Friday, October 30, 2009


We were so engrossed in learning Hindi today, that we nearly missed one of our computer lessons... Ooops...

Both of us are learning how to speak, read and write Hindi as a side-project while we’re here. It’s not really necessary on the farm though as everyone speaks English. Where it will come in handy is when we venture out into the “real” India, the one where few people speak English. It’s tough work, especially having to learn another script but luckily Hindi characters (Devanagari script) is actually pretty easy to pick up and thanks to my trusty I-Pod we have been able to learnt to passably read it in just a few days – the only problem is we don’t understand what we’re reading...yet

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mayla...An Indian festival

Sunday night we were invited by the hostel boys to come see what the loud music was about. So in the darkness, we walked the 1km stretch into Banbassa. The town was in the throws of Mayla (another festival), and the main school grounds had been recreated into a town fair. Bright lights, loud music, food stalls, games, bollywood dancing... the usual stuff...

The dozen boys had a great time, some tried their hand at shooting balloons, others had a go at lucky wheel (roulette type game). Everyone played knock-em-down (15 stacked cans, 3 balls and 3 throws), it cost Rs5 per go (12.5cAUD), and was worth every Rupee apart from the Rs5 wasted on Miriam – who did nothing to improve womens lib in India, missing the cans entirely with all 3 throws! A 600ml bottle of Pepsi was at stake, and Anup did us proud. A couple of the boys had a ride on the ferris wheel, it didn’t quite meet the Adelaide Show standard, but that didn’t matter. It was like a big human mouse wheel, which gained momentum the faster the two guys standing at the centre of the wheel walked. The boys said it was the best ride they’d been on (having been the only ride they’d ever been on). We then hung around watching the bollywood, hip-hop dancing up on stage until it was time to head home for the 10pm curfew imposed....

PS - you may have noticed the pictures were not "actual" photo's of ours, we didn't take our camera that night but we just wanted something for you to look at

Monday, October 26, 2009

Saturday in a nut shell....

Our alarm went off at 6am – giving time for the water to heat up and us to get ready before the breakfast bell rang at 6.45am. After a quick breakfast of porridge, toast & chai, I headed off to help out with the laundry. The bijali (electricity) went off 10mins before being finished, so the generator had to be started to finish it off. I then found Brad in the office typing out the entire year 10 computing book (2 months into the year, and only 1 student out of 18 has received their book). I took over the typing at that point.

At 10am, everyone stops for morning tea. After a cup of chai, we were told that the bijali would be off for most of the day as some long overdue workmen had arrived to do some much needed work on the lines. This was quite frustrating as we have Yr 6, 7 & 8th computing lessons back to back from 10.30am to 12.20pm on a Saturday. Unlike Australia, here the kids have school 6 days a week, with one Saturday off per month. So we piled an old computer that Brad has pulled apart and labelled onto a desk & carried it outside under a shady tree for our lessons. Then Brad pretty much repeated the same lesson to all 3 classes, as all these grades are at the same level, and have really only started to have hands on experience with computers since we’ve been here.

We then borrowed a motorbike and headed into Banbassa for a quick trip to collect clothing from some tailors and get some laminating done. We went to the first tailor to pick up a top I’d put in for alterations, to find they had not fixed it yet – we said we’d come back in 5mins. We then went to the next tailor to pick up some pants Brad had put in for alterations, they had fixed the pants, but couldn’t find them – so we said we’d come back in 5mins. So we tried the 3rd tailor, they didn’t appear to have even started on their job, so we went to get the laminating done – they said it’d be ready in 10 mins. So we went back to the 1st tailor who had by now finished my alterations, collected my top and headed to the 2nd tailor, who had by then found the pants. We then went to the 3rd tailor, who was still working on the school uniform we were trying to pick up. So we went back to the laminator, and collected the finished job. Then headed to the 3rd tailor hoping that the job would be done, it was.

Lunch (at 1pm) had already commenced when we got back. So we sat down to potato curry, rice, and a banana. I then went off to relax for half an hour – while Brad took one of the students struggling with maths for tutoring, before we took the Yr 10 girls tutoring between 2-3pm (which turned into 3.30pm). We then has a quick cup of tea at 4pm (afternoon tea time), then headed into the computer room to set up for our 4.20pm Yr 10 Computing lesson, only to find that the bijali had gone off again. So we decided to skip computing lesson (as all the boys were working on the harvest anyway), and did 1 ½ more hours of tutorials with the Yr 10 girls. I then came back to find that supper prep/cooking was already well under control, so I replied to a couple of emails, almost fell asleep on the laptop until supper time (not sure what Brad did during this hour). We ate supper, which was a beautiful potato dish with chapattis, then went to bed around 7.30/8pm. I managed to be lulled to sleep by the thumping night club style music coming from somewhere nearby. Brad said the music went for hours, so I expect he didn’t find it as soothing....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cheap and Cheerful

Hi all - just thought I'd update you on some good news for any of those interested on visiting this place. Air Asia now offer a route to Calcutta (Kolkata) and the best thing is they're dirt cheap! I just dug around for a couple of minutes and figured out flights from Melbourne->KL->Kolkata for $150AUD one way. I'm sure if you hunted some more you'd get even cheaper.... From Kolkata it's only a lazy $10/24 hour train trip to Bareilly which is close to where we are. So if you have the time, now money can't be an excuse ;)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


This week was Diwali, a Hindu festival celebrated by setting off copious quantities of firecrackers. For three nights our sleep has been punctuated by large bangs, long whistles and bursts of light, not dissimilar to the background noise in a war film. As an Australian male, I of course could not pass up on the opportunity to purchase some of these cheap “no license required” explosives and went with Miriam and Amos, one of the farm boys, to acquire some pyrotechnic paraphernalia.

The usually sleepy town of Banbassa was teeming with people eager to purchase Potaka’s (firecrackers) and every shop, regardless of their normal trade, is a front for some serious explosive merchandise. Amos (pictured centre) initially had a hard time choosing from the selection as he had never possessed so much purchasing power ($50AUD) in his life. We soon prodded him along and he was caught up in the excitement and we soon had about 5 or 6 bags filled with rockets, fountains, star bursts, spinning wheels and sparklers.

As the most qualified explosive expert on the farm, I was chosen to manage the event and I chose 4 trustworthy boys to help light (and guard) the fireworks. The girls handled the sparkler distribution process from the sidelines, and after the big show it was reported to me that the kids enjoyed the sparklers the most. No problem though as I had more fun than could be imagined after 31 years of enforced fireworks abstinence. At one stage during the show I heard a loud whistle, a flash of light and then a hundred or so crowd members let out a sigh of relief. I wasn’t sure why until later when I saw this photo of a rocket misfiring, landing centimeters from my head and then shooting back into the air. Needless to say Miriam was very glad when I emerged from the firework haze unscathed. I can’t wait until New Years….

Sunday, October 18, 2009


This blog is a big thank you to those who have forwarded money through us to help out over here, it is long overdue but one of the problems is that things are just not easy to buy. Miriam and I are so used to just going to the nearest shopping centre and picking up the needed items. Over here it takes months of frustrating, failed attempts and numerous cities before we find what we’re after. Another issue is the language barrier, so we always have to take someone with the lingo although we are working on this by teaching ourselves Hindi and practicing on the kids.

My brother sent through a wad of cash a while ago and with it we were able to purchase new tires and repair one of the ute’s that is used to ferry supplies and school children (not at the same time). This was done just in time as the other “Garri” (car) broke down on a school excursion and took ages to fix. They are hoping to purchase a new vehicle as the current fleet are all on their last legs. There was some money left over so we bought the girls a new DVD player to replace one that broke. I’m not sure this was such a great idea as now we are subjected to girls recounting lines from “Titanic”, “High School Musical” and now thanks to those Kiwi visitors – “The Sound of Music”. Some of the girls even reckon that Miriam looks a little like Maria but I can’t see the resemblance…

Friends from way back also sent a bunch of cash which we have put to good use buying a huge pot, big enough to cook a medium sized child in (not that we would of course) and a 22L pressure cooker to speed up the rice preparation. We also were able to replace many of the dented, warped and cracked plates and cups used by the children. After a lot of deliberation we also decided to cave in to popular demand and buy some “fairness cream” aka (moisturiser with sunblock), and over 2000 individual packets of sunslik and pantene shampoo (cheapest way to buy it). As if that wasn’t enough, with the leftovers we were able to buy two steel cupboards for the school library and another UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) for the computer room.

Some guys from my work have come to the party and provided some money which has gone towards chairs for the computer room and the last UPS required. This has meant the computer room was completed and last week every class from 1st to 10th (no 9th class) had their first “real” computer lesson – We now have 7 computers running and the kids have been really excited to use them, some for the first time ever. The remaining money was spent on a filing cabinet which took some finding in India, an iron for the laundry and sporting equipment for the kids (2 volleyballs, a soccer ball, and 2 badminton sets).

Our church sent some more money over and we decided the best way to spend this was on fruit for the kids. The farm grows it’s own fruit and in-season the kids get plenty of guava’s, mangoes and paw-paws. Outside of season though, fruit is very expensive and the kids go without for months at a time. The money provided will give the kids a mixture of apples and bananas 3 times a week for about 2 months. This will also reduce the need to purchase so many vitamin supplements that are given to the children in lieu of fruit.

All of these gifts are perfect examples of how us “rich” westerners can make a real difference in the lives of these children. Because of foreign money coming in these children get a real chance at life with a safe, healthy environment to grow up in, a better than average education (I wouldn’t say good just yet, but we’re working on it) and a loving family of fellow orphans and local and foreign staff members. I quite often watch the kids playing and realize that without this place many would be dead, sick, abused or at the very least uneducated with no real hope for the future.

Thanks to all those have given of their hard-earned dough, it is much appreciated by both of us, the staff and especially the kids. A lot of the things we are buying with the money aren’t “exciting” but they are “infrastructure” items which are much needed and unfortunately take priority over toys and games. The website has now added a catalogue which enables “fun” things to be bought for the kids like sports gear, games and toys. This can be “ordered” online or email us to find out about other payment options.

Of course if you have time on your hands and happen to be good at anything at all, we can always fit you in over here – we’ve really enjoyed our time here so far and feel like we’re actually making a difference. We have visitors here quite often who find that this place changes their perspective on what things are really important in life. We are always looking for people who can teach (no qualifications needed), do handy-man tasks, cook or even supervising kids while they do craft, computers or sports.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Don't forget to check out the photo page by clicking on the link at the right hand side of the page labelled "India Favourites"

School Trip

I don't know about you but in my day our school holidays were limited to places like Naracoorte, Millicent, Port MacDonnell and once in High School there was even a trip to Canberra! The reasons for rambling on about my childhood is that we have just said farewell to 5 school children who had come to visit the orphanage. Now these kids didn’t come from the local high school to visit but rather Scotch Oakburn College in Tasmania, Australia. The 16 year old girls and their teacher were here as part of a conference tour designed to open their eyes about real world problems. This they saw first-hand whilst here as we had over 530mm of rain in 2 days which caused the school to flood and be cancelled.

They spent four days here and helped out with craft, school lessons and even assisted in a youth group run by yours truly. Some of the differences I noticed between the two groups is that the Aussies were much “bigger” (height and breadth), their greater self-confidence and the results of a better education – a greater worldview and analytical reasoning. Despite the rain they had a lot of fun, dancing, singing and playing with “our” kids and it was a tearful goodbye last night when they left.

All of the visitors were deeply impacted by their visit here and stated that they were amazed at how content and happy the children were even with the smallest of things given. They all saw with their own eyes the divide between what they have at their exclusive school and the school here which, by Indian standards, is a good school. Incessant power cuts, monsoonal rain and lack of resources helped the girls understand some of the difficulties faced by people here and I’m sure it will make a lasting impression on them and their peers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


For the first time in 48 hours, it has finally stopped raining.... We’ve had 20.5 inches (over half a metre) of rain in that time. And the monsoon is supposed to have already finished!

For us it's not a big deal - it means we had to walk through ankle deep water to get to our cottage, check more carefully for snakes and whip out blankets.

For villagers though, the makeshift bridge across the river (which had only been up for the last couple of weeks), has been washed away requiring a 30 minute (by car) detour. For some of the villagers who had cut their rice in the past week and left it out to dry, the rains will have destroyed their entire harvest. It must be so devastating to those who now won't be able to feed their family. The last time there was a big rain, the village across the road flooded, and the orphanange helped out with food supplies for the villagers.

The school here at the orphanage floods and after the first day of rain one of the teachers mentioned to me that her feet were frozen and wrinkled after teaching in a wet classroom, and yesterday school was cancelled as the classrooms were flooded. The 6 Tasmanian visitors were a great help keeping the kids occupied. For the orphanage farm, the small amount of rice we had already cut is now spoilt but the remaining crop is still OK as long as the rain stops and it can dry out this week.

It really makes you think differently when you can see how a thing like rain can affect people so drastically. I have previously thought of rain as a minor inconvenience but I might just have to change my viewpoint.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Gal's Life

I get stared at everywhere I go. I tend not to notice too much, but sometimes it’s hard not to. Once our train carriage was deserted, so it was strange when 3 young guys sat directly opposite us and stared at me for a good couple of minutes before moving on. Being Aussie, friendly & polite, I’m used to smiling at people. I’m not convinced it’s ok to smile at guys (don’t want to give the wrong idea), but sometimes it’s hard to ignore people, and I’m not a fan of giving nasty looks (smiling comes more naturally). I don’t think it’s really acceptable for Indian guys to stare at Indian women or vice versa – so it’s hard to know what’s acceptable for me.

In Australia, I consider myself to be a conservative dresser. So India suits me just fine. Long pants, along with shirts that at least cover your shoulders are standard (no shorts, or singlet tops). Away from the orphanage most girls/ladies wear sari’s or suits, jeans are slowly becoming more acceptable (the thought of wearing jeans in this heat doesn’t appeal to me though).
The suits are really comfortable, kind of like wearing PJ’s, but much more stylish. Seeing a sea of colourfully dressed girls is such a beautiful sight. I find it overwhelming shopping for suits, firstly I’m not much of a shopper, and I’m not used to wearing much colour, plus the shop assistants (always men) bring out suit after suit, and it’s so hard to choose – and if you try to leave they’ll want to bring out more & more... They don’t seem to get angry if you don’t buy though which is good, it’s just the way the process is done.

My least favourite things would have to be the picking/digging in ones nose in public, it happens all the time and can go on for minutes. Then theres public peeing. On a bus trip I counted 7 people peeing beside the road in a 1 minute period. In some public places (eg markets), they actually have open urinals set up on busy streets. On my first day in India after driving for 2 hours we ended up in a traffic jam just as the sun was rising. Rick said it might be a good idea to use the roadside facilities before it was light, as the jam could last for hours (it lasted for 4 hours, so I’m glad I did). Off the side of the road Brad kindly shielded me from view with my scarf, however on looking up once I was done we noticed a bunch of kids on the roof looking down (a great introduction to India). It’s much easier being a boy in this respect.

Coming to India, we expected from word of mouth/blogs etc, that as a female I would have to fight guys off all the time, as everyone would be trying to grope me. This has not been my experience thus far, but I have been pretty sheltered spending so much time at the orphanage. I have however had two instances (2 times too often), both times were on our trip away, each time it was dark, and we were walking somewhere, and it happened so fast that there was no time to react by lashing out. I am more than happy to whack someone if they try anything...

When we had first arrived, a lady was telling me about her daughters, and mentioned how one was fat like me. I was slightly amused by this, but decided not to take offence (I wasn’t in my best shape ever, but I didn’t think I was that huge). However, in India it’s a compliment for a woman to be fat (unlike the West, where we all want to look like supermodels) – it tends to be the wealthy who are fat, and it’s good to be wealthy. I told some of the girls the other day that a friend had said Brad is looking so skinny in his photos. They said that when I arrived my face was so cute & chubby (again I was not offended) – supposedly I’m not so chubby anymore. Again, it's thought to be good to have a bit of extra weight in reserve incase you get sick. It’s also important as an Indian female to stay pale, so fairness creams are popular, along with umbrellas. I on the other hand have enjoyed having a bit more colour.

The lack of meat in my diet doesn’t worry me at all, in fact I probably prefer it. If we’re ever away from the orphanage for a meal though, Brad must have meat or potatoes (his meat substitute) at the very least.

The other day we had a small girls (ages 7-14yrs) Jungle Trip. We took plenty of water, along with lunch to cook once we were there. We crossed the 3 rivers and arrived in the jungle, ate malta (volley ball sized fruit similar to a grapefruit), then the girls climbed trees, picked lemons, had a trip to the hand water pump in a local mud hut village (where everyone proceeded to saturate themselves), swang from tree vines tarzan style, played 7 tiles (Indian ten pin bowling equivalent), then ate our yummy subji (vegetables) & rice.

We then returned home with much lighter bags, totally worn out, and straight to bed. I must have been attacked by bugs whilst in the jungle, as my feet and ankles are covered with tiny incredibly itchy bites.

I’ve been amazed by how nothing really fazes me. Life is how it is in India, there’s definitely a different timescale (no need to rush)...