Sunday, August 30, 2009

Karna (Food)

We’re living, breathing, sleeping and eating at the farm so I thought I’d update you on the diet. My carnivorous tendencies have suffered dramatically since being here with only 1 or two meat meals (all chicken, which in Australia I think of as a kind of vegetable) per week.

In the morning we eat with the kids and have a porridge which is best described as “weetbix soup” in addition to some toast made from a heavy bread. Fortunately the managers being Aussie’s we do have vegemite to add to this but using cream instead of butter – a bit different but still OK. We get eggs twice a week as well.

Lunches are with the children also and usually consist of rice, dhal, peas and sometimes potatoes, cucumber and tomato. Dinners are just with the core staff and are quite varied with vegetarian curries, Chapattis (like pita bread) and pan-fried vegetables with some spicy pickles as garnish. We also have desserts such as rice-pudding, custard and last night even ice-cream.

Sometimes they’ll get a chicken and make a curry out of it but meat is quite expensive (about $2.50 per chicken!) so they try and stick with veg most of the time.

Of course each meal is washed down with Chai (Tea) which, depending on the maker, has between 2 and 17 teaspoons of sugar per cup!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Forever Young.... I want to be forever young.....

Last night, Miriam and I hosted the half hour youth group meeting that is run every Wednesday. If you ever want to see what bedlam, mayhem and chaos look like when mixed in equal doses – you must try it! Because we’re rich foreigners, we could easily afford to dish out the $3 it took to purchase the 300 drinking straws and 12 rolls of tape for the 2 games. We westerners take so much for granted as these teenagers nearly wet themselves with excitement when we split them up and got them to build a tower with the drinking straws and
then design a costume with the newspapers.

Let me tell you – If I ever decided to reside here, not one of them would get a look in on the contract to design my home – they were terrible at it! The winner was the older boys who, to be honest, only won because they had the Kiwi (David) helping them. I actually was a bit disappointed in them until I realised that they had not ever had the luxury of wasting 200 rupees on a bunch of straw or pop-sticks before.

I must say though in their defence - if you want a suit or dress made I would easily recommend the girls to fit you out – their designs were very modern (today’s newspaper) and were quite intricately designed considering they only had 5 minutes from conception to the catwalk.

We finished up with a discussion on how many people strive for riches so they can afford the best fashion (made of material, not paper) and houses (made of bricks, not straws) but realise quickly that it’s not these things that make us happy but rather how we treat others and how we ourselves are treated. These kids have just the basics and they are turning out just fine – grateful for even the littlest things.

This message is something that has been with us ever since I met the kids here – they are so happy, warm and caring – not just to us but more importantly to each other, with the older ones helping the younger ones and everyone playing well together. This is particularly evident to me in the “big boys” soccer game where boys of 14-18 play each night – there is none of the arguing about whether the ball is in or out or nasty remarks when someone makes a mistake. I was particularly impressed that when someone scores a great goal or makes an excellent save, boys from both teams will congratulate him by clapping or giving him “5” – something us Aussies would never do if the opposition scored against us!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Orphanage News

Hi all, just thought I'd mention that the orphanage where we're staying has launched a new blog - I've attached links to this blog on the right. Who knows - if we do anything interesting we might even get a mention!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day trippin' across the universe...

Sometimes the staff need to visit another town to carry out some administrative task and we've gone along for the ride - here are some of the places we've been.


This was our first trip out and about – Gail (one of the staff-members here) took us into a largish town about 30 minutes from the farm.

Gail studies computing here towards a certificate so we went to see where she studies, unfortunately the power was off (as it is 50% of the time) so her class was cancelled. This highlighted a difference in the way they handle things over here, Gail merely accepted the situation whereas I got really outraged that she had made the half-hour, bumpy journey for nothing.

(click here for larger map)

Gail took us to the hospital where two of her friends work, one is a doctor and the other the chief administrator. We were brought into the doctors consulting room where we felt very uncomfortable as he continued chatting to us through about 5 or 6 consults. Can you imagine in Australia if you went to the doctors and he was chatting with friends and drinking tea whilst examining you!


One of the managers needed to submit some documents for the new school in this hill station region and took us along for the ride, we climbed through many winding, dangerous roads where in some parts half the road had been destroyed in landslides. Luckily for us there was a thick fog reducing our visibility to almost nothing for most of the journey so we felt much safer than we actually were.

When the fog did clear we were treated to some great scenery with deep ravines and mountain-fed rivers below us. As we reached Champawat, the driver pointed out tea growing on the mountain side, it might sound good but in reality it just looked like another shade of green from where we were sitting. We chanced our first "Outside" meal at a restaurant here before heading back and I tempted fate by having a chocolate milkshake, something all the guidebooks says never to do but it didn't have any dire consequences.

Naini Tal

We had to pick up Clifton, one of the managers who had gone to see a guest off in Delhi, in Haldwani and we decided to make a day of it and head to a tourist town called Naini Tal which is Hindi for "Lake City". Luckily there is actually a lake here otherwise the name would be quite stupid, it was made by the British a while ago and is about 2km long nestled in between some large mountains. Ashish, a manager and teacher at the farm decided it would be a great idea to climb one of these large mountains, something we all agreed to...a little too quickly.

He had said that it was only a 45 minute walk and he was probably right, the only fact he forgot to mention is that it was straight up. I was surprised though that Miriam and I fared the best on the walk, blitzing the international competition of Kiwis & Indians. When we (finally) reached the summit we were treated to some spectacular views of the mountain ranges which are the foothills to the Himalayas. On a really clear day (it wasn't) you can see the snow peaks and China. A helpful tout there suggested that you could even see the great wall of China - a claim I was very sceptical of due to it being on the opposite side of the country.

The Boom

A short distance from here is a place they call “The Boom” – It’s a bit like Bonnie Doon in “The Castle” – a little place they like to get away to. The only difference is that it is on a river that is the border between India and Nepal and has rapids. It was a pretty cool place – the river isn’t that wide – maybe 50 metres across but is very deep (about 10m at the deepest point) and flows very fast. One of the guys who runs the mission is 25 and a bit crazy – a few years ago he swam across it for a dare – supposedly he was the first person to do this.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

You're missing the picture!

Just some info for you - I've heard back that some people aren't noticing the link to photos on the right, in between the photo of us and the contact details. We've picked some of the best photos that we've taken since being here (nearly 1000!).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Judge not, lest ye be judged

Due to our impeccable musical abilities and credentials Miriam and I were asked to be the judges in the schools singing competition - all ages would be competing with prizes awarded for each year level. The kids were almost wetting themselves with excitement and one boy in particular became very friendly with us when he discovered we would be judges.

They start really young her, about 3 or 4 years old and to see them singing songs with actions was almost too cute to bear. The lower grades competed in the morning and the older grades just before lunch - It was great to be a part of it and the excitement was pretty contagious. The standout performer was a 16 year old girl who sang a Hindi song which, while we couldn't understand the words, it sounded beautiful.

Good tidings we bring!

Miram and I have decided that we will continue on at the orphanage until Christmas. We are both really enjoying being a part of this place and the work we do here is very rewarding as it directly benefits the kids. It is a good time for extra helpers here as there is a new school building being built and a grade 10 class is about to begin for the first time (previously only up to grade 8). We’ll keep the blog up to date and we have appreciated all the comments and emails sent through to us. Some of those who have asked for bank details will soon be able to see your money in action over here with some upcoming blogs describing how the money is being spent, so stay tuned.

P.S. The picture was taken when Miriam and I were asked to judge a school singing competition (blog will appear soon)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It begs the question...

A few days ago we went to Bareilly to pick a couple up, drop a family off and buy a pump. After dropping the family off we had a 5 hour wait until a couple from New Zealand arrived by train. They obviously didn’t catch the train all the way from NZ, just from Delhi. After chancing a locally made lassi (yoghurt drink) and doing some shopping we still had 4 hours to spare. We whittled away the hours down making small talk and people-watching at the railway station. Especially interesting were the child beggars that were sweeping across the car park and the well established pattern they had of canvassing arriving and departing passengers, and when things were quiet heading for wealthy looking loiterers – us.

Looking down at them (we were in a jeep) with their big, well-practiced puppy dog eyes and their unkempt appearance made me rethink my strategy of not giving money, but other kinds of assistance. For quite a while I pondered how to help these poverty stricken kids without A) indulging some rich beggar-pimp or alcoholic parent and B) attracting so much attention that half the population of Bareilly didn’t flock to the jeep with their hand out. I thought of buying some fruit but surmised they could resell it and decided I would buy some biscuits and open the packet roughly to prevent resealing/reselling. This worked admirably and the band of (we later learnt) brothers were quite happy with the outcome – quite possibly because they invested 100% of the chocolate biscuit proceeds into their mouths.

Satisfied with the outcome of this little exchange (guilt-free existence for 25 cents worth of biscuits is a great ROI). It all started to unravel when another kid, obviously not a brother talked with the not-so-hungry boys and made a bee-line for our car. After another few minutes of stonewalling the boy changed tack from just pitiful looks to displaying a dirty infected wound on his finger. Upon seeing this I took action immediately and pulled out our medical kit and began treating the finger with a liberal splash of betadine and a band-aid. Not satisfied with this treatment the boy revealed a larger wound on his leg which I also dealt with.

All this medical treatment gathered quite a crowd amongst the beggars and rickshaw wallahs and via our two interpreters (a youth and driver from the farm) we established that the brothers names were Sonoo, Baboo and Kaptan and they had no father ( he died of electrocution) and supported their mother by begging, and that the rickshaw wallahs didn’t like them (because they were annoying and always got in the way of trade).

After the initial hubbub of treatment died down (keep in mind we were there for 4 hours) the boys kept coming back with minor ailments that I just ignored. Another kid also came by with a lump on his head that didn’t look real nice but since I had no scalpel or medical training I didn’t feel like operating on him – in any case I don’t think he had health insurance. I had a conniption fit when I saw that one boy was treating a cut with the betadine soaked cotton bud that I had discarded on the ground (no rubbish bins and I didn’t have anything to store the pussy, diseased thing in for later disposal), I yelled for him to stop and via the interpreter that it would make it worse. I caught myself thinking that they should know better until I realised they don’t receive any education and probably never will.

I’ve tried to make this blog entry entertaining because it was an interesting encounter – one I won’t easily forget. It was sad to drive off on these kids after handing out my backup biscuit stash to them, knowing that they have little in the way of a future and that the only help I gave was in assuaging my own conscience. What I saw was just a single instance of what is a reality for millions of kids in India every day and I felt helpless. Later I realised that I was able to make a difference – not in the lives of the kids at the railway station, but in the lives of the kids at the orphanage whose futures are brighter because of some normal people here doing an extraordinary job.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

If you're interested....

Our church gave us some funds to use at our discretion and we are looking for opportunities (there are plenty) to purchase things that will help out here. As we do this we will post pictures of how the money was used.

Thanks to some generous people and Prospect Officeworks we were able to bring over a paper cutter that is safe for the children to use, as they could not be sourced in India. They’ve had great fun making bracelets and cards with it – so a big thanks to those involved.

If any of you are interested in helping out financially – let me know how much and I’m sure I can find a specific need that your donation will match. The staff here are very careful with money and quite often will go without a useful $10 item as the money could be spent better elsewhere so no amount is too small (or big for that matter ;P)

"The Farm"

For the first month we are staying at the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission aka GSAM but everybody here calls it “The Farm”. It was started in 1948 by an American, Max Strong who died in 2003. Since then it has been run by his daughter (Maxine) who grew up on the farm, her husband (Rick)- a Tasmanian who came to stay in the 70’s and worked at the farm, eventually marrying her and later he and Maxine went to live in Tassie. In addition to these two their 25 year old son (Clifton), his wife Priscilla and a dedicated team of Indian staff all work together to keep the place running.

The primary focus of the place is the orphanage which looks after about 100 kids ranging in age from 18 months to adulthood. Many of the staff who work here for little or no wages have actually grown up on the mission. There is a school on the premises which teaches grades 1-9 with 10-12 offered via correspondence. Currently there is a big push for accreditation as they have a new school building planned for next year which will cater for many more students.

These operations are supported primarily by donations and the 60-acre farm that is on the premises which provides much of the food for the children and also an income which assist the day to day operations.

I’m constantly blown away by how these guys have devoted their life to these children and sunk every penny they have into them. They are constantly short of funds and recycle everything. The children are so happy here despite having so little and I think that this has impressed on me how unimportant possessions really are. There is a great sense of community here and a shared vision to see these children have as many opportunities as can be provided.

The kids here are great – we have so far helped out at the school a few times and I have shown countless kids my I-Pod and I’m getting well-practiced at soccer with the older boys. It is too wet for cricket at the moment but I did manage to sneak in 1 game. I have started to learn their names and I hope I can get them all sorted out in the month we have here. They are so friendly, inquisitive and well-behaved. They have school from 8-12, tuition (homework) from 1-3 and then some chores. Things start winding down around 5pm and 6pm is the official knock-off. That is when the soccer ball comes out….

Monday, August 10, 2009

Little Creatures

After being shown the banded corite (a small venomous snake) found in the girls bathroom this morning, then having all the older ladies remind me to check all the corners of each room when we enter to look for snakes – I was already a little nervous walking back to our cottage in the dark with torrential rain. We sloshed along the flooded path, found a Leech on the door to our home, then more on the wall of our courtyard so we quickly checked our legs for leeches (the following day we found out that they might be only slugs, but are called Leeches in India – and looked to us like leeches). Miriam then walked in the front door and the biggest gecko we’d ever seen scuttled above the door frame, closely followed by another.

After getting ready for bed we discovered the biggest millipede we’d ever seen high up on the wall in our bedroom – we decided it was probably ok to leave it be, then we opened the window to get some breeze, and another gecko seemed to fly off the window ledge freaking Miriam out slightly. Then we discovered a black spider on the wall near Miriams head (luckily the man of the house came to the rescue of the fair maiden).

After pulling the bed slightly away from the wall, we went to sleep to the cacophony of croaking frogs in the rice paddies across the road. Then Brad awoke to something dropping on his face – we’re not sure what it was, as we couldn’t find anything. What a night !!!

Friday, August 7, 2009

No vegemite but we have jam...

We’ve been told that the first 3 things you’ll notice about India is the heat, the smell, and the general craziness. I reflected on this as we disembarked the plane in warm but reasonable temperatures, sniffed the air and smelt nothing but airport and waited in an orderly fashion to retrieve our baggage. We had organized for someone at the orphanage to meet us and this went smoothly and at 3am we were on our way to Banbassa – 350km north east of Delhi.

We received our first taste of the real India about an hour into the trip when the driver must have pressed a button to make the car skinnier - fitting through a gap between two trucks that I wouldn’t have taken a motorbike through and as daybreak arrived so too did just about every Indian who had a car, truck, bus or motorbike. As the traffic got thicker and thicker the drivers antics became more and more adventurous to overcome it. Alas it was to no avail as we eventually were struck in the mother of all traffic jams. We had arrived on a Hindu festival day, which was something like Brother & Sister day where siblings pledge their allegiance to each other. It seemed like it was particularly good to do this at the Ganges and since we had to cross it to get to where we were going it meant we weren’t getting there any time soon. I had heard that a bus trip could take 10-20 hours to get to Banbassa, but didn’t understand how they couldn’t be a bit more accurate. After 4 hours and moving only a couple of kilometers I started to have an inkling. We finally got to the orphanage at 1:00pm after 10 hours on the road, we met a few folk who manage/work at the “Farm”. After the initial greetings and a delicious lunch we were shown our cottage and had a couple of hours of delicious sleep, having only had a few hours of shut-eye in the past 2 days.

We awoke after a few hours sleep and decided to take our first shower since Perth, nearly 3 days ago. We soon discovered that this was no easy task as our bathroom consisted of a toilet, bucket and ladle. After searching every where in the 1x 2 metre cubicle we decided that there was no shower head and that the bucket and ladle was indeed the substitute. The lack of hot water especially concerned Miriam but we soon learnt that it was a great way to cool down and is very water-efficient. I have it in mind to write to the South Australian government to include this measure in level 5 water restrictions so most of our readers can also partake of the benefits of this mode of cleaning.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

18 Hours in Singapore

After the giant mugs of coffee at Singapore airport we perked up and headed out to explore Singapore. We caught the MRT to the CBD and went straight to a food hall we knew of from our trip to Thailand last year. After some tasty laksa and another fishy tasting dish, we wandered out to have a look at the Singapore Merlion– it was OK I guess but I thought all the tourists taking photos were making a big deal out of a concrete statue spitting water.

It must have been something like our Red Cross Appeal day over there as scores of teenagers were wandering the streets in yellow t-shirts asking for money, I asked one of them what is was about but only understood about every 3-4 words. I think it was raising money for a number of different causes but after refusing a few dozen yellow clad bandits I finally succumbed and donated some coins I had in my pocket. You might think I’m a sucker but it was a seriously good investment – not only did I not get bothered again all day due to the sticker they gave me but I made repeated use of their local knowledge asking any I saw where MRT’s, CafĂ©’s and Cinemas were located.

Anyway short story is we wandered around Singapore all day and saw some stuff, ate some stuff then made our way back to the airport for our evening flight to Delhi.

And they're off...

It must have been boring for you guys watching our blog with bated breath and having nothing happen for a whole month. We just didn’t think you’d appreciate updates on house cleaning, paperwork and packing.
But things are different now….We’re writing this blog from a Starbucks in Singapore airport at 5am after having giant mugs of coffee to keep us going through the night. We’ve tried sleeping across the plastic chairs but they’re too uncomfortable.

The day and a half in Perth was great – we walked about a zillion miles but pretty much covered the basics. Went shopping in the CBD, visited Freemantle (twice), walked the beach from Cottesloe to Swanbourne, had lunch at Little Creatures and all the while soaking up the sun in 22C weather. We flew out of Perth at 9pm and arrived in Singapore at 2:30am.