Friday, 26 August 2011

Pacific Time

It's funny how once you are back in your "home" time zone everything feels less exciting. I guess that is because I know that 98% of the people who have been faithfully following me this year can also step out their front doors and do all of the same things now.
I have been back in the homeland for 2 weeks now and it feels great! Because I came home at almost exactly the same time of year as I left, it sometimes feels like I haven't gone at all. Then a small child walks by and I realize that the last time I saw that child it was a new born, or not born at all! Kids are definitely the give-away of time. I cannot believe how much my cousins have grown up this year.
Otherwise, I have been doing all things West Coast. Beach fires (with hotdogs, s'mores and cruise ship watching, of course), backyard fires, trips to the lake, hiking the trails, biking the trails, playing beach volleyball... Taking full advantage and packing my days right full.
Monkido! Nice tiara Sophie :)
Last weekend we also had Sophie's stagette. Her wedding is in France in a few weeks, so we took her to the Monkido course in Nanaimo and then had a BBQ at Rathtrevor beach. We had great weather for the obstacle course and lots of delicious food at the beach. Tis the season for weddings, I am heading to one tomorrow of a good friend from school. Then next week is back to work! I have all of my paperwork sorted for the new job, now need to find a place to live in Courtenay. Hopefully will get in to set up my new classroom this weekend or the beginning of next week.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


As someone who is notoriously bad at keeping secrets, I am quite proud of the surprise that I pulled off with the help of a few people. With only a few people in the know, I got on a plane Friday morning and arrived in Vancouver Friday afternoon. It was a long 9 hour flight, during which I watched 3.5 movies, but I had an emergency seat and was able to stretch out my legs at least.
After an hour and a half wait in Vancouver I flew in to Campbell River, enjoying the view during the 35 minute flight and feeling quite excited to be home.  Dad and Mlle were in on the plan and picked me, and my heavy baggage, up at the airport.
That night I got to enjoy a welcome-home hotdog roast in the backyard with my grandparents. I went to bed around 10:30 and fell asleep about 1.5 minutes later! I was up just before 7:30 and 2 hours later, when my parents finally got up, we made some waffles!
That evening I went over to Ashley and Gerry's house, where Gerry was very surprised to see me walk in the door. Little did he know, Ashley is quite the secret-keeper too. After a little reunion chat, it was time for the big surprise
About a half hour earlier, Chris had been surprised by Mom and friends for a 50th birthday party. But no one, other than mom and Kevin, knew I was coming too. I called their cell and had them hold it up to the mic saying a special call was coming in. I wished him a happy birthday (from London) and got the crowd to join me in singing to him. As they were singing, I walked in the back door. As most people were looking at the birthday boy and the cell phone, no one noticed me until I was half way across the hall. Then some screams of surprise were shouted and Chris finally saw the real birthday surprise! After 50 weeks in the UK I was back on home soil!
It was a lovely evening catching up with family and friends. Definitely the most difficult secret I've ever kept, but well worth the reaction. I knew it would be hard to keep a secret like that, but never thought about the lies that would have to be told to keep the secret too. It was far greater of a challenge than I thought it would be! Now I am back home and trying to fit in visits to catch up with everyone, and just enjoying being back on familiar ground around familiar faces. I know I have had a lot of blog followers, and I do promise to try and keep up some posts, though I am sure they won't be half as entertaining. Thank you to all those who followed my adventures abroad, and I am looking forward to catching up with everyone :)

Saturday, 13 August 2011

We Do It Cos We Can!

London riots. Everyone has heard about them, and some people have even sent notes to see if I am okay. I figure it is time to share some thoughts on what has been happening.
First, I am fine. My area was not hit by any serious damage or disruption, just a lot of precaution when things started to get really out of hand around day 3.

To the police - kudos. The police have taken some serious flack from people in the media. I think that this is a serious mistake. In Canada, it feels like we quite regularly have inquiries into police force and families who speak out about loved ones who have been beaten or have died in custody. It is a very sad and touchy subject, but it rarely escalates into another police incident and definitely not to the scale that the London police had to deal with. Also, they are being accused of not being prepared to deal with the outbreak of unrest. To this I say; How could they??? Who, in their right mind, could have predicted that a small protest about one person shot by police would lead to a riot. And then that this riot would spread, not outwards, but to random pockets of violence and destruction scattered around London and surrounding cities? I honestly do not believe that this reaction could have been foreseen and props to the police for quickly mobilising the big guns to try and stomp out the flame. The police presence by the third day, when things were really out of hand, was immense.

To the perpetrators of crime - shame on you! This was a total act of opportunism. The majority of the damage was senseless with no forethought and no agenda other than greed. These were not people out to prove a point other than how they can behave like cattle or like children following the crowd (which, sadly, some were).

Finally, to the country - what is going on?? During my stay in London there have been several protests and demonstrations and I have yet to see one that goes smoothly or peacefully. This is a problem! I have heard of the issues of concern - tuition fees, etc - and the protesters generally have good points that they are trying to bring to the public eye, but I do not understand why they cannot do this peacefully. I realize that there are a lot of underlying issues with the riots - low wages, lack of opportunity for advancement, etc - but I think that the inability to hold a peaceful protest or demonstration is quite scary. Why do they think they will only be heard through violence and destruction?

I am sure there will be many theories put forward about who or what is to blame for the riots. I just hope that there is some learning that comes from this to address deeper issues in this society and, hopefully, save this sort of damage from occurring again. Also, that they can stop the culture of fear that has sprung up in the last week where everyone seems to be on edge just waiting for unrest to break out.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

My Welcome Home

I made it home from the airport Sunday afternoon and hung out at home that evening unpacking and doing laundry and all the other fun things that come upon return home from a trip. Monday morning I decided to let someone else deal with my grubby feet! I kicked back in the large massage chair and got myself a pedicure. Felt absolutely lovely. That evening I started to fee a little queasy. A little bloated. I figured it was my body's response to going from a diet of rice, meat and eggs back to fruit and yogurt and veg. By evening my stomach was really putting up a fight. I called it a night early in hopes of sleeping it off.

No. Such. Luck. I was up every 1-2 hours all night long. By morning, I was pretty certain that I was not going to survive (I tend to get a little dramatic when I am sick and sleep-deprived). I started googling my symptoms, like all good doctors do. Unfortunately, it was not too reassuring. Turns out food poisoning and malaria have almost identical symptoms. The main difference is that food poisoning has fever and chills, whereas malaria has cyclical fever and chills. Great, apparently I should be timing my fevers like a pregnant woman keeps track of her contractions.
My flat mate finally get up around 11, and I begged her to go into Wimbledon to get me a thermometer (to see if I am going to die of malaria) and some orange juice (so hopefully I don't pass out from fluid loss).
My fever was pretty much gone by the time the thermometer got back and told me that my temperature was exactly normal (impossible!). I stayed in bed and by evening was feeling much better. I decided to get some fresh air and some dinner. After throwing on some clothes, I headed out to Wimbledon - much to the viewing displeasure of the public. I got myself some soup and a nice bun for dinner and figured I was pretty much cured.

With Maggie by Big Ben
Wrong. Again. Another night of running to the bathroom every 2 hours or so. I am loving Air India  food right now - I curse you! If there is one good thing coming out of this, it is that I am at least getting some exercise going up and down the stairs all day and night.

Wednesday morning it was my brother's birthday (happy birthday), but more concerning, I was supposed to meet a family friend in the city who had graciously offered to give me a tour of Parliament. I have been looking forward to this too long to miss it. I took a gamble and downed some Immodium and jumped on a train. The tour was absolutely amazing. Parliament and the House of Lords is stunning. I am still astounded every time I see art from the 1600s, I don't think I will ever get used to it. And I was completely speechless when I saw the library! Not to mention the archives of every issue of the Times since 1765!! Unbelievable. The best part, I seemed to have finally gotten rid of my bug.

The rest of the week I took it easy in hopes of aiding my recovery. Sunday morning Andi and I went on a day tour to Windsor Castle and Oxford. As we waited on the bus, the driver started telling us about some riot going on in Tottemham. Sounded pretty crazy but we soon forgot about it. Until Monday night when we were watching the news and things seemed to be spiralling out of control. We watched as people started wreaking havoc randomly around the city. This was no longer a riot, it was mindless destruction. It looked like the maps of BC wildfires that we see each summer with flare ups across the province. Except that these were groups of people who were damaging property, setting fires, and looting stores. But, just like the wildfires, there seemed to be no connection and no reason for the choice of location. Wherever these hooligans could get to easily and do significant damage, they were heading.
Windsor Castle

Harry Potter dining Hall

Christ Church College, Oxford
Tea for Two!

Tuesday things seemed to have calmed down a bit. I went to get my hair done then met Andi at the Victoria and Albert Museum. We got to Wimbledon around 5:00 and immediately noticed the police presence. Then I saw that my favorite wedding dress store had completely emptied it's window display and all other goods were hidden out of sight. We then started noticing that other stores were already closed down and some were even boarded up. Then we saw a sign saying "Due to local disturbances, we have closed early". Wimbledon was on lock down.
Luckily, we found a sushi restaurant that was still open, then we made our way home to lock up early. Doesn't seem like anything went down last night, just a lot of precaution, but I sure hope that the 16 000 police get this under control soon.

Good ol Sunday Roast

At V&A Museum - new hair cut
Wimbledon on lock down

Friday, 5 August 2011

India: Finale

Frozen water bottle on swollen feet
Friday was our final day at Ranipathra. Woke up VERY warm as the fans were not on for most of the night. We got dressed in our sarees and other clothing we had bought for the final session with our mentees. Teachers from all 3 schools were coming to Ranipathra for a final "awards ceremony" and session making resources for their classrooms. We also gave our hosts gifts and received some in return - steel lunch container and 2 steel plates. These are what they use everyday, but will make good camping dishes for me :)
Gift packs for the teachers

My mentor group

Dance Party
After lunch we started gathering our things together and taking our final showers before the 12 hour train ride back to Kolkata. Back at the train station was the same overwhelming scene of poverty - old women begging, a woman with a toddler who had a bandaged eye and an infant who did not look healthy (she had one tomato that they were all sharing), dogs wandering along the platforms and tracks. Heartbreaking. The group got split up because half were heading travelling elsewhere and were taking a different train to avoid backtracking. So it was me, Connie and Tamara, escorted by Diana, Pastor Daniel and Basant.
We all chatted for awhile and shared some snacks, then settled in to our bunks to read for a bit before getting some sleep. This time I was in a top bunk along the aisle. I slept great! With the curtain shutting me off in my own bunk, it was a lot cozier than the 4-bunk cubby, so I did not get too cold from the air con. My earplugs also helped, as when I woke up just after 6am I took them out and there was a symphony of snoring in our car! Others complained that they didn't sleep well because of it. I got up to use the washroom, there is a choice between 'Western' or 'Indian'. Western has a toilet, Indian has two raised foot pads and a hole! But both lead to the same place - the tracks whizzing past underneath.
When I had finished brushing my teeth and waking up, Tamara was also up so we sat in her cubby - the others that had been in with her had gotten off at an earlier stop. It was nice to sit and watch the countryside going by in the morning. At one station we saw a man walking along the platform pulling along two monkeys tied on strings.
Slowly the others woke up and joined us as we headed towards our destination, passing more towns and even crossing the Ganges.
Once we reached Kolkata, we headed to a hotel to drop off our bags, then went for breaky at a place Pastor Daniel frequents often and is always full of Westerners. Then we went to the Mother Teresa House. It was amazing reading about her life.  I am planning on reading some more about her life; she was a very selfless woman.
"Mother Teresa: IN"

We then went to check out the market. There were endless shops selling everything imaginable at ridiculously low prices. Many of the shop keepers speak English and all want to show you to their shop "just this way, I show you". As we wandered, we found ourselves in the food section with spices and produce, then all of the sudden we were in the meat section. Huge netted baskets full of live chickens, cats running around under the tables, stalls full of hanging meat, and the STENCH. We did not last long before we retraced our steps back to more breathable air.
Chicken anyone?

After getting a few things, we had lunch, went back to the hotel to shower, then caught a taxi to the airport. The final leg of the journey home. For me it was an especially long leg. I had a 2 hour flight from Kolkata to Dehli. I arrived just before 11pm then had an 8 hour lay over - during which I got no sleep at all - and then continued on to London at 6:30am on a 9 hour flight. At Dehli security, the immigration guy looked at my form and told me I had to fill out the address of the hotel where I stayed the night before.
Me: I was on an overnight train.
Him: Address of hotel
Me: But I wasn't at a hotel, I was on a train.
Him: You need to fill out.
I write: TRAIN
Him: Wha? HAHAHAHA (Holds it up to other official across from him) She write train! haha, ok where was train from? Write that.
I tried to tell him...

I got in to London around lunch time, and kept myself awake that night until I could not physically keep my eyes open any longer, then slept a glorious 11 hours.
The following day I just wandered around Wimbledon, got a pedicure in a massage chair, then started feeling a little queasy. Was up all night with what I presume was food poisoning. The next day was pretty sure I was dying of malaria (conveniently shares many symptoms with food poisoning). I had my flatmate run out and buy me a thermometer, and when I was satisfied I was not going to die, tried to get some rest. Thought I was feeling better that evening, but spent another night getting up every 1-2 hours.. not fun! But at least my stomach held out until I was home, I am thankful for that.

Overall it was an unforgettable trip. I don't want to sound corny and say that it was life-changing, but it definitely gives you a new perspective on life and the way we live. We always say that we are blessed and that we take so much for granted, but it is not until you see such overwhelming poverty and people living with absolutely nothing at all that it really sinks in how much we have. It hit me when I started to think that many of the people I saw probably only had the money that was in their pockets - and I am sure many had
empty pockets. It makes you want to slow down and really take some time to appreciate every meal that you eat, and every time you sit down with friends and family and share time together. I hope that I never forget the things that I saw in India, and that I can always remember to take a minute to stop and just be thankful.

Kolkata New Market

A taste of driving in India: 
Watch it once for the traffic and again for everything passed on the side of the road.
Now watch it and keep in mind that it is over 30 degrees and humid and that the air is thick with overwhelming smells. THEN you will begin to picture India.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

India: Wed/Thurs

Purnea School gate
Doing drama (they are trees)

Two more days of observations. It brought a smile to my face and almost a couple tears to my eyes seeing the teachers trying out new strategies. Even more so seeing the students getting really excited. I saw a couple of teachers try games and drama activities that we had done in my session. The kids were ecstatic to be doing these sorts of things in class, it was amazing to witness. It was like watching a total breakthrough for students and teachers that they can have fun with learning.
Group work!Sticker rewards :)

Washing up lunch dishes
I also made a breakthrough on the shower/swollen feet situation. In the house there are two bathrooms we can use. Both have the option of bucket shower (put water in large bucket and use smaller scooper to pour water on yourself) and one also has a working shower hear. My room was upstairs and the shower was upstairs so I mostly used this one. My (ingenious) idea was to fill the larger bucket with some water and stand in it while taking my shower. This allowed my foot to be actually submersed in cold water, and thus helping slightly with the swollen situation, but mostly just felt heavenly. I came up with this idea after showering earlier and lifting up my leg to scrub my foot only to discover it was actually hot to the touch despite having been in a cold shower for a good 5 minutes.  Although, as mentioned before, all are only temporary remedies, as sweating commences virtually the second the shower is turned off.

Indian roadblock

Thursday night we took our hosts, and others who had helped us out a lot during the week, out for dinner. We went to a hotel in the city and it had air conditioning! BLISS!! I travelled there in an 'auto-rickshaw'. Driving is always an experience, this even more so. The experience started as soon as the driver got out and walked behind us so that he could pull the lawn-mower-like cord to get us going! On the way home, us white folk had to all ride in the jeep for security reasons. We started out the journey with a game of I Spy. But as it got darker, we turned to a much more relevant, and entertaining, game of I Smell. Oh, the smells of India are truly indescribable.
Perfect fit
Bonus: we all survived

A couple of examples of cultural differences:
1. On our drive home from one of the schools we were observing at there was a sudden downpour of rain. To our surprise not everyone took cover. Children began running into the street and stripping naked so that they could shower in the rain.

2. One teacher decided he was going to ask more questions to his students to get them more involved in the lesson. His lesson was on adjectives and started out innocently with nice as a quality adjective, and tall, then it turned to this.

Teacher: Stand up
Girl stands
Teacher: I am a fat girl. What kind of adjective?
Girl: Quality adjective.
Teacher: Yes, quality adjective, fat. Because it describes you.  Good. Sit down.

... Not exactly what we had in mind.

Pretty mosqui net - I'd rather be closer to the fan!
By now I had given up on the whole mosquito net thing in order to sleep closer to the fan. The night after the rain it had cooled off and the fan was on almost all night. I actually felt for the tiny cotton sheet to put over my shoulders in the morning. Again - Bliss!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

India: Mon / Tues

Woke up sweating - theme of the week. The school has 'government power' which is very unreliable, so they also have a generator. But with temperatures in the mid 30s, only going down to low 30s/ high 20s at night, the generator needs to be switched off regularly to cool.  Which means, no fans during the night. I got out of bed and had a shower. Felt good to cool off, but was sweating again as soon as the water turned off. The only way to describe it is to say that it feels like you are standing in a steamy sauna, all day long.

Half of us went to Purnea City school this morning to do our observations. We are working with 3 schools that are all part of Harvest Mission. The drive was rather interesting as we went through countryside full of village type houses, and also through a small city. Some pretty unreal sights. At one point we had to drive down along an overpass and it was a whole community under there. People has staked out their spots next to different support beams. Some had vanity tables and chairs, some had card tables, other had fenced off their areas and had livestock. A whole other world to what I am used to.

We arrived just as they were all lining up outside for their morning assembly. So adorable listening to them say their morning prayer while a cow munches on grass in the background. We met the teachers we would be mentoring at this school and observed some lessons.  It was immediately obvious that they needed some training on how to deliver lessons to children. While some of the teachers are from the area, most are educated and from other parts of India, mainly southern states. But, of those who are educated, they are not trained teachers. They are people who got degrees, then had a calling from god to help so have travelled to this region to do their duty to god. It is very humbling to hear what they have given up to help in one of the poorest regions of India.

Morning Assembly
Class on the verandah, classes too hot

Class under tree, along with dog and cow

Group session
After our observations, we returned to the main school and after lunch did our first afternoon training session with all of the teachers. It was great to see how willing they were to learn and try out new ideas.

After dinner we visited a nearby temple, then had dinner at Purnea school on the rooftop. The power went out a couple times during dinner which allowed us to see an amazing starry sky (no stars in London!). We also saw fireflies, which I was very excited about!

Holy man at temple
Millions of bugs around light at dinner

Feeling the heat in my saree
Woke up Tuesday morning sweating again. I am now beginning to wonder if my poor swollen feet will ever return to their normal size. Did my lesson observations at Ranipathra (the school we are staying at). It was moving to see teachers already trying out activities they had just learned the day before. But the best part was seeing students who were actually involved and getting excited to learn. In the afternoon it was my turn to do my session on Active Learning. Tamara and I decided to team up for our lesson and it went over great. We had different stations and lots of game ideas for the teachers. They all had a lot of fun.

Ranipathra morning assembly
Learning to use sock puppets

After the session, a couple of the teachers took us on another walk through the village. This time we went right in, rather than looping around. As we were walking past the woven bamboo and mud huts one the the teachers turns to me and asks, "Is this what the houses are like in England?" I was at a loss for words. We tried to explain that they are made of bricks, but thinking of houses back home, how could you ever explain to her about drywall and siding, carpet and wood flooring? Nevermind even windows and curtains. It was definitely just another of many eye-opening moments of how truly blessed I am.

On the walk we had one family invite us into their home. By now we had quite a following of children, but many scattered and reappeared with plastic lawnchairs, offering us a seat. The man of this house turned his fan around for us to enjoy and offered us chai. We sat somewhat awkwardly, then asked the teacher with us if he has any questions for us. Basant translated as he asked us where we were from and other questions. We then asked him some questions and found out that 8 people were living in his hut, including 2 grandchildren. His daughter went to the school, so we asked her some questions too. She told us she wanted to be a police officer when she grows up. We asked why and she responded, "Because a lot of my people are uneducated and there is lots of fighting. I want to go to school and be police so I can help stop the fighting". Again, just speechless hearing this from a girl of 9 years old. Makes you wonder what kinds of things she has seen.
The villagers were all very friendly, and many wanted pictures, especially of their children. Yet, amongst this poverty was a real juxtaposition. As we were walking out of the village a group of small children run down a path towards us and one of them is on a cell phone! It is true, everyone in the world has a cell phone!

After dinner, Diana did some henna for the girls and we climbed into our beds for another warm sleep, crossing our fingers for power. I was sharing a room with Diana and Connie.
Connie's sleeping advice: You have to lay as sprawled out as possible with no part of your body touching another - including your hair.  Here goes nothing..


Kitchen, dual fire stove for rice & curry

Our little buddy Ayush

Link to my video of 
life under the overpass:

Now take a moment and think about where you live. I bet you can come up with a list of things that are great about it. So stop worrying about whether your couch is worn or there is a stain on your carpet and be thankful!! :)