Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Indian wedding adventure

We know you all anxiously wait for our latest updates and read our posts to the very end, but life’s short and so we shall start with the best part first: our Indian wedding adventure. The weekend began with the traditional Indian guessing game of “if the car is supposedly coming to pick us up at noon, what time will it actually get here?” Eventually, eight of us crammed into a jeep and headed off for the home of `our FEGG colleague Avedesh to experience our first traditional Indian wedding ceremony.
A six-hour road trip with our beloved colleagues ensued, with much backseat dancing to Akon and Hindi pop songs as the first signs, that behind the professional facade that we see in the office, these men had inner rhythmic demons just dying to materialise started to emerge. Once again, we were highly entertained by the shoddy standard of Rajasthan’s road infrastructure, which resulted in major bruising and likely some undiagnosed internal injuries as Ingrid and Anna were tossed around like rag dolls in the rear seats.
Upon arrival at Avedesh’s family residence, we witnessed the ceremonial bathing and dressing of the groom in his marriage robe, dagger and turban, before being treated to a scrumptious dinner. And then the party started: we were invited to join the wedding party in the pre-wedding day parade around town to announce to the town that Avedesh is going to get married. The handsome groom rode on horseback whilst accompanied by deafening live music, boys carrying bright lanterns and a procession of dancing family members and friends on a 1 km walk. This lasts some two hours as the entire procession, complete with a truck toting the electric generator to power all the lights and speakers, pauses every 3 metres so that dancing can take place.
Once back at the house, Anna and Ingrid were treated to another rare experience – an invite to the buck’s night, Indian-style. If this sounds potentially thrilling, there really is no need to be overly excited. The girls were allowed to stay in the room with the rest of the FEGG crew and the groom on his last night as a single lad, and after some raucous, we promptly all fell asleep from an exhausting day.
Wedding day quickly turned into ‘dress-up and pose for photos’ day as the girls got into their saris and Matt into a kurta, doti and a special Rajputi turban. Getting fully Indianfied went a long way in pleasing (and amusing) the locals and we were pretty satisfied with the end result ourselves. So satisfied in fact, that all three of us were itching to get hitched that day ourselves and spent the better part of the day sussing out potential suitors.
The official wedding parade did not begin until late in the day and the FEGG staffers took the opportunity to surprise Anna with a birthday cake, which she tackled with her typical cake-fiend fervour, starting a somewhat subdued cake fight (so as to not waste too much cake!) in the process.
Knowing that another two-hour procession of dancing was to come, we planned our evening carefully by throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into the dancing first and boogied to our hearts’ content. We then abandoned the procession for another delish meal (endless gulab jamon – need we say more?) in wait for the groom to reappear once again as he travelled around town at 0.5km/hr.

Around 9pm, we were finally treated to a glimpse of the bride for the wreath ceremony and too many flashing cameras to keep up with. A final session on the dance floor to reinvigorate us for a 6-hour bumping ride home and we were on the road again.
A special thank you to Avedesh for inviting us to his home and his wedding, and to Vikram, Manohar, Navneet, Suresh, and Nayraj for making the weekend endlessly enjoyable.
Congratulations, Avedesh!
Anna, Ingrid and Matt.

India Internship Scholarship

They say good things in threes.

This was certainly true of our seventh week in Pali.

Firstly, Anna and Ingrid discovered that, contrary to popular belief (both in Pali and back home), they are in fact, goddesses of the domestic kind. Matt was recently summoned to the field for a night to assist with an Educate Girls side project, and though within half an hour of his departure the guesthouse courtyard had filled with cows and dogs (which were evacuated by a neighbor at Ingrid and Anna’s request, or plea rather), the girls certainly redeemed themselves in the kitchen, preparing potentially the greatest sabjee stir fry Pali has never witnessed. We will not delve into the unconventional methods used in preparation and the strange and perhaps slightly horrified looks of one EG member when he saw us chopping vegetables on the chapatti board.

Secondly, we have discovered after seven weeks of watching only excessively melodramatic Hindi soap operas, Hindi news and cricket commentary in Hindi, that both the Discovery Channel and National Geographic are broadcast in English!! Anna is thrilled to have resumed her fervent love affair with Bear Grylls and Ingrid and Matt are just as pleased with the small respite from the constant sound of “What would Bear do??”

Finally, and most importantly, on a trip to Pali’s tribal belt to work on one of our final projects, Ingrid and Matt witnessed a small miracle that really brought the work of Educate Girls home. This last week we have been working on case studies on two girls in infinitely different situations. One girl, Kamla, with assistance from EG, has reenrolled in school and reached the tenth grade with prizes for her academic achievement. Another, Timi, an only child, was educated for two years before dropping out to help her handicapped father and working in the house and on their farm. While we spoke to 11 year old Timi’s family and photographed her daily activities (fetching water, grazing goats, chopping wood, milking cows, preparing food, cleaning the house) and discussed the work of Educate Girls and the benefits of a complete education her father made the decision that Timi would be reenrolled in the local primary school. It truly was a special moment and we hope that Timi will join the hundreds of other tribal girls in the local school.

Meanwhile, exhibiting highly un-intrepid behaviour, by holing herself up in the office, Anna has been drafting materials and documenting every facet of Education Girls program, from staff training materials to monitoring and evaluation matrices.

Legend has it that Brahma dropped a lotus flower on the earth and the Hindu pilgrimage town Pushkar appeared. Having heard glowing reviews about the town, its beauty, isolation and serenity, from parents who traveled there 25 years ago at least, we decided to make our own little pilgrimage for the weekend. It was beautiful, it was isolated, but serene it was not. Having spent seven weeks as the only foreigners in Pali, where we are beginning to feel as local as one can here, we three had very mixed feelings about the hoards of tourists that filled every nook and cranny of the streets, hostels and hills of Pushkar. Particularly when both Matt and Ingrid ran into acquaintances from school, university, the North Shore and Newtown. To its credit, Pushkar did have the very, very best restaurant and street food we have encountered so far, and for this reason alone we will return next weekend. As we have all come to agree, food is always priority number one.

Space-time collapse,
Ingrid, Matt and Anna

Friday, 21 January 2011

Weekly report for Peru

Here is a summary of our group on the ground.

The group are now working with kids in summer school classes with Art and English. They started with four students and they now have 25 students. The girls in the group are doing the classes and the guys are working on the construction project, which is what they have asked for. The girls are really enjoying the classes. Sometimes they are a bit of a challenge as with 25 kids it can get a bit out of control but they are learning how to deal with the kids.

The greenhouse is going really well. They are finishing the foundation and tomorrow they are starting on the adobe mud brick walls. As there is only two weeks left the group have decided to get to the school each day a little bit earlier so they can make sure to get the project finished. The foundations are always the hardest part of the project and take the longest.

All are fine with their health. None in the clinic to date!

All are happy with their houses and the food. We just need to make sure that some of the families spend a bit more time with them to socialise and help with Spanish.

Spanish classes:
All going well and are happy with their classes and their teachers.

Four went on the Inca Trail for four days to Machu Picchu and got back yesterday. They had a great time but are a little tired today. Jillian and Sharman are resting today and will get back to the school tomorrow.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Our first week in India

Well I arrived in Mumbai safe and sound! Flying in was amazing as the whole city was lit up and it's huge! The first thing I noticed on landing in Mumbai was the smog and the smell!! The airport terminals were full, even at 2am so our plane didn't have a terminal to pull into. We had to park some distance from the terminal and they sent out buses, which took us to the terminal.

The drive through Mumbai to the guesthouse was definitely an experience!! There are no road rules except toot loudly so people know you are coming. They have multiple traffic lights, which they just ignore, tooting as they go.

After arriving in Malvali we went to the next town called Lonavala on the train. The town is quite noisy with people tooting all the time and with no footpaths it's a battle not to get run over!

Otherwise just sat around & waited for the others to catch us up in Malvali.

We went into Lonavala again with the second group of Antips arrivals as some people hadn't been there yet.

After wandering around Lonavala for a while we got back on the train and headed back to Malavali and just sat around getting to know each other seeing as we are spending the next 4 weeks together!

We had our orientation and we are off to the local hospital in Lonavala to observe a clinic, pharmacy and maybe some surgeries!

Had vegemite on toast this morning for breakfast! The lady here cooked us toast and I brought a tube of vegemite so we had a feast!

Caught the train again which is always an experience. The Indian people are all so pushy when getting on and off and these trains are no-where near as crowded as the ones in Mumbai!

The consultant surgeon at the hospital (Dr Shaa) is very famous and a very good doctor. The three of us spent a couple of hours in the Outpatient Clinic with Dr Shaa. It was a tiny little room with a desk & a examining table & a couple of chairs. Adjoining it was what looked like an ensuite bathroom & turned out to be the drug room. There were 3 doctors present for the appointments, Dr Shaa was the senior doctor & he had two junior doctors who did all his paperwork and script writing. He just did the incredibly brief 'examination'. There was also a nurse or 'sister' who took blood pressures and gave injections.

We then went on a tour of the hospital. It has 25 ward beds split into male and female wards. There is a nurse in each ward. They had equipment like IVs and monitoring equipment but it was ancient! It all looked so old and worn out. They also have an ancient x-ray & ultrasound machine as well as a tiny operating theatre, which was also ancient technology! They do really sophisticated surgeries too considering the surroundings.

We went to the hospital in Lonavala again and sat in on the outpatient clinic with Doctor Shaa again.

After lunch we went and watched the afternoon surgery list, which was really interesting. We saw a circumcision, 2 hysterectomies and a lumpectomy (breast lump removal), which were all really interesting to watch, as I hadn't seen them before in Australia. I have no idea if the procedures here are the same as in Aus. It was fairly hygienic though in some ways. It was just really basic. The funniest thing that happened was the power went off (which is apparently a common occurrence) during the middle of the circumcision and the anaesthetist got his mobile phone out and tried to use it as light. The other junior doctors all had to run down to wherever the generator was and get it going. They still carried on the surgery though in the dim light!

We met the local neurosurgeon who had come down from his hospital near Pune. He is good friends with Dr Shaa and had come down to Lonavala as a favour to do a surgery for a family who could not afford to go to Pune to have it done.

After the consultations we went straight up to watch the neurosurgery. We watched him remove the piece of skull from a guy’s head, which had become infected. After that we had lunch and then headed back up to the surgery and watched a hernia repair on a young girl.

Headed over to Lonavala again. Our train was 20 minutes late this morning, which is the worst it has been so far. Overall I have been very impressed with the Indian rail system so far. I guess that may change once we start going longer distances!!

When we got to the outpatient department we were later than the other days and one of the junior doctors remarked that we were late. India runs on something called IST or Indian Stretchable Time, which basically means that everyone runs 15-20mins behind time and no one thinks anything of it. So for the doctors to remark that we were late today means we really must have been!!

We watched all the consultations again. The most interesting was a boy who had been bitten by a dog and was there to have rabies vaccines.

Once clinic finished we discovered that there weren't any surgeries for the rest of the day so we had a really short day, which was awesome for a Friday!!

This weekend we've decided to go Pune so that should be fun! Next week we're going on the mobile health vans so that should be fun!

From, Katrina

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Loreto Team A - Final Update

Just checking in from group A, we arrived in Ho Chi Minh safely and happily
yesterday morning. We all had a ball in Hoi An - shopping, eating, shopping,
eating... Yesterday after we arrived into the warm and humid city, we checked
into our hotel and made our way to the War Remnants museum. Today we woke up
early for a full and busy day in this hectic city. We got our bearings and
walked to the Ho Chi Minh city museum managing to master the art of crossing
roads, we marvelled at all the artworks and everything to see. We then further
made our way to the Opera House and got photos, of course including a quick
coffee and chocolate stop. We managed to flag down some cabs and paid between
15,000 and 250,000 for the same trip (we definitely learnt some lessons there),
we travelled to the Fine Arts Museum which was amazing! Following this busy
morning we had lunch and made our way to the Benh Ting markets. They were
massive and we managed to do some more shopping... Watch out for the weasel
coffee... We continued to move on to dinner (more food) and we decided to go to
an expensive restaurant to spend our budget, Lemongrass restaurant was awesome!
Following this we got even more food, chocolate sundaes, brownies, ice-cream -
everything we hoped for was in this ice-cream parlour! After this long and
fulfilling day, we have just made it home to the hotel and we all plan on trying
to squish everything into our big backpacks (hopefully not exceeding 20kgs!!)
Tomorrow we have an early wake up (5am) and we shall be travelling to the
airport, headed for Bangkok, then onto Sydney. We have all had an amazing time
and we can't wait to see you all when we arrive very shortly.
Just a reminder to all the parents, don't forget to pick us up!
See you soon,
Love Courtney Bellemore and Team A

Monday, 17 January 2011

Last blog from China - Gapbreak

In excess of a week, I have been pondering how to write my final and
complete update of China. I wanted it to encapsulate everything. I
wanted it to be worded impeccably, without any grammatical errors. I
wanted It to be descriptive and depthy. Basically, I wanted
perfection. But I have abdandoned that hope. I accept that there will
be grammar issues, bad spelling, puns that do not make you laugh.
Times where it makes little, to no sense. It won't be a perfect text,
but it will act as a sublime memory catcher for myself. I will keep it

Nine cities. Five and a half months. 24 weeks. 169 days. 4, 056 hours.
243, 360 seconds. And that brings us approximately to this exact

This my second to last day of teaching at Happyland. My senior class
is about to do presentations consisting of two sentences on their
favourite food. This morning, train races were held using giant boxes
and children inside. This has somehow transformed into an average day.
I don't exactly know when it happened, but it has. And I enjoy it

The rudimentary purpose behind myself coming to China was to teach
English, and I think I kind of underestimated firstly, my role in a
Chinese school and secondly, how much I would gain from such a thing.
You can say I am looking after 2-6 year olds, or you can say I am
utilising their formative years as an opportunity to enhance their
language development. I much prefer to use the latter.

I mean, I may only be teaching emotions, or transport, or food, or a
very tangible concept; an object. They may be singular words, or a
short sentence. But not only does it impress me how much these
children can remember. But it makes me think laterally, use my
creativity, think outside the box. Constantly be innovative and
active. It's not only fun, but it's exciting, and challenging, however
it wasn't always like this. At first it was foreign. I was foreign to
them and they were foreign to me. But now, relationships have
developed. This morning, I got one of my six year olds to try some
imported peppermint tea. One kid, in my two year old class. She's so
on the ball, as soon as she hears the 'see' from 'see you tomorrow'
she runs to my lap and hugs me, the rest of the class follows and I
look like a giant caterpillar. I have wars with the teachers in the
ball pit and when it was a midly warmer climate, leaf flights on the

Yesterday, I told Linda, a 6 year old girl in my senior class that I
am leaving on Friday and this morning her mum came up to me, while
Linda hid behind her and confirmed the date of my departure. She then
went onto say that Linda cried very much last night because of this.
It made my heart melt. I am going to miss this place so much. It's
strange to think how much of an impact I am having on their lives, but
it wasn't so strange when I realised how much they have impacted me.

Not only have I been able to teach whilst here, I have also quite
extensively travelled north eastern China. It started in Beijing and
has continued in Shenyang. There was Dalian for the mid-autumn
festival. Huludao this winter. Dandong, I saw North Korea. Inner
Mongolia and back to Beijing, greatest week of my life. Benxi, with
it's beautiful rivers and clear, crisp skies. China has been a delight
in every facet of it's being. Especially with thew amount of rice
consumption I have.

I honestly don't think I could have gained more from this experience.
I know it may sound strange, but my time away has really provided me
with this sense of awareness. This sense of passion, curiosity and
thirst for success. I've explored almost every facet of this culture
to some extent. Now, I am excited for what is next.

I am going to study my ass off. I am going back to Adelaide, atleast
for a little while. I am going to begin university. Studying law and
politics, it is also a great hope that I will be enabled to study
Chinese in synchronisation. I am excited. Being detached from the 24
hour news cycle has been amazing. I read pretty much only politics.
And my passion for it augments each day. There are officially no
opinion pieces on the ABC website's offshoot 'The Drum' left for me to
read. From my time away, this idea of further education has only
consolidated more. It has made the idea more attractive, and has
labelled it an opportunity to pursue something I love, rather than 'I
may aswell do it.'

Perhaps it is because I am 18, every 5 minutes I am different, I
discover something new and interesting about myself or the world
around me. But China changes people even more rapidly and intensely,
I've seen everyone around me grow and develop. It's been an incredible
time, one that will be indispensable. I'm excited for what will come.

Tyler Gleason

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Loreto Team A Update - From Hoi An

This email was also received lunch time Saturday 15th January:
hello from loreto team a!

here is just a quick update from mel's last email:

on the 12th of january loreto team a boarded an overnight train from Hanoi to Danang which would then lead us to Hoi An. Everyone was excited about arriving for many different reasons: sunshine, warmth, shopping, different food and beaches!!!!

The train ride took around 16 hours in total but time passed quickly because of the spectacular sights which were seen along the way. however for some people a.k.a Miss Scott and Mr Abarbanel time passed a lottle slower due to a friendly mouse paying a visit to their cabin causing Miss Scott to be up all night paranoid about the mouse nibbling at her face!

Once the train arrive in Hoi An it was then time to have lunch and then for everyone to pay a visit to local tailors to order their clothes to be made...some girls ordered dresses, pants, blazers and even shoes!

The evening was spent at a restaurant popular to all the girls because it served pizza, pasta and burgers as well as local specialities. Everyone decided to go western after eating vietnamese for 2 weeks straight!

The next day (14th) was spent once again shopping and visiting tailors for fittings however a visit to the market was also enjoyed as well as a traditional vietnamese cooking course in the evening which was enjoyed by the whole group!

Today (15th) the team plans to take a bike ride to the beach and a tip to the spa for manicures, pedicures, facials and massages is also going to be enjoyed by all today :)

Loreto Team A Update

This is an email from Loreto A received lunch time Saturday 15th Jan:
This is a long update on Loreto team A's trip through Vietnam. Continuing on from where we left off is the trek. The first day of the trek we walked 7km in the fog of the mountains and stayed at a lovely home stay, surprisingly it was new years eve for them. The next day we woke for the 18km walk up and over and back down the mountain side, the view was amazing and the next day we proceeded with another 6km trek where we excitedly ended at our community project. The 16 of us met with school staff to discuss the next couple of days and that night we got comfortable at our home stay and hid ourselves within our sleeping bags a it was always around 8c degrees, which was a shock for all of us. It was the day of the project and we slipped on old clothes and gloves and got to work with the cementing of the playground. The next day we awoke to a clear sky to proceed wit cementing and shovelling and redecorating the classroom. It became to b the next morning where it poured with rain meaning we couldn't continue cementing, so we decided to paint the classroom and the school. We were all feeling a little low because we hadn't had the chance to play with the kids because school was cancelled because it was under 10 degrees. But after all or hard work all the school kids appeared and we gave them our donations. To see their smiling faces lifted our spirits as we played with them all afternoon and they gave us great performance and even we performed. We said our farewells and packed our bags for Hoi an.

Friday, 14 January 2011

St John Youth in Cambodia

I think it’s fair to say that we have hit the ground running in Cambodia! We’ve had a fantastic week so far and are really looking forward to tomorrow’s lessons at our next placement to end our first week. We’re enjoying a bit of a quiet afternoon this afternoon as the team are in need of a bit of down time after a very busy few days.

The first few classes have been very successful. The first centre was a great place to find our bearings and put the lessons we have prepared to the test. The first lessons with the staff were great as we had a decent amount of time (45 mins per topic) were able to go into a good level of detail and test out each of the full versions of the lesson. The staff had very good English and Dimong, along with Tom and Jean, have been helping us out with key Khmer words for each lesson as well as some good tips on making our lesson content culturally relevant.

Tuesday afternoon we had 1.5 hours with the staff and then two 1 hour classes back to back with the kids from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. Wednesday was a full day with classes from 10:30 to 12noon and about 2:30pm to about 4pm with the staff and then 3 back to back classes with the students from 5:30pm to 8:30pm with the kids at the second campus for SK.

The lessons with the students were slightly shorter – 1 hour per class. Each of these classes had four of our six topics – Nutrition, Food Hygiene, Basic Hygiene and Oral Hygiene – so each topic had about a 15min ‘overview’. This model has turned out to be almost the perfect level of detail for the kids and all four topics have been a big hit – especially Liz and Rob’s hand washing song!! (We have a video which we’ll have to show you)... The kids at the first centre also had great English so this has made the adjustment to teaching in a non-english speaking environment a lot easier.

We had 4 hours this morning with some staff and students at our next placement teaching first aid and oral hygiene which went very well and we’re looking forward to heading back there tomorrow morning to do another 4 hours of teaching in the other topics – basic hygiene, food hygiene and safety, nutrition, as well as possibly a recap of the first aid and oral hygiene topics.

Tom, Dimong and Jean have been looking after us really well and Jo has been calling in every now and then to check up on us while she is looking after the group of nurses from QLD. I think it’s fair to say that apart from being a bit knackered today everyone is traveling very well and on the whole thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Siem Reap is a fantastic city and we’re all looking forward to having some time this weekend to explore the sights.

Michael and the team

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Brigidine Post from 12th Jan

The team has been exceptionally busy over the past few days covering a
lot of exciting new gound. On Sunday we woke to a quick breakfast,
before gathering in the hotel lobby wth Dan, and making our way to the
Buffalo Tours bus. After a sleepy four hours, the group braced the
cold wind and beautiful scenery of Halong Bay as we boarded "Anh
Gueng". Moving slowly between the majestic islands, we played heated
games of "500" and munched on seafood and "hello pandas" (seperatly of
We disembarked the grand wooden boat having settled our rooms and
rugged ourselves in as many layers as we could (without looking
rediculous of course). Our first stop was the "amazing caves" aptly
named to describe the overwhelming tunnels and rock formations within.
The team weaved their way through the stalegmites and stalegtites,
with the knowledgable Dan issuing "information" on particular sites.
Back on the boat Camie, Sophie, Georgia, Nat, Bec, Maddie, Anneke and
Sally bravely chose to go kayaking. Dressed in an insanely small
amount of clothing we paddled ourselves through the stunning maze of
islands, where we were witness to a family of playful monkeys.
Meanwhile, almost as excitingly Arielle and Ashley huddled in their
sleeping bags atop the boat, to keep an eye out for any pesky pirates.
When the group reunited the maddest of the mad decided it was a good
ideato join the pair on the roof of the vessle, if only for a moment,
before promply lauching themselves with a scream and a giggle into the
freezing water below! After some much appreciated showers the team
gathered for a movie, a chat and a spot of dinner, before making our
way to arguably the most comfortable sleep yet.
The next day, the group climbed exactly 427 stairs and said a visitful
"goodbye" to Halong Bay. Back in Hanoi, the team bartered accomodation
and transport before regrouping at the "Terrace Cafe" (highly
recommended) for a speedy and delicious dinner.
Taking a detour by the beautifully lit lake we found Dan and the bus,
on what was to be our last ride with our fab guide. Several speeches,
rounds of applauses and "Hello Everyones" later we said goodbye to our
much beloved Dan and found ourselves on the Hanoi- Hue train where we
spent the night.
In the morning, the team prepared for an 8am departure eventually
arrving in Hue station at 11.30am. A quick txi ride4 later, we wolfed
down much needed lunch, then legged it to our third mode of transport
for the day: a wonderful sleeper style bus.
Arriving in Hoi An at 5:15pm, we were greeted by a sign that read
"Georgia Roach" and folded ourselves into yet another vehicle to get
to the "Thanh Van 2 Hotel". Apon reaching the stylish hotel we back-
and- forthed over pricings, before agreeing on an exceptionally good
rate for the next four nights accomodation.

Over half way through for the Indian interns....

The New Year begins slowly....This week saw our travel-weary team manifest as a mere shadow of its former self; fatigued, recuperating and incapable of all but the most elementary of tasks. Fortunately, the lacklustre state of our collective psyche happily coincided with Rajasthan's school holidays and we accordingly faced an underwhelming workload for the week. In fact, that's a little bit euphemistic: we really had nothing work-related on our plate at all. This stagnant state of affairs was initially a pleasant reprise, enabling us to get back into our groove, but soon the excess of time and absence of creative outlets began driving us a little stir-crazy.

Fate then intervened and our world was plunged into chaos, as Manju, our beloved caretaker was stricken by a violent bout of the flu - no doubt a consequence of the bitter Indian winter, of which the locals incessantly bemoan. Tongue-in-cheek remarks about the climate aside, Manju remains in a very real state of sickness; we've been making daily house visits to deliver apples and medicine (she refuses to consume anything else). Slight signs of progress have been noted, yet despite being on the mend Manju remains bed-bound, leaving us with the perilous task of obtaining our daily meals ourselves.

Matt and Ingrid have resorted to spending the morning wandering aimlessly around the local area, clinging to the hope of being ushered into some generous individual's house and procuring breakfast via that endearing Indian hospitality we've come to know and love. Unfortunately this strategy has been a little hit-and-miss, mainly because of the disconnect between local breakfast time (~8am) and that of our own (~11am), but points for pragmatism.

Despite this semi-successful endeavour, the topic of Indian hospitality - and indeed way of life in general - has been bouncing about what little philosophical conversation our fragile minds have managed to muster lately. In particular, we've all been quite taken aback at how the local community has so instinctively banded together to support Manju during her sickness. Not once have we visited her house (which incidentally is just around the corner from our guesthouse) and found her alone; there is a constant flow of concerned neighbours and friends encircling her bedside and ensuring that every possible measure is taken to get her better. We found this a very touchingly selfless scenario to behold, and one sadly quite foreign to our own society.

India seems to exist in such a perplexing state of symbiosis; at a glance it seems like a chaotic free for all in which man, animal and nature are concurrently clawing for survival, yet upon deeper observation there is an oddly sustainable coexistence lying beneath the bedlam. While there are countless examples of this we could expound upon, one strikingly apt example came this week when we returned home to find a dead cow outside our guesthouse. At its side was one of the many stray dogs that roam the streets of Pali, muzzling into the poor bovine's exposed abdominal cavity. This grotesque sight immediately reaffirmed that initial view of India as caught in a melee of life and death; yet only moments later and a few meters aside from the carcass we then witnessed another mongrel, this time licking and cleaning the ear of a calf with apparent affection. The contrast of these two images really drove home that perennial contradiction of India; the abundance of life amidst the constant threat of death.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Loreto A Team - Vietnam as at Wed 5th Jan

Loreto Team A is having an incredible time. Today we just got back from our overnight boat trip in Ha Long Bay which was magnificent. We had the boat to ourselves, with the yummiest sea food meals and the chance to kayak around the Bay. We also ventured into the limestone caves and up an incredibly steep mountain to check out the view. We're currently anticipating our trek and community project which begins tomorrow. Hope every one in sydney is safe and well, Love Loreto Team A

Brigidine College - as at Saturday 8th January

Photos of Brigidine College at their community project

Brigidine College - as at Saturday 8th January

On Saturday Janurary 1st we left our hotel in Hanoi to drive 4 hours to Mai Chau. As we were leaving the hotel, Arielle managed to fall backwards and sit on the offerings to the Gods that had been placed in the hotel lobby.

We Trekked all afternoon and stayed in a mountain village overnight. The trek was hard as we were going uphill. On Sunday after trekiing all day, we reached the Phai village where we would be staying for the next week.

Monday was our first day at our community project. We were welcommed by the pre school and many smiling children. Our jobs for the day included mixing cement and carrying bricks from one end of the yard to the other.

Tuesday morning we finished work early to distribute the donations to each family in the village. Each family had been sponsered by a member of the Brigidine community for the month. They gathered at our homestay and were very grateful for the donations. Everone was very excited so some speakers were set up and they played us some of their rave music, which showed us some of her out of control dance moves.

The next two days was spent making cement and digging a 1.2 metre hole at the project. The digging proved to be much more difficult than first made out to be, Ashley and Soph showing how well they could hoe out a hole. The cemement crew (Maddie,Camie, Bec, Sally and watergirl Georgia) continulessly ruined Christmas, eventually working their way to ruining New Years (personal joke) We gave the donations of scarves, gloves, beanies and toys to the kindergaten and stationary to those in the Primary school.

Friday was our last day at the community. We woke up early and finished our work at the project. A plaque was placed on the outside wall of the toilet block, stating the project was sponsered by Brigidine College. Afterwards we said our goodbyes to all the children who we had become very close to. There were a few tears shed by Nat and Maddie but we knew it was time to leave. We trekked from the Pahi village to the next village where we stayed the night in another homestay. Several games of 500 (a card game) were played with Anneka showing her skills.

We woke up saturday morning ready for another day of trekking, we only walked for two hours though before reutnring to Mai Chau. We had a final look around and said goodbye to our fabulous cooks Duc and Quong.

We're now back in Hanoi and departing for Halong Bay tomorrow. We are all ready for a relaxing time and excited for times ahead. We are all doing well and send our love

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Update from Keely, Loreto A

Good times had by all in Hanoi!Our report so far...

After getting off an extremely long flight we finally arrived in Hanoi. There, 13 excited young Loreto girls, all pumped for an adventure. We found our hotel, dropped our bags and headed for the streets. This is an experience not one of us will forget. With more than 5 of us nearly being hit by the on coming traffic we soon found our way to the centre of Hanoi. The next day we explored travelling around in cylos, arriving at the Temple of Literature after seeing the Water Puppet show. Both of these immersed us completly in the culture. Lunch and dinner so far, being local restaurants have been truly amazing, all of us walking out with full stomachs!! We then woke up to a 4 hour drive to Halong Bay. Here we slept overnight on a boat, where they fed us non stop seafood - great for those of us who enjoy seafood, funny for the rest of us!!! After a rocky night on the boat, some canoeing and trekking we looked around the ancient caves. We are now in Hanoi about to have our last comfortable sleep before we hit up the trek and work with the community. We are all having the most amazing time. and look forward for the new and exciting challenges that lay ahead. Love Loreto A

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

2011 update from the intrepid three in Pali!

2011 reached - only just!Wishing you all, somewhat belatedly, a happy and safe holiday season as we observe the halfway mark of our India adventure. We’ve decked the halls of our Pali guesthouse and chopped down a desert plant for a Christmas tree, despite being ardently warned by the locals that its white sap was poisonous (we really were quite desperate). Ingrid and Anna were dressed in traditional Rajasthani garb, bindi, mahendi, bangles and all, whilst Matt played Santa to the local kids, complete with a dismal attempt to fatten his wiry frame with a pillow tummy to enhance the jolliness of his appearance. We enjoyed a scrumptious Indian Christmas lunch with Manju and three of her sons, along with the family of Tejas, an Educate Girls staff member who, aside from being just an all-round top bloke, has already become a demi-god in the eyes of Matt and Anna for revealing the two establishments in Pali that serve meat after maintaining a meatless existence for six weeks.
Our week off began with an eight-hour sleeper bus trip to Jaipur airport along roads that caused Anna to audibly whimper from physical pain from a sustained lack of bladder relief as we drove over the numerous bumps and pot-holes. Prolonged negotiations with the airport guards followed as we attempted to convince them that we indeed had a flight to catch and were not simply there to hang out at the airport in the freezing cold at 3am. A few hours later, our holidays officially began with a flying start as we headed for Kolkata.
Oh Calcutta. We came, we saw. We treated ourselves to an English blockbuster starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp that would’ve been so woeful if it wasn’t for the constant amusement provided by the local Indian audience members. In addition to the original film, we were treated to live commentary as the plot unravelled, cheers and roars as the sexual tension built and an alternate Indian popular music soundtrack in lieu of the original, courtesy of mobile ringtones. As we headed towards the train station to take our leave, it suddenly struck Matt that we didn’t have any visual record of our visit, and he proceeded to start taking photos of the cityscape from the taxi. So, of course, we were then pulled over by a lone Indian policeman, who threatened to arrest Matt for taking photos of government buildings (or something along those lines) if he didn’t cough up a 3000 rupee fine. Verbal fisticuffs ensued and dare we say it, for the first time, all three Antipodeans were poised and ready to inflict some serious damage upon another human being.
Our next stop was Varanasi, a city on the Ganges that is one of the holiest places in India, and also arguably one of the most disorientated, with its maze of alleyways. We took a boat ride along the Ganges, passing by numerous ghats and witnessing the ceremonial cremation of the dead on its banks. We were expecting to be overwhelmed by touts and hordes of Hindu pilgrims washing away their sins, but the city was surprisingly calm despite the heavy police presence following a bombing that took place in the city mere weeks ago.
By the time we reached Agra, an integral part of most travellers’ agendas, we were all at varying stages of sickness (read: near death) from a combination of consecutive overnight travel on the frigid and hard sleeper carriages (it costs $5 to cross hundreds of kilometres overland so we’ll just let you imagine the conditions), an almost protein-less diet and the good old Delhi belly. Matt, who has already visited the Taj, took some time out to rest whilst Anna and Ingrid spent one full hour appreciating one of the modern wonders of the world to take some obligatory touristy shots, before also calling it quits.
And then the journey from hell really began. Our train to Udaipur, the stunning lake city and our preferred New Year’s Eve destination, was cancelled at the last minute. A train to an alternate destination was delayed by five hours. Matt deployed his bargaining skills to find a driver to take us to Udaipur and three changes of vehicles and four drivers later, we managed to make it a whole 50km in 3 hours from Agra due to heavy fog. Convinced that driving overnight would be a futile exercise, we were forced to stay overnight at Motel Rim Jihm’s, waking up with the fear that we had been abandoned by our drivers on the side of a highway on New Year’s Eve, 3000 rupees poorer.
But lo and behold, we were greeted by our driver and yet another new vehicle in the morning with the news that the fog has lifted and we were finally on our way to Udaipur. An eight hour journey turned into 12 hours as we encountered roadblocks along the only interstate highway. By roadblocks, we mean single rows of small rocks placed across the lanes guarded by a group of young men who refused to move them. Apparently, removing the rocks ourselves would have initiated a riot with the Gujjar community of Rajasthan, who are currently in some sort of political negotiations with the government, so we were forced to do battle along rural backstreets that could handle only one lane of traffic at a time.
Sickness, exhaustion and India in general began to take its toll, to the point which even our token vegetarian Ingrid succumbed to the siren calls of chicken for the promise of some nourishment. But we did arrive in Udaipur at 9pm on New Year’s Eve and by midnight were perched over the balcony on the highest rooftop in the city, watching the fireworks over Lake Pichola. Our NYE party ended at precisely 18 minutes past midnight, when we all trudged back to our hotel room for a much-needed rest on an unmoving bed.
Over the past week, we’ve spent 59 hours travelling over 3400 kilometres (almost coast to coast in Australia) and welcomed the new year with two new tattoos and two new piercings amongst the three of us as mementos. Despite having devoured some of the best tasting noodles, pizza, momos (Tibetan dumplings) and chicken in India, we’ve arrived home several kilos lighter (or less handsome in Indian terms) and are so relieved to be back in our own beds.
So Happy New Year and until next time,
Anna, Ingrid and Matt.