 600m cut-off cliff-faces this road has only just become one-way and people still die on it every year.

15 of our group braved the journey and came away with a t-shirt (which read ´gravity assisted biking´), a free beer and, luckily, their lives. After the ride they were given the opportunity to ride a flying fox and go to a local wildlife park. Clancy ´bearded´ Moore was of great interest to the monkeys and spent much of the afternoon with at least one hanging off him.

Truly this was an amazing journey and upon our return home we were shocked to realize how little time we had left. 

Zoe x

Thursday, 4 November 2010

"The Day of the Dead" China Style

I have been inundated in past weeks. Not with water, but more or so, with Halloween related activities. Yes, Halloween has somehow immersed itself as part of Chinese culture. Well, at least in youth culture. And by youth, I think I mean exclusively, my kindergarten. Happyland was the place to be on Friday the 29th of October. Yes, ‘The Day of the Dead’ celebrations had to be changed for practical reasons. What a grand day was had though, after ‘rigorous’ (note the inverted commas) planning and craft making.

The first creation of this Halloween spectacular (weeks in advance of the actual date) was, as I liked to call it; ‘The Halloween Board’. And as the name may or may not insinuate, it was a board about Halloween, explaining the origins, presence in contemporary culture, the many entitlements it can possess and common activites. Could anyone actually read the English synopsis? Doubtful, however, they could be dazzled by all the aesthetic wonder I surrounded the English synopsis with. Lots of bats. A tree, a mighty fine tree. A yellow circle, that one could and hopefully did interpret as the moon. Some highly pixelated pictures and large red writing.

When the fateful day arrived we were greeted with blue skies and a vast majority of the child population dressed in costumes. I myself, thought I would enrich the children’s lives by dressing up as ‘Where’s Wally?’, with a modern twist. And my teaching assistant, forward slash lovely human being and 我的朋友, wore a costume somewhat resembling a witch. Her name is Jessica, and she just has this wonderful nature about her that I will miss thoroughly come January. So the day consisted of four 45 minute parties for 2 classes combined. Sorry if that makes no sense.

The structure of the parties were quite methodic. First, a greeting, “Happy Halloween” no less. Then some new words to learn:
- ghost
- pumpkin
- bat

This was followed by a fashion parade. Potentially the cutest single moment of my life thus far. I attribute this to the fact that ‘Doctor Jones’ was the runway theme song. Some of the costumes were quite creative, and unique. The posing, adorable. Subsequently following was game time. Three games running in not quite perfect syncronicity, but were running! ‘Pin the nose on the witch’ was my personal favourite. Despite the fact I constructed the amazing looking witch, I feel I can be completely objective in the above statement. Other games included going on a ‘witch hunt’ to find small cut out witch papers around the room, then there was what was supposed to be a pumpkin toss contest. What I mean is, throwing light weight plastic balls through a pumpkin picture. But that all went haywire when I lacked the necessary resources. Instead it was throwing balls through the frogs mouth (overtly large mouth, might I say?). Oh, and then it was “trick or treat”. Not going to lie. Children can be cruel and gluttoneous.

The next day, us Australians and a girl of Swedish decent decided to keep that haunting spirit alive by dressing up once again and galavanting through the city, to popular shopping districts and landmark statues of Mao Zedong, in costume. A splendid day, made all the more better by the sun’s rays and the hilarity of the costumes. I was a nerd, a geek, a stereotyped academic achiever- see what I did there? Emily went 80’s, Molly went as a tea bag. Amazing. And Linnea, the delightful Swede. Well, no one actually knows what her costume was about. It was like commando, cross dominatrix. All in all though, a wonderful first time celebrating Halloween, with no better company.

Since I somewhat dabbled on the subject of weather just previously, I feel I should let all know, that it is quite chilly here in Shenyang. It’s been autumn (emphasis on the season) for a month now, and the weather is a lovely, mild 6-8 degrees most days and into the minuses during the night. Don’t mistake me though, I am relishing the weather change and most of all the opportunity to experience and live in snow. This lake in Shenyang will freeze over and become an ice skating rink. Good times will ensue.

There is no chance of me missing Australia and getting homesick for the entirety of this 6 month trip as my saving grace arrived in the mail a week ago. PEPPERMINT TEA! Tim Tams. And various other consumer goods that my wonderful mother put in a care package. Vegemite, salt and vinegar chips, chocolate (proper chocolate). They were nice. Yes, do note the past tense here, as a majority no longer exist physically. Bit of trivia for ya’ll; yesterday marked the halfway point of this voyage. It has just begun dawning on me- almost like an epiphany, that one day this is all going to end (apologies for the nostalgia). And I will have to say goodbye to my school, the teachers, the kids, the nice woman that speaks amazing English at the IS cafe, my roomates, my friends, the sardine-like public transport system, my walk home from school and the many stares I recieve, catching taxis with such ease, the construction every few metres, street pancakes, the Chinese people squatting. I try to repress these thoughts. But I possess no delusions, I know it is a natural progression and it is culminative.

Just to completely change the topic, I went to a lovely town called Benxi two weeks ago. It was splendid. A two hour bus ride from Shenyang. And this quite simply, lushious scenery of autumn. Trees wilting, lakes flowing. Colours of brown, orange and red in their various shades taking hold. I really enjoyed it. The sky was as blue as I’ve ever seen it in China, but don’t be decieved, it was a blummin’ cold day. Boardwalks were cleverly interwinned with natural paths, bridges which allowed you to capture the highest points. One of the teachers from my school accompanied, as I suspect my school feared I would die in Benxi, not knowing much Chinese and an inability to read the signage. Bless.

I’ll leave it there for now. Just know, I am loving life and life in Shenyang, more specifically. I am being curious and passionate, eager and explorative. I hope you are all doing the same, wherever and whatever you are doing in life.

Tyler Gleason

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Coconut Rugby and Ghana Travels

Time: 9.09pm
Location: Eleanor’s bed Yaabim, Agona Swedru
Blogger: Eleanor
Co-Bloggers: Jyo and or Ellie
It has been a few weeks since I last blogged and it seems like it was yesterday that we were hiking in Kakum national Park and watching monkeys and other animals at the sanctuary. Since then all of us seemed to have settled into our various schools after a few of the pairs switching to more appropriate schools. Georgina, Hanna, Sophie and Bec have all moved to their new schools and are settling in well.
The first weekend of October, our group were in two minds about where to travel so Mj, Siobhan and I went to Big Milly’s at Kokrobite beach with some volunteers from America, Sweden, England, Germany and Swizerland. The rest of the Girls visited the Volta region with a German Ghanain called Emmanuel to witness a traditional festival. Date: 30/10/2010

Siobhan, Mj, Matt (a medical volunteer from England) and I booked a room at Big Milly’s to sleep five but when we arrived we met up with some other volunteers from Swedru who had hired a house with their friends for 100 cedi a night. We ended up moving rooms and sharing the fully contained house with that group. For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant down the street which had REAL ITALIAN food made by an Italian Chef! It was so exciting to have real pasta and PARMISAN CHEESE which are almost impossible to find in Swedru! When we arrived back at Big Milly’s there was traditional drumming and dancing which had attracted all the other Obroni’s to the bar! During that night and the rest of thee weekend we got to know the other Volunteers well enough to plan subsequent weekend holidays with them. Sadly Tom the Pom from Swedru who was staying in the house with us left that Sunday. We had a nice farewell at the tro tro station and decided to travel on the next weekend with Tony (from America) and Jesper (from Sweden). Saturday was spent on the beach and Tom decided we should all play touch rugby with a coconut. His team included MJ and Siobhan and unfortunately they won (mostly because of Tom’s very serious coaching and strategy). We relaxed for the rest of the weekend, spending our money on multiple dresses and trinkets from the beach market.

This weekend just past, Mj, Siobhan, Hannah, Georgina, Matt and I all travelled to Cape Coast with another tom who we met in Swedru who comes from Tasmania. On Friday we had Pizza for lunch at Sammo’s Guest house which is on top of a building overlooking the ocean. Siobhan was very observant and spotted two whales swimming off the coast so we ate Pizza and watched whales dance all afternoon. After lunch we visited Cape Coast Castle and went on a short tour through the dungeons, the condemned cell and the Door of no return. The Castle was very confronting but it was lovely to see that there was a plaque on the wall which stated “In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We. The living. Vow to uphold this.” It was a nice way to end the tour and put a positive spin on the lessons learned by the Ghanains and Europeans involved in the Slave Trade. There was also another plaque which was unveiled by President Obama and Michelle Obama who was the first president and First lady to visit the Cape Coast castle on 11th July 2009. I found the tour very interesting. Later on we met up with Tony and Jesper and Tony’s friend Joeva who came to our hotel for drinks that night. We had a very fun and late night which made us exhausted the next day when we went to Elmina Castle.
Elmina Castle was very beautiful and the Town of Elmina was a gorgeous fishing village with hundreds of colourful boats moored in the lake just off the coast. The Castle was Built by the Portuguese for housing produce but was used later for the slave trade by the Portuguese and Dutch. After we visited the castle we spent the afternoon at the craft markets buying more Ghanaian trinkets and Jewelry. We also found a Rasta Farian to dreadlock Mj’s hair and we spent all afternoon in the back of his shop watching the process which involved using egg yolks to bind the hair. She would have to wait a week before washing her hair by which time it would have begun to knot and form Dread Locks. Unfortunately he did not do such a good job and the next day she took them out before they began to knot. Dinner was delicious Pizza at Sammo’s Guest house down the Road from Oasis where we were staying. We went with the entire group and had to phone order in the morning so that they had all of the ingredients for the 7 Pizzas that we ordered.

While we were at cape coast the rest of the crew were near Takoradi at a resort called Green Turtle which is recommended by many volunteers as it is very secluded and the hotel is lovely. The girls highly recommended that we go there at some point and they said they all had a wonderful time.

It was back home on Sunday and back to school the next day. We are finding teaching rewarding but extremely difficult at times with limited facilities and poor discipline. The kids know we will not cain them so they behave badly. Thankfully they respond well to positive affirmations and stickers and stamps are a good substitute to the corporal punishment that the Ghanaian teachers use.

Our next few weekends have also been spent at beach resorts. We went back to Big Milly’s on the 15th with Tony, Jesper, Joeva and Joeva’s friend Arouna from Burkhina Faso. The girls decided to stay in Accra that weekend and come to Big Milly’s on Saturday night so it was lovely to catch up with them on the weekend. Friday night was incredible. We had drinks with Arouna and his friend who could only speak French. As I studied French at school it was lovely to practice me rusty language skills with him. Most of the night I was adamant that “je ne le parle pas bien” (I don’t speak it well) but he thought I did ok. Later on, we walked down the beach where some locals were playing drums. We played with them until the early hours in the morning and it was amazing to see the drumming skills that the locals had learned at a young age. Kate, Iszy, Hannah, Bec and Georgina turned up on Saturday night. Sophie, Hayley and Ellie stayed home that weekend as they needed rest after recovering from malaria. I’ve spoken to them since and they said it was a quick illness and they are fine now. The girls that came were able to enjoy the Rasta farian band playing inside the hotel. They tried to go to bed early as they had been up partying in Accra the night before but their accommodation was an open loft style room right next to where the band was playing. We ran into Jyo and Diane the next day at the beach markets. Diane was in a little shop playing drums and Jyo was wondering around taking lots of pictures of the beautiful beach.

This past weekend, while the other girls spent their weekend exploring the streets of Accra. Siobhan, Mj, Jesper and I travelled 10 hours to stay in a small seaside Village called Beyin. We were greeted by the owner of our accommodation, Steven, who showed us to our beautiful secluded hut right on the sand. We then walked through the candle lit streets of Beyin to find some local food for dinner. We ended up eating a very spicy bean stew with rice which was very tasty but left our mouths yearning for water! Our accommodation was basic but sat right upon a stunningly untouched beach next to the Newest Slave fort along Ghana’s coast, fort Apolloina. The next morning we took an hour long canoe ride to an ancient village on stilts which was created by immigrants from Mali during tribal wars in Ghana. It was interesting to see the village but the Canoe was definitely the highlight especially when on the way back it… sank. Mj, Siobhan and I were all carrying phones, expensive cameras, camera lenses and so forth so once we started sinking we frantically looked for trees to hang our belongings on. Nothing got damaged and Siobhan could not stop laughing! We swam around for a while until we managed to retrieve the canoe from the bottom of the lake! It was definitely the highlight of our weekend.

This weekend we decided to stay home but we decided to visit the Accra Mall on Friday for some R&R. We had visited the Mall with Jesper and Tony the previous Wednesday to watch a movie and decided to go back for some air conditioning and chocolate! We have discussed however that it is good that we only found the Mall ¾ of the way through our trip and we had spent two months totally immersed in Ghanain Culture. We heard from the other girls that visiting the mall had heightened their feelings of homesickness however we found that it had the opposite effect on us. While we were away (on Thursday 28th October) our host brother’s (Kelvin) mother gave birth to a beautiful little girl Emmanuella! We can’t wait to see her but so far she has been sleeping a lot and we haven’t met her yet. We were overwhelmed this morning when Kelvin’s mum gave Mj, Siobhan and I custom made dresses as presents.

Today we took our host family to Winneba beach! Many of them rarely travel so it was a special treat. Kelvin, who is 4 years old, has never seen the ocean and he was terrified! He said “it is big big big” and wouldn’t go anywhere near the water after the foam from the waves tickled his feet the first time. We had a lovely lunch and I made everyone try French fries which they had never eaten as they have to import potatos in Ghana! We then returned to Swedru and went to swim in the pool at Greenland hotel with Iszy, Hannah, georgina, Jyo, Sophie, Hayley and Ellie. It was a nice time to catch up and hear stories. Also to discuss the last two weeks of our trip where we get to travel up north after finishing our teaching placements in 10 school days!
Until next time! Ciao! Love Eleanor