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About Me.

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Kathmandu

Before I left for my travels most of you who know me shared your concern for my safety  – not really because of my narcolepsy or the fact that I am a solo female traveller  but more because I am ‘Grace’. I will be the first to admit that I have a long history of finding myself in one predicament or another.

To get to the point on 28th November I arrive in Delhi airport to get my flight to Kathmandu on time with my passport, tickets, accommodation and pick up from airport organised…..what else did I need…ah yes money, at the very least 100 quid for my visa fee! All I had was a misley 300 indian rupees due to misplacing my wallet and not being able to find a western union to draw money out of. I was fully aware of this on route to the airport but was hoping for some miracle.

Despite the mess I was in I was keeping it together…this didn’t last though after I was repeatedly informed that I should not get on the flight because I would  be deported back to India if unable to pay the Nepalese visa fee. This sent me over the edge and soon the tears piled in –  I could not stop them – although to be fair I didn’t try to or care what I looked like. Most of the airport was looking at me but this was no different to the last 3 months.

I was still holding out for a little miracle and  headed through to security.  Once in the departure land I felt surprisingly calm and with the incredible views of the mountain I nearly forgot about my visa issue. I was lucky to get a window seat despite my late check in….I have a feeling that the lady at the counter arranged this for me as she seemed quite concerned.

Lucky for me a miracle did happen in the form of a ginger scott named Greg who kindly paid for my visa (only a 100 dollars eh). For the millionth time….Thanks!!

As you can imagine I was pretty damn happy to be in Kathmandu and to meet Susma and Hari from Wahoe Nepal, a newly formed NGO in Nepal.

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My role was to support the team with administration tasks such as promoting the charity on social media and planning for future volunteers.

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In return I stayed in their apartment where the main office was based for a week which allowed me to spend the rest of my week exploring the many streets of the main backpacker area of Thamel and main sights in Kathmandu.

 

Thamel

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Boudhanath Stupa

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My favourite place was the Boudhanath Stupa, the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. It is the center of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu and rich in Buddhist symbolism. Surrounding the Stupa are streets and narrow alleys lined with colorful homes, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and street vendors. I could have easily stayed here all day.

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Pashupatinath

Pashupatinath is a Hindu temple on the banks of the Bagmati River in Deopatan, a village 3 km northwest of Kathmandu. It is dedicated to a manifestation of Shiva called Pashupati (Lord of Animals). It attracts thousands of pilgrims each year and has become well known far beyond the Kathmandu Valley.

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The temple is barred to non-Hindus, but I was allowed to walk around the grounds on the banks of the Bagmati River where Hindu cremations were taking place. I was fine watching this from a distance but my guide insisted that I had a closer look.   A guide informed me that most Hindus come here to contemplate life and how they enter and leave this world with nothing. He thought of it as a peaceful place excellent for meditation.

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Swayambhunath

Swayambhunath is an ancient religious complex atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, west of Kathmandu city.

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It is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in the north-west parts of the temple.

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 These monkeys scared the life out of me….they were everywhere!!!

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I had a great week in Kathmandu but I must admit the highlight of my week was meeting up with Mr Langley and his lively cohort. His visit was short and sweet but we had a great evening eating, drinking and dancing the night away.

After a week the smog was really getting to me – sadly in Kathmandu the pollution is so severe that the mountains can no longer be seen. I was dying to see the mountains, so off to Pokhara I head!!

 

Sab Ka Gar: A home from home

Naurtuwala, Uttarakhand, India – November 2014

In November I spent a few weeks volunteering in a children’s home ‘Sabkagar’, meaning a home from home, a place for children who lost both their parents in 2012 floods in Uttakashi. The home is based in a quiet and tranquil place with the most incredible views.

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Alongside the home there is a Boundary-less Initiative programme created by local people who aim to create a Boundaryless World. The Boundaryless Initiative is intended to overcome the artificial boundaries we create amongst ourselves.

On the long winding path to Sabkagar there are several signs explaining this idea of a boundaryless world:

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For further information follow the link below:

http://www.boundaryless.net/

Baalm, Sabka Gharor Boundaryless Initiative is neither about charity nor is it an organisation. It is a ‘network’ of human beings willing to assume responsibility (in varying degree) for the future of humanity. It is this that links the initiative with the home for these children who have lost their parents.


As I arrive I meet lots of happy smiley faces…..it took me a few days but by day 3 I finally learnt all their names. My next task was to be able to pronounce them all correctly, I never mastered that!

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My days here involved getting up bright and early with the girls as they get up to do their morning chores. I admit I was always the last to get up and by the time I got outside I would catch glimpses of the younger ones aged only 6 carrying water in buckets down to the kitchen and the older ones aged 11 and 12 making sure the water is running correctly from the pipes. The boys get up a few minutes later but are soon busy with their chores. By 8am chores are done and breakfast begins before the make their way for the hour walk to school. The children race down steep hills jumping over rocks while I just managed to not fall.


In the evening I played games with the children to develop their English.

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Girlie Time

Poor girls….they were so excited about looking in my make up bag were quickly dissapointed when they found only 1 mascara and 1 eye liner and a rare collection of nail varnish. At least we managed to get some pretty feet.

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Little Posers

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Since being in India I have met lots of children and families who are in need and have sad stories but there is something about these children which is affecting me differently…..I just can’t put my finger on it.

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These children have experienced the worst losing both parents but despite such tragedy they are bright and have a spirit about them which is magnetic.

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Tranquil Neeyardam

Today (Saturday  28th September) I arrived in to Neyyardam where I am staying for 3 weeks. I am here to volunteer in a charity called BGM. It is a registered charity which strives to uplift the weaker sections of society with a special emphasis on the development of basic human needs for some and children from tribal areas.

I had organised this project months ago and subsequently started to  feel unprepared on the bus journey not really knowing what to expect. Unlike the first project I had spent less time researching the area;  I couldn’t remember the details of where I would be staying, how much I would be contributing and what my role will be. I was feeling sad to leave Kovalm and was debating whether another project at this point of my travels was the right decision.

I am staying with a family, Wilson and his wife, Wilson’s daughter Alfa who is 13 and niece Lydia who is 21. The family live downstairs while I am staying upstairs with the other volunteers  Adam and Sandra, a couple from Sweden. I pay a contribution for food and board in return I get food 3 times a day which I eat with the family.

Me and Alfa

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When I arrived at the families house I was met by Alfa who quickly showed me to my room. It was dark and raining when I arrived so my pessimistic feelings remained. Shortly after my arrival I met the other volunteers who both were really nice and gave me a preview of what was to come. This was followed by a delicious dinner with the family. Slowly I was starting to feel optimistic about the next part of my journey.

However,  my first night was not what I had hoped for. Due to the storm there was no power and consequently my room felt like a sauna. In addition I had fallen asleep straight after dinner, waking up at 10pm resulting in feeling a combination of feeling wired and extremely tired. The next few hours were horrific, I was stuck between feeling desperate to sleep but not . This is thanks to hypnagogic and Hypnopomic hallucinations, cataplexy and sleep paralysis – Narcolepsy at its worst.

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Hypnagogic hallucinations are a feature of narcolepsy. It is when dreams break off at wakefulness causing visual, auditory or touchable sensations. They occur between waking and sleeping, usually at the onset of sleep. In layman turns I start to dream just before I fall to sleep and therefore I am dreaming when I am awake. Dreaming implies that it is pleasant, nightmares is the better description.

Before medication I used to experience this all the time but now it is only on rare occasions. I generally have a positive outlook about my narcolepsy but I admit that I can’t help but feel sorry myself  when I have these hallucinations. My hypnagogic hallucinations mainly consist of seeing people in my room and on this night also lions at the window. The worry about lions was triggered by a conversation over lunch that a lion escaped and killed an animal. Writing about it now seems silly but at the time it feels very real and can be extremely distressing. On this occasion I it had scared me to the extent that it had triggered several cataplectic attacks where my whole body became paralysed. This is unusual for me as generally my cataplexy is only triggered by positive  emotions. I also experienced sleep paralysis where I am not able to move. This exacerbates the fear as it feels that I am unable to get away. I remember screaming but not sure how loud, luckily I wasn’t sharing a room with anyone.

To avoid further hallucinations and cataplexy I desperately tried to stay awake but it was impossible. I eventually got to sleep without the hallucinations and cataplexy.

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Following an exhausting night I up woke tired and grumpy. My mood readily improved after walking out onto the balcony looking at the incredible view. Within minutes I felt calm and happy…..Neeyardam was a good choice after all.

View of the lake from my balcony


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Neeyardam is an understated area of South India. It is rarely mentioned in guide books and is not prepared for tourists; but in many ways this enhances it’s qualities. If it wasn’t for this project I would have missed out on some amazing sights.

During my stay at the project I will be teaching some classes at the local school, getting involved with other projects such as women self help groups, women literacy groups, after school clubs for children and families in the local villages and building water wells.

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Tomorrow I am off to see the lion safari with the other volunteers Sandra and Adam; would be rude not to given that they are my neighbours from across the lake.

Volunteering in Kanjanur

Hello all, I thought it was about time I shared my experiences of the first project I have volunteered with teaching children in a school.

Fresh off the flight I made my way straight to the village of Kanjunar in Tamil Nadu (South East India). This Nursery and Primary School was founded in 2004 to provide basic and global standard education to children living in underprivileged rural communities aged between 3-8 years, who cannot afford a good education. There are approximately 70 children from the neighbouring villages and 5 staff. The school is run by a local family, Bala and his wife and mother (I was there for 3 weeks but embarrassingly can’t remember the names of Bala’s wife or Mum).

New school building built two years ago

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As I mentioned in a previous blog Kanjanur is a rural village where the locals speak limited English and live in basic conditions where access to electricity and running water is limited. Like the village school life was a massive culture shock.

The three main differences are:

1). There very little play time even for the 3 year olds.

2). There is extremely high expectations of the children

3). Physical chastisement is normalised in the classroom.

Being at this school made me realise how easy I had it at school.

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Before arriving to India I tried to prepare myself for seeing a different style of teaching anticipating that the teachers would hit the children but 3 years being hit or whacked on the head for not sitting quietly (after a 1 hour lesson!!) is distressing to watch. The social worker inside was having a heart attack. Not surprisingly all the children even the little ones behaved perfectly for most of the time. For me however they were not so well behaved. On one day myself and fellow volunteer Jayne took the nursery class thirty 3 year olds. They were all amazing at first and very engaged with our activities, however like most 3 year olds after 25 minutes they progessively started to lose their concentration and misbehave. Jayne and I tried all the strategies we knew to keep them engaged but our efforts were not successful. Instead we admitted defeat and watched 30 children go crazy. We both found this highly entertaining and enjoyed watching them have so much fun, even if it was at our expense.

 

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As you might have gathered I Initially felt very negative about the school however time at the school, getting to know the teachers, children and families has shifted my view. Time at the school hasn’t chased me into a child beater and I still don’t agree with hitting children but I think I need to accept the cultural differences in India and most importantly turn my attention to the bigger picture. Forgetting about how children are taught in this remote and rural village it is extremely positive that education is valued for both girls and females. Speaking to parents and grandparents a lot of them mostly females did not have the opportunity to go to school. And of course very day I saw the happiest faces walking into school. Nearly every child I asked said yes to liking school, don’t think I would get the same response in England.

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My home in Kanjanur

Myself and the other volunteers stayed in the old school building, pretty basic is an understatement but after a few days it felt like home. I genuinely missed it when i went away for the weekend.

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The only thing I didn’t enjoy about the shower was all the bugs that were joining me. At one time I counted 5 lizards, over 15 spiders and a ridiculous amount of ants crawling on my feet until I poured water on them. Most people who know me are aware that my showering routine is less regular than most people. However it is so hot and sticky here a cold shower felt like Christmas. I became a pro with using a bucket to throw over my head and on one weekend away in Pondicherry I chose the bucket over the shower head. I wonder if the ice bucket challenge was a help?

 

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Some of the other volunteers initial worries on arrival were about how they were going to go to the toilet and shower. Mine was how I was going to get some food as I was starving. There was no need for me to worry as there was plenty of food to eat in the village, I had no idea what it was half the time and had to ignore the ants crawling but it was damn tasty and cheap as chips.

There was always a choice of where to eat but we always made our way to the same place owned by a local family. We really got to know this family and so far the Dad of the family in the picture below is my favorite person that I have met so far. He would do anything for you and expected nothing. Before I arrived in India lots of people told me that I should be very wary about trusting people and that nothing is done for free but so far it seems the people of Kanjanur and neighbouring villages are an exception to this.

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I loved my time at the school, the kids we’re great and not wanting to sound too gushy BUT I feel privileged that I had the opportunity to get to know the people of Kanjanur. The kindness and warmth by everyone is inspiring. All that said I felt it was time to leave and see what the rest of India had in stall for me. I also hope that I can become involved with a project where my support can be more sustainable. I have many more in the pipeline so I will keep you posted.

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