Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hitched up and off we go!

So here we are at a small town on the South to South East coast of Victoria called Inverloch about 1.5 hours drive from Mt Martha. We arrived yesterday afternoon after a relatively hasty pack and what some might call a usual Petrucco Shamozle! You would think that when you are going away for 13 weeks on a trip of a lifetime that you would invest some time in planning, preparing and organising. Well the extent of our organisation was really ensuring the dogs were taken care of at home and booking our first stop on the way. The last few days have been pretty hectic, having arrived home only 8 days prior after 4 weeks overseas, we have had several days of work to finish off, an Executive Orientation program to design and prepare for a client, house renovations to plan for and obtain multiple quotes for the bank, two birthdays, school excursions and pyjama day, 2 school presentations to deliver (on our oseas trip), make sure the orphanage and school projects keep on track, take the camper in for a service, have the dogs washed, pick up the dog food (for 3 months that's 7 big bags of dog food) and ofcourse pack the camper, our clothes and recreation gear for our trip. It makes me tired just thinking about it. I know when we were driving down yesterday I half jokingly scoffed at Bec when she mentioned the past week had been a bit to handle but now looking back she definitely had a point and as per usual my wife was right. Mind you our way is to live life with a degree of impulsiveness and to this day Bec and I will tell you that our best decisions in life have been those where we decide 'in the moment' and just go with what feels right. Out trip away is no different, other than knowing we are in desperate need for some time out we have decided to go where the winds (or should I say waves) take us and just spend some time living for the day. We have had to plan out our first 3 stops because of Easter and school holidays which will see us leave Inverloch for Lakes Entrance and then on to a beautiful beachside town called Pambula. After that though no plans. Yesterday as we finalised our packing, started to think about what needed to go in the camper and we started to ironically feel a little pressure about the timeliness of our departure. We ofcourse hadn't opened our camper since we got back from our Christmas break so had no idea what was in there or how things were packed. There were bags spread all over the driveway, dogs running around, kids jumping all over the place, it was a disaster zone. We had golf gear, surfboards, cricket bats, balls, swimming gear, fishing gear, you name it, it was somewhere in our driveway. As I was wanting to get moving and get packed I was dealt a lesson in patience as I tried to get our fishing gear organised. There was about 5 rods seriously entangled with each other, hooks flying around everywhere and me just wanting to get moving. I had a little giggle to myself as I had to stop, take a breath and slowly disentangle the fishing line and separate the fishing rods. Slowly and surely we unpacked the camper, put up the pod on the car, and repacked the camper, the pod and the car. Really all things considered we did a remarkable job. We were all hooked up and ready to drive when Bec had one last look around and identified that we hadn't yet packed the TV. In some ways this was a message to us, as I had suggested to the crew that we not take the TV on this trip, which unfortunately didn't get considered for too long. Well we were running around the house trying to find the box to store the TV in, car was still going in the driveway, kids in the car, packed and ready to go. Fortunately the TV drama was short lived, Bec found the box and we were all packed and ready to go. Imagine the drama if we got to our first stop and no TV! I am not sure if the peace of no TV would be overshadowed by the moans of the kids.

Whilst I had planned out our entire 13 week trip with every stop accounted for I took the very liberating step the other night, with Bec's approval ofcourse, to simply delete the lot and so we leave without a plan. I say liberating because Bec and I like most people I guess live our life with most days planned for between work, three kids and a house there isn't a great deal of discretionary time left. This trip is 13 weeks of discretionary time and this is probably the most exciting part of the adventure for us. Just getting off the treadmill, having no plans, and just driving or camping depending on how we feel. I often remember back to when I used to work at Charles Sturt. Whilst for the most part that place had happy memories for me it also got pretty dark toward the end of my time there after my boss was sacked and replaced with a very average fellow and the place started to head in a very different direction. Anyway I used to drive to work down Brighton Road every day, North in the morning and South in the evening. At Somerton Park on the corner of Oaklands Road there used to be a VW car yard, just a small corner yard filled with beetles and more interestingly Combi Vans. Each day, twice a day I would hope the lights would pull me up so just for a moment I could lose myself in my dreams of packing up the Combi and heading for the coast. I would visualise myself ripping off my tie and throwing the suit away for a pair of boardies, my sunnies, my board, Bec and at that stage Indy and just taking off. In some ways I wish I had followed my heart instead of listening to my head. Ofcourse my head was telling me you have a good job, you have a mortgage, you have responsibilities, don't be stupid. I wonder what my advice would be from me on my death bed as I think back to that time, I think I know the answer and advice I would give to myself. Well fortunately as we live through these and more experiences we become a little more wise and we start to balance out listening to our head with listening to our heart and so the option to buy a camper and head off on an extended trip worked its way from being a dream of something we would one day do, to becoming an option, to becoming a plan, to now becoming our reality. There are ofcourse a multitude of reasons why we shouldn't be doing this as my head keeps reminding me but I am happy to say that Bec and I have an absolute commitment to living our life with our kids, each and every day where we can, and that means we make sacrifices, we make compromises but we always put our time with our girls and Gus first. I still can't believe that this year Indy will turn 12, Maggie is nearly 8, and Gus is already 2. The years just fly by and if we don't stop and get off the treadmill these precious opportunities will soon be gone. Ofcourse this sort of time is so precious because it is absolutely in the moment time. Each day is dedicated to our family, be it going for walks, swimming, surfing, whatever the family wants to do, we do together, very special.

The other part of this trip that is a little unique for Bec and I is caravan park life. For the most part Bec and I pretty much keep to ourselves at home. We don't tend to spend a lot of time (none if I am honest) with our neighbours and after the wonderful set of friends we had at Middleton we have been very slow to hook up with friends at Mt Martha. Well caravan parks are like a little community. Sure you can keep to yourself if you really want to and as soon as you head in to your camper it is your own little oasis but there are also many times during the day when you are with others. Be it cooking at the BBQs, swimming in the pool, jumping on the air pillow or simply sitting out having your cuppa in the morning there are many opportunities to reach out and connect with others. In the first 12 hours here we would have had more conversations with more people than we would probably have in a month at home. It brings you out of yourself and gives you the opportunity to play a part in an ever changing community. A community mind you that all have the same goal, relax and live life and create new enjoyable experiences and memories. They are quite special places to be, that is all except for the Christmas holiday period when they are just manic and not really all that enjoyable, or at least not for us. The Inverloch Park is fantastic for the kids. Everything is fenced for the kids, the parks, the pools, the recreation facilities, so they are very safe and we can pretty much see everything from our camp site. The thinking behind a stop only 90 minutes from home was to just get away quickly, unpack, and unwind for a few days to get into the zone. I am pleased to say that so far our plan is working. Ofcourse there is some unwinding to do. The kids are still tired from the trip overseas and from their quick trip back to school, Bec has had a big past month and I am ofcourse pretty tired and still a bit wound up from work, from India and in need of an opportunity just to take the phone off the hook and de-stress a little bit. Inverloch is doing all that and more for us. For the foodies out there we had some nice pieces of scotch fillet on the barbie last . We were pleased to see a 6 pack of kingfisher beer (Indian Beer) at the local yesterday so we had to have one of those. It was a bit surreal to think that just over a week ago we were sitting in Mysore with Jen and Nick enjoying a cold Kingfisher and now here we are in Inverloch Australia doing the same. Tonight we are planning to have a lovely prawn and pea risotto with some fresh peas, our favourite, and an accompanying bottle of Shaw and Smith Sauvignon Blanc from the Adelaide hills. We always look forward to cooking up a nice meal on our little butane gas cooker. We also won't settle when it comes to coffee and we have brought out nespresso and enjoy a very good coffee or three everyday (the nespresso converts out there will know what we are talking about!) Night times are always fun, be it sitting outside playing card games or watching the old series of sea change (Mum bought me the series for my birthday) we always have great fun at nights. We are looking forward to many happy adventures over the coming weeks.

A quick update for those who have been following our efforts in India. We were again overwhelmed by a very generous gift from our Auntie Jane and Uncle Richard who gave me a very special birthday gift donation to our projects in India. We are now fast approaching our initial fundraising target and will soon have enough to repair the rooves, repair the playground, buy a new van and put in a new and safe back fence at the school. I received an email from Premela this week advising work has already begun on removing the rooves, families are already signing up to attend the school and the girls will be returning home in April. It is incredible news all around and we are very excited. My good friend Phillip Marsh from Rotary is assisting us in a range of ways including a large donation as well as creating a project fund within Rotary that we can donate to and use to forward funds to India. Phil and I are also going to put together a series of leadership seminars from July which we hope will go a long way to funding the next stage of our building project at the school. There is a lot happening in India and it is all good.

Well as I sign off, the girls are in the pool, Gus is sleeping in the camper, Bec will be reading her books and the trip is off to a good start. We hope all our family and friends are well and getting ready for an enjoyable Easter break. Love to everyone, Nick, Bec, Indy, Mags and the Little man!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Leaving India and Leaving our Legacy

Meeting with Premela; The girls are coming home….

We awoke on our final day in India with a very special email from Denny and Mick. They have been following our journey closely, regularly providing some guiding words of wisdom along the way as we have faced the many challenges on our trip. The email literally blew Bec and I away. Den and Mick had offered to make a sizeable and significant donation to our project. I am not sure if they understand what their donation has meant to us and more importantly to the kids but it has opened up options that we never thought possible. Their generous gift enabled us to approach our planning from a whole new perspective. So on our final afternoon in Chennai we had the opportunity to meet again with Premela. I think we all knew that the conversations we had a few days earlier were unfinished but we also all knew the previous visit was not the time or the place. Bec and I approached this discussion cautiously wanting to provide support without directing. In our previous visit I was able to see how reactive Premela was forced to become and there was a definite disconnect with a clear vision and clearly no real plan other than ensure survival and the safety of the children. Bec and I wanted to explore with Premela how she really felt about the girls leaving and if it were possible would she want them to return. Bec and I knew how we felt about this but wanted to make sure we were clear on Premela's position before moving too far down this path. So we gently started exploring the option of what it would take for the girls to return. The plan Premela had in her head was that we needed to build and seriously extend the school right up to year 12 to enable the girls to attend school on site, this is in our sights but is a definite long term goal with the project likely to cost in the order of $60-$70k. Clearly this was not going to be the catalyst for the girls returning. There must be another way. I asked Premela about what it would take in terms of security and transport. As it turns out there was an option to buy a van, increase security and secure the services of a driver and it was an affordable short term option. Due to the generosity of Denny and Mick this now became a realistic option and we were sensing hope. Both Bec and I could see how we could make this a reality and we both felt an overwhelming sense of purpose about this happening. We slowly moved from acceptance of the girls leaving to questioning did this have to happen, to finally a different future outcome. What it would take, a new van for about $8000, a driver ($75 per month) and new security ($125 per month) and the girls come home. Premela's beautiful girls can return home and this can all happen in the next couple of months. It would predominantly be the younger girls as many of the senior girls have moved into new opportunities for training and work and it would not make sense at this time for them to return. With all of this 25 girls can come home and soon. Both Bec and I are amazed at Premela's strength, courage and determination. What she does for the children and the community belies belief that one woman can do so much. She is also such a proud woman and would not want to cry in front of us but her quiet tears of joy were evident as the reality of our discussions slowly became clear, the girls, Premela's daughters were coming home. Bec was so present and so in the moment with Premela. I understand now what this means to Bec and just how devastating the news was that the girls had been moved. I reacted at the time by withdrawing and reflecting, Bec from the first moment was very clear and driven and only had one question; how do we get them back? As I sat back and watched Bec and Premela agree how we would make this happen I looked over at my other two beautiful girls. Maggie was deep in concentration looking at the notes Premela had bought which included photos and details of all of the children. Indy was there for every conversation, deeply listening and concentrating to ensure she not only heard everything but also understood what it meant. So we agreed, we would find the resources required and the girls would be back home in time for the new school year commencing in June. Jen and Nick had bought a range of cricket bats, games and building blocks for Premela to take home to the boys, I could just imagine the look on their faces. Words cannot describe how we felt as we walked Premela to her car. We felt like we were floating we were so happy.

The school is opening…..

When we arrived in India we had no idea what the next 10 days had in store for us. We still thought we needed $20k to reopen the school and that this would be a long term project. The roof restoration project has now been confirmed with Premela and the school will open in June, enrolments have already started to come in. There is a buzz developing in the community and the school which was the catalyst for so many community connections and opportunities is once again going to be alive with possibilities. We are looking to name the school and would like to do so in honour of our Grandparents Ken and Ruby Tonkin, Joan and Eric Penny who have created the means and the drive for this to occur and to acknowledge the donations from all those who have supported us to make this happen. We are currently thinking about the name being something like School of Hope or Opportunity but would welcome suggestions. We are planning to have Lani Bird as the school logo, this is the logo Kate and Bec designed as the face of our charitable efforts through Kate's shop Little Bird. We are already considering opportunities to partner with Indy's school and see what extra support we can generate to ensure this school is not only open but thriving. We have already met with India's school principal at Toorak college and she was very interested. I have also considered and started to explore already the opportunity for a student placement for either a teacher or a community development student. I have a meeting with my old friend Frank next week to see what we could arrange. The most important thing though is that the school will open in June and enrolments will continue to grow over the next 12 months to full capacity.

Receiving help from others…..

As we have been on this journey the amount of interest and support from our friends and family is as overwhelming as it has been unexpected. We came here to see what it was that we could give and in the process we learnt how to receive, it has been a very humbling and incredibly positive experience. As I sit back and contemplate exactly what has happened in the past few weeks I want to acknowledge how profound it is for people to give without the established direct connection to this cause as real giving. The trust people have shown in us and their generosity of spirit has been quite overwhelming to Bec and I and the kids. How do you ever find the words to express what this means and what this will mean. I only hope there is great joy in the sense of giving and understanding that this has changed the course of life for so many kids. Whilst many children will attend the school approximately 40-50 will attend who would not have otherwise attended school. 40-50 kids will have an opportunity to learn in an English medium school who would otherwise not have attended school. It just blows me away to think about the potential opportunities this creates for these kids. It is a life changing opportunity that otherwise would not have happened.

Taking some responsibility….

One of the things I mentioned in a previous blog was how we were all care and no responsibility and clearly this trip is about us stepping up and sharing some of the responsibility. We asked Premela to confide in us in the future if there were any issues that she and Augustine were facing and to know that they were no longer alone. Our family and our extended family are here for them and here to share in the responsibility for raising these kids. Premela is a very strong woman yet at the same time very unassuming. She rarely asks directly for anything yet expresses such a sense of gratitude for everything she receives. The irony in all of this ofcourse is that she doesn't really understand what she, and these kids have done for our family. This is our True North, our North Star, our reason for being, as a family the most profound thing to date that we have done in our lives and perhaps will ever do. I have to constantly pinch myself at just what we have all been able to achieve and what would have happened if I hadn't returned to India 5 years ago. Our lives were heading in the wrong direction and we had lost our sense of purpose. Premela and the kids were living in an unfinished orphanage that had been that way for several years, their school had been closed down and they had to make the difficult decision to send their girls away. Now we have a profound sense of purpose and a clear direction forward, together we have rebuilt the orphanage, are rebuilding the school and now ensuring the girls will come home. It is difficult to comprehend how this has all happened. With this trip to India, at the start of our sojourn fate has played a role yet again. I didn't know why we were coming back again this time around, we had only been here 18 months ago. It was always going to be difficult with Gus and there were so many reasons not to come. But we did come and we now know why. I am so glad we came and have been able to play a role in changing the course of life and opportunities for so many. Thankyou so much to everyone who has helped us along the way.

Where to from here……

The school will be rebuilt in the next 6-8 weeks and reopen in June. Enrolments have commenced and things are already moving. I need to secure the final remaining funds to provide Premela the opportunity to purchase a van to transport the kids and confirm the new security arrangements for the orphanage. The girls will be coming home in a matter of weeks. We have the ongoing challenge of creating sustainable income streams which the school will provide a number of opportunities for this to occur. The new van will also provide a number of opportunities for income generation when it is not being used to transport kids to and from school. We are also working very hard with our sister Kate who is coming up with some incredible ideas with her very generous suppliers to create a range of products that we can sell with profits going through to the kids. The past few months have been incredible, well beyond anything I could have dreamed and so much is happening and so fast. I plan to return to Australia and with my good friend and Rotarian Phil Marsh run a series of leadership seminars to provide the base capital to fund the development of the remainder of the school. Whilst there is a lot happening there is always more to be done and it is time to get on with the job!

My reflections on our trip…...

Being a father and husband is clearly the most important thing I do. It is the thing I invest more time and effort into than anything in my life and ironically it is the thing I do best and worst in my life. With this in mind it is no surprise that as I sit and reflect on the first leg of our sojourn I think about my family.

My thoughts on my wife Bec; Over the past 5 years I have seen Bec stretch to discover so many new things about herself. I value so much her ability to connect with anyone, she is just such a warm and welcoming person. I am amazed at her absolute strength and courage to do what is right, to take responsibility and to face the most difficult personal challenges I could imagine and she does it with such compassion and care. Bec is my mentor, my teacher, my best friend and my partner for y mentor, teacher, friend and age
nto than anything in my life
rrently thinking about the School of hope or opportunity wlife. She constantly teaches me about tolerance and compassion and kindness. She has personally faced many demons and stared them down. I have watched as Bec has had to dig so deep to find her true self, peeled back so many layers that had grown over so many years and shrouded the person I now know as my wife. In the process she has managed to teach me so much about myself. I love the way she can find positive in anything, the glass isn't half empty or full with Bec it is overflowing. She is our rock, our rudder steering us along the right path, she is our wise guide.

My thoughts on my daughter India; I love to watch India and how she has developed such a personal commitment to being a part of all of that we are doing in India. She has an absolute desire to be there for every discussion and every decision that is made and just wouldn't accept any of this happening without her. I watch as India is wanting to understand, wanting to appreciate why she lives the way she does and why other kids do not. I see her now valuing the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others less fortunate which for an 11 year old is just so amazing. Indy is the one who cautiously steps through experiences, treading for solid ground, but trusting us to take the step when the ground is not solid. I see Indy's courage to stretch beyond what is comfortable and known. When we first came to India I introduced Indy to a man called Vin, he is a beggar who is always sitting just around from our hotel. Vin is physically disabled beyond comprehension and is about a foot tall. I always make a point to take the kids around sit with Vin and shake his hand and have a talk with him. The first time Indy hid behind me and was quite uncertain about Vin in fact she was very scared. This time around Indy was going up and giving Vin a few rupees herself and feeling far more comfortable with a man she would never encounter in Mt Martha! Indy also has a great flair for reflection and writing. If you are ever lucky enough to receive one of Indy's letters you will never forget them, they are as beautiful as they are inspirational. I watch Indy being a great teacher and guide to Maggie and Gus and so many people have commented to us how good Indy is with Gus, his second little mum. She is such a deep thinker, is fiercely independent and loves an argument. She is our little diplomat, she is our commander in chief and she is our legal advocate. She is the spirit for our family, she is our soul.

My thoughts on my daughter Maggie; I really love the fact that
Maggie is
forever looking for the good things and always wanting to be happy. For Maggie life would be perfect if it could in her own words be like a movie where you can fast forward through all the bad bits and rewind and replay all of the good bits. Maggie is the one who has the courage to try new things, she will always dive in first, or perhaps be pushed by her at times nervous big sister. We found a very deep rock pool in skenes creek on the great ocean road. I couldn't help myself but jump in it was so beautiful, but to the kids a little scary. Maggie thought about it for all of 2 minutes before diving in feet first and having a go, that's what I love about Maggie. As she is growing up I see her carving out her own space, her own little niche and moving out from Indy's shadow and charting her own course. She loves her Fashion, her food and having fun. She has a unique and eye catching dress sense to the extent now that people stopped us to ask if they could take Maggie's photo. She is our little chef which is evident not only when she is with mum (our resident chef) but also in the moment at the orphanage where she gravitated to the kitchen to help the ladies prepare dinner for the kids. She is great with other kids and she forms relationships quickly and is very giving. She met a young Cambodian girl when we were in Thailand called Chetra, they became instantly best buddies and she made a real impact on Chetra such that she is still talking about her friend Maggie. I think Maggie has been blessed with Bec's ability to connect with people. Maggie has a tremendous sense of humour and has so many different ways to make us smile and laugh. She is the one who will come up with the one liners that become legendary in our family. She is the one who provides the energy, she sets the fashion and the menu, she is the one who makes us laugh, she is our heart.

My thoughts on my son Gus; From the
moment I
saw our little man it was evident that there was something magical about Gus and I think anyone who meets Gus knows this. I had so much fun already on this trip just watching Gus interact with others, he is such a social fellow and loves everyone. He hands out kisses easily and will be drawn to a crying child a hundred metres away to try to rectify the situation. I have never seen anyone be able to look at Gus and not smile and not connect, he reaches out to anyone and everyone. He provides us with so much enjoyment. He brought Indy and Maggie together, who before his arrival were unfortunately drifting apart, they are now our little twinnies rarely far from each others side. He brought Bec and I to the place we are now and he continues to show us what is possible in life. He brings our family so much joy. Each of us have our own special relationship with our very special little man. Gus has provided the direction for our life, he has pointed us in the right direction, he reminds us when we start to get off course, he is our compass.

My thoughts on me; Normally I wouldn't ever write about me, my preference is to write about others and what I see in them but I need to be able to share some of my reflections so people understand that I am more than the person they see. I remember sharing with mum and Nick on this trip that I am much more interesting on my blog than I am in person! As I reflect on the past 5 years I recognise that I have been so tired for so long. The last 5 years have been a bit of a blur and I feel like I am awakening from a long sleep, a hibernation of sorts. I find conflict extremely difficult to process and it is very anxiety provoking for me and I have struggled to cope with the level of conflict I have endured and experienced. I should note that much of this conflict has resulted from years of trying to avoid conflict and if I had only been better dealing with situations in the moment I am sure things would have been far better. Although as I often say to others what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I think I am definitely a little stronger and wiser for the experience. In recent times I too have had to peel back the layers myself and let the real me come out. I drew a picture of myself once as a man with wings screaming in a glass cubelike cage and nobody could hear me, it was the best way to represent how I have felt at times. Last Christmas my mum gave me a gift that knocked me off my feet. She found a set of goals that I wrote for myself in 1990 and to sit there and read them was like looking into the mirror of my life, like judgement day that I was unprepared for. It gave me such a renewed sense of purpose to revisit these goals I set in 1990 and make them real. Ofcourse they were all about helping people, making a difference and being happy! In recent times I have once again found the courage to follow the path less travelled and this is the version of myself that I most like. I have had to fight the power of contentment and complacency to listen to my heart when it comes calling. I have been pleased to see that I have been able to find the courage to dig very deep and face my own demons, my past, to take responsibility and create an alternate future for myself and my family. I need to focus on doing what I know is right and not worry so much about what I think others expect of me. I think I have found the courage to do the hard yards, not simply find the quick fix and this has helped me to find a way forward even when the present didn't always look so good. Whilst in many ways it is only early days I am already starting to get a sense of my old self, my energy and enthusiasm for living and hopefully a little more confidence in my abilities and potential. On a personal level I have not allowed myself to look to the future, for whatever reason I have felt that treading water has been the only viable option for me up until recently. I have perhaps not trusted that I can lead with my heart but now have regained a sense of confidence in who I am and what my life is all about, to understand what is really important and finally put first things first. As a father and husband my most important and profound responsibility in life, the thing I am most committed to, the thing I do the best and worst in my life. I am a student of fatherhood and in many ways have tried to chart my own course through experience. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it very wrong. I value the opportunity to be 'just a dad' more than anything else in life and know that being a dad has brought me the highest of highs in my life. I know now that it is not about being the best dad and it is actually not about me at all but rather contributing to the happiness and fulfilment of our family as we follow our True North, our North Star. I think to my family I am a catalyst, I provide the vision, and I rattle the cage, I am the….

Well actually you should probably ask my family for they are the best judge of who I am to them and that is what matters most!


Goodbye for now; This represents the end of the first leg of our sojourn, our journey for our soul. So far we have already exceeded our expectations and have been able as a family through our family and friends to leave a legacy beyond our wildest dreams. We have been on planes, trains, taxi's, vans, autos and elephants and our journey is just beginning. In a matter of days we hitch up our cammie and drive off to the East. We are all very excited about the opportunity to explore part of this beautiful country we live in and look forward to keeping you a part of our journey every step of the way. Thankyou for listening, you have provided a sense of purpose to our reflections and supported a discipline for us to do so. Next time we blog we will be on our way, talk with you soon.




Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mysore, here we come…

So we awoke to our final morning in Bangalore with Bec heading off for her morning yoga class with the yogi master. Unfortunately somewhere in the process things must have been lost in translation as there was no class when Bec arrived. The girls awoke slowly and headed off to breakfast, again a veritable feast of everything you can imagine. Mum has made good friends with one of the young chefs who we met last time we travelled and he is keen to head to Australia to further his career. In his show of respect for Mum, the wise older chef that she is, he has privately prepared meals for mum every morning and you would think she was the queen mother the way he doted on Mum's every need. On our final morning I asked for a serve of scrambled eggs from the young chef although in his haste to bring out 4 meals for mum, a mix of eggs Benedict and several Indian specialties my eggs were nowhere to be seen. I should have told him I was a chef, maybe I too could have been served. One story I didn't share with you was at the Connemara on our first morning Indy decided she wanted to toast her croissant. The toaster was one of those conveyor belt toasters and she put in the croissant but it was too big and got caught. I was sitting back at the table just taking in the view when Indy casually walked up and said she had caught the toaster on fire. She said it with such a calmness that I thought she was either joking or had rectified the situation herself. No she assured me that the toaster was still on fire and I should probably make an inspection. Sure enough as I approached the toaster smoke, was not quite bellowing but was working up to it. Luckily for us the croissant was dislodged quite easily and all was fine. It would not have been a good start to our holiday if we had burned down the hotel. After Maggie and Maxi's track record with the microwave we have now had a couple of close calls. At breakfast in Bangalore Poppa and I headed up to finalise the account for our stay and Bec made the tactical error of leaving Maggie in charge of Gus. I returned to find Bec running around the hotel grounds calling for Maggie who had decided to be a big girl and take Gus off for a walk. A frantic 5 minutes later and we found her, she had decided to head back to the room, no harm done. Gus has found the whole Indian nappy thing a bit of a challenge. They don't quite have the huggies technology and most of the time Gus is walking around with nappies sagging down to his knees! We are pleased to report that no Gus damage was done at the Taj, thank god for that. As we were leaving out suite at the Taj the girls worked themselves up to a frenzy collecting all of the complimentary items and shoving them in their bags, it was a bit of a Kath and Kim moment. Everything went in to their bags; shampoos, body lotions, slippers, shoe shine, combs, cotton balls, pens, paper and the list goes on.

We had a quiet morning before heading off in our 5 seat car, luggage to the rafters off to the train station for our 3 hour trip to Mysore. Opening my book for a quiet read I was distracted again by the scenery that is India by train and quickly put the book down and just sat and observed. Mum being quite recycling conscious decided to take her rubbish in a bag and hand it to the train porter who promptly opened the train door and threw it outside, much to mum's horror, ah the India way! Aside from that the trip was quite uneventful and we arrived in Mysore and off to the famous Mysore institution the Green Hotel. The hotel is an old colonial hotel, only two floors high spread out around a large parade ground which in the evening comes alive with dinner guests enjoying the outside dining. The rooms are set around the grounds and there are a range of beautiful trees and shrubs surrounding the hotel. There are rooms in the main building which include the princesses room (Bec was quite surprised to find out that she didn't get given this room) and the famous writers room. Then there are also a range of rooms situated in a long two story row of single rooms overlooking the main grounds. The hotel is one where you can imagine as a writer taking a long sabbatical to write a novel. You can sit in the gardens, in the café, in the library or out on your balcony. If you can't get inspiration to write here then you might as well give up. I wasn't quite sure what rooms we were to be given as the hotel manager assured me when I booked he would sort something out for our kids. As we booked in we were told we would be given the suite and Bec promptly piped up with 'how many beds?' to which the manager promptly replied '2 madam'. So we headed up to the room and sure enough there were two beds, they were two of the smallest single beds you would ever find, probably more of a cot than a bed! So we had the largest room in the hotel, which really wasn't that large with two beds between 4 of us. Ah well, that's life on the road, at least we had beds. The green hotel was a nice change from the extravagance of the Taj west end. There was no pool, no TVs or DVDs, no mini bar and no airconditioning. The rooms were very basic and I have to admit it felt a lot more comfortable to us, I am not sure if the kids would agree but certainly Bec and I felt good to be here again. On our last trip here about 15 years ago Bec had a bad experience with an idly on the train and spent most of her time in Mysore with her head in a bucket, not a lot of fun. This time around we avoided the train food and Bec arrived in good spirits and good health. For the first time on the trip Popsy relaxed in the knowledge that the rooms were very affordable, the food was good and cheap and the beer was cold, life was looking up for Popsy! To quote Popsy "this is the happiest I have been with any of the accommodation so far" (referring to the simpleness of our lodgings).

We were a little hot and bothered when we arrived so we headed down to the outside restaurant for a quiet bit of lunch. A couple of very cold kingfishers (Indian Beer) hit the spot and we ordered some tandoori chicken, lamb rogan josh, butter naan, aloo mattar (peas and potatoes), palak paneer (spinach and cottage cheese) and all was well. The food here has been a definite highlight, both the outside dining room and the food quality have been exceptional. We have over the days been steadily working our way through the extensive menu and enjoyed every meal. After a long and quiet lunch we headed back to the room for a rest. Popsy and I headed out to the shops, a leisurely 1.5km walk down the street to stock up on our supplies. An interesting sight on the way to the shops was the puppies for sale on the side of the road. Not a sight I think I have seen before in India. When we returned to our rooms everyone was resting. Maggie was feeling a little hungry so she piped up with 'is it Gin hour yet?' knowing ofcourse that the practice of gin and tonics meant the chips would also be coming out. The adults didn't need any dinner that night and we were all quite tired after our day of travels. Indy and Maggie settled for chicken noodle soup and a mars bar for dinner (after the chips ofcourse) which I think they were actually quite happy with. So we all packed into bed together under the one fan in the room and hoped for the best. There was a rather bright light outside our window that meant that it felt like daytime, all night and I mean all night. Still not a bad night's sleep considering. I awoke to Mum standing at our door yelling "Nicky let me in, let me in quick!" in a high pitched voice suggesting there was a cat, no a dog, no a monkey coming straight towards her along the balcony! With each version of the story the pitch got a little higher and more intense. We quickly opened the door and sure enough a rather large and quite plum monkey casually strolled past our door. Quite a sight to be greeted with first thing in the morning. He walked to the end of the walkway and sat up on the stair fence looking none too amused with life when he was scared off by the security guard.

After the monkey incident we shared a morning cup of tea and sat and took in the Indian tranquillity. Birds quietly chirping whilst in the background the various car and bus horns bellowing into a constant hum of distant activity, you can hear the serenity! We were up and off to breakfast with Gus proceeding to eat through three whole mandarins, the girls had their scrambled eggs and we continued our tour of south Indian coffee tasting and had our usual 5 cups with breakfast. It is interesting as you travel you slowly become more relaxed about the kids. Whilst we were having breakfast Gus took a couple of his cars and proceed to the nearby garden bed to play dump trucks in the dirt. Thinking back to Timor this would have sent us diving for the antiseptic wipes and the shower and now several weeks on we are happy that Gus is happy. A boy and his dirt pile, life doesn't get much better for a near 2 year old! Meanwhile we all got to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. We organised a car for the day and decided to head out and see the sights. We stocked up at the ATM and headed off to the palace. Again Mysore is famous for its history as a kingdom and the palace is absolute opulence in its extreme. The girls were provided a set of headsets and accompanying contraption that enabled them to be guided through the palace with information about its history. It was an amazing sight to behold and even the kids were amazed, perhaps Indy more than mags with Gus continuing his reign as the little raja being carried up the steps looking very regal. As we finished at the palace we headed back to the car with the usual constant array of salespeople peddling their wares. One such young man was very dirty (physically) carrying two monkeys and followed us up to the car looking for money. Our driver was a little slow getting to us so we were politely trying to avoid his advances and hustle the kids out of sight and reach of the monkeys. As the driver arrived I quickly jumped in the front seat with Gus as he approached me with a basket, I knew what was coming but unfortunately my window was open and as the car hadn't been started I couldn't do up my window. Sure enough the top of the basket came off and up popped the cobra looking none too amused at being awoken and thrust toward the car. There was not much I could do other than keeping Gus out of reach as I am sure he would have thought it was an opportunity to play let's poke the snake as he did in Thailand. I was pressing the button and nothing was happening and the basket kept drawing closer, not to mention the monkeys that were being wound up into a bit of a frenzy. Fortunately the girls went around the other side and into the back seat and missed most of the show. With Indy's fear of snakes this would not have gone down too well. Fortunately the driver started the car, the window went up and we could again relax, or at least so I thought. The young man not be deterred followed us about 100 metres to the exit and as I opened the window to pay for the carpark sure enough up came the monkeys and the basket. I quickly closed up and off we went! Nothing like a cobra on your face first thing in the morning to get the heart pumping. Fortunately for me I had been introduced to cobras in baskets on previous trips and understood that their fangs are usually removed, or at least that is what I was told.

Our day continued with far less excitement as we proceeded to venture around Mysore visiting a couple of shops (yes one more trip to Fabindia), the famous market, and a couple of bookshops. The market in Mysore is quite spectacular. It is a spice and vegetable market with the most incredible array of fresh fruit and vegetables on offer in rows and rows of stalls. Vendors yelling out information to customers and a general buzz of activity. If you close your eyes for a minute, take a deep breath you could almost imagine standing in the middle of the central market in Adelaide. There are also stalls with the most amazing ground up chalk like material, mounds of brightly coloured towers which you can imagine leaving Gus with for a couple of minutes what would happen. Ofcourse this caught Maggie's eye and the man in the stall was kind enough to demonstrate how the chalk mixed with water turned into a paint for your skin. The girls wanted to buy an anklet each so Bec went in to negotiate with the young man who had been following her around for some time. Starting at around 400 rupees for the two Bec haggled the young man down to 250. Interestingly the same young man approached Mumj with the same two anklets minutes later and offered her the two for 150! Ah Bec, can always drive a hard bargain! Everywhere we went people wanted to reach in and touch Gus, they were relentless. I am not sure what it was but he is like a magnet to people, everyone wants to know him and give him a pinch on the cheeks. Needless to say there is a lot of hand and face cleaning happening throughout the day. We returned to the hotel for lunch (Gus enjoying several more mandarins on the trip) and a rest before one last venture out into the streets of Mysore. For those who are interested lunch consisted of tandoori chicken, pakodas (deep fried vegetables), chicken marsala, cucumber and onion raita and garlic naan (with each piece containing massive chunks of garlic, I am sure there must have been about 8 cloves in each slice!) Lunch again was a highlight. Unfortunately we were all too tired that evening to head back to the palace which apparently included a very good light show in the evening. Anyway we retired to the outside dining room, with candles on tables and it was quite a magical sight. Gus had his bottle and went to sleep and we played scopa (Italian card game) by candlelight. People came from everywhere (expats mostly) and it was a beautiful final evening in Mysore. It was a clear and starry night, there was the buzz of the Indian traffic humming in the background and we just sat and relaxed and shared some highlights of our trip. It was one of those unforgettable moments on our trip and reinforced the reputation of this beautiful old hotel in Mysore. The girls are getting quite experimental with their eating and enjoyed some mild tandoori chicken and butter naan, washed down with Pepsi ofcourse. Poppa entertained the girls with monkey talk for most of the evening and it was a very special way to end our time here.

We awoke today on our final day with the monkeys usual welcome. Apparently this time mum was out in her pyjamas (with no bra on) being chased along the balcony by the monkeys. Poppa ofcourse deciding not to come to the rescue, instead capture all this on film. Mum suggested it was not her finest hour but we can refer to the video to decide. We enjoyed our morning ritual of tea on our balcony while the Girls slept and about to head down for breakfast. Gus after his 6 mandarins and several bananas the day before was clearly working up to a bit of a crescendo in his nappy so Bec and I sat out on the balcony with Jen and Nick having our cup of tea. Some time later Gus arrived at the door, no nappy on and a very pasty concoction all down his leg, Vesuvius had clearly erupted. He had taken off this nappy, left this next to Indy's head on the bed (girls were still sleeping) and headed out to announce to us that he was a happy boy having shed a couple of kilos in the process. Again no harm done and fortunately no finger painting of the walls this time around!

We plan to leave by train this morning to Chennai, this time we have about 7 hours on the train before our final evening and the long trip home. Mysore has been fun and well worth the trip. Back to Chennai we go!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Time to lighten up!

Hi all, well after a period of deep reflective thinking and high emotions it is time to scale things back somewhat and share some of our lighter moments on the trip. We travelled by train yesterday from Chennai to Bangalore, getting up at 4.30am for a 6am train. It doesn't matter how many times we do it on this trip it doesn't get any easier! Both Bec and I were up showered, had lights on and the TV on and all three kids were still fast asleep, not a good start to our long day. So we left the Hotel Connemara in Chennai with the belief that this is probably now our favourite hotel in the world. It isn't the most luxurious we have stayed in, it certainly isn't the biggest, it doesn't have the best restaurants but it is a very easy fit for our family. The rooms by the pool are awesome, the service is mind blowing, the care and attention shown towards the kids is beyond anything we have ever expected and overall it just feels like our hotel, our favourite.

After a bit of a shaky start and running a little behind schedule we managed to get to the railway station with a few minutes to spare. At the train station the porters will carry your bags for you on their head at 30 rupees per bag. Quite a sight watching these poor guys lift our very heavy bag on to their heads and meander through the dense crowd of weary travellers awaiting their trains. We made our way to platform 2A for the Shatabdi Express, our train direct through to Bangalore. Of all the modes of transport I would say my favourite is train travel. The ability to sit in a comfortable chair, watching life pass you by outside the window. You get to see so much of Indian life by the tracks as you charge on to your destination. There are the less than favourable sights of morning ablutions, which for some reason seem to occur frequently by the side of the tracks, there are the cues of cars, autos and other vehicles lined up at the train crossings, there are kids walking to school, people heading to work, families having breakfast on the roof of their homes, there are farmers tending their crops, goat herders, chicken farms, there are fancy coloured houses (pink, orange and bright lime green were very popular), slums with housing that is barely standing up and you would imagine a good rain shower would knock them down. It is one of my favourite Indian activities, my favourite being walking through the rural villages meeting with the local kids and families. The train is a little easier for the kids also as they can stretch out, get up and walk around and generally be a little more active than on a plane or in a car. Nanna and Popsy had organised breakfast boxes from the hotel to take with us so we had plenty of doughnuts, muffins and croissants and ofcourse the mandatory snickers, mars bars and kit kats for the trip. One of our not so bright manoeuvres was to feed Gus a handful of smarties as he started to kick up a fuss, in our defence we were not being particularly logical at that time of the morning and it seemed to work pretty well in the first instance! He was just starting to drift off for a nap when his eyes all of a sudden opened up very wide, he sat bolt upright and all you could hear in the carriage was the now famous dinosaur 'roar' bellowing from the little master over and over again. Not quite sure what our accompanying passengers felt about the very loud little Aussie man. The girls settled in for a nap and stretched out on a couple of seats each, I tried to get a little bit of work done until ofcourse the little master realised I was paying him the full attention he deserved and he decided it was time he shut down my laptop and I focussed on him. Bec was kept busy meeting the constant requests and needs of everyone with her almost magical ability to pull out almost anything you require including food, toys, cleaning products, clothing, scissors, stationary amongst many other requests from one of her pockets in her backpack, she is a veritable human swiss army knife and thank god she is with us.

About 2.5 hours into our 5 hour trip the little man finally gave up as the chocolate seemed to work its way through his system and he slept the remainder of the way. As he slept the girls started to stir and despite, DSs, laptops and DVD player started to get restless and we had to call in the big guns from Popsy, one his now infamous Barry Evil stories. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of listening to these it is an almost magical mix of stories from Poppas schooling days including characters such as Mrs Kierkegard, Kitchen Upstart (the boy with no bottom), Eddie Trucker (the one who always seems to get lost or hurt), Moria Phips (the love interest in most stories), Conrad Beshmerdnick, Teddy Salad (who had his head chopped off at the hands of Barry Evil's axe) and ofcourse Popsy and Barry Evil. I am not sure what plays out in Popsy's mind but the kids sure love the stories, and it was just what they needed to get over the line. Before we knew it we were pulling up into Bangalore station and as always seems to be the case we are pleasantly surprised with how quickly the time goes on the train. We made our way up and down several large flights of stairs, bags in toe, carrying the little raja up and down the stairs in his stroller, we must make quite a sight to the local onlookers! For the second time in a row our transport from the hotel is remarkably absent this despite several emails pre-warning of our impending arrival. We stand waiting out the front of the Bangalore train station, amongst hordes of taxi drivers peddling their wares in front of the security post made up of a machine gun toting soldier sitting behind a bunker of sacks of potatoes. After nearly half an hour of waiting we gave up and decided to take up the most patient of the taxi drivers offer of a couple of cabs to the hotel. Not to go into too much detail but we had a little bit of heightened negotiating when we made it to the hotel through our own transport and were placed in rooms that were not what we had pre organised. After several heated conversations we were upgraded to the Tata suites, which were the best of Indian extravagance and whilst a sight to behold forecast a couple of days of watching Gus like a hawk after his Thailand exploits of drawing on the tables, ripping wallpaper of the walls and painting nailpolish on the furniture. I would hate to think what the furniture in this room cost. It is the room the hotel owner stays in when he is here at the hotel. Time for a club sandwich and a south Indian coffee by the pool and a sit in one of the hammocks the girls love so much.

We were pretty exhausted by the evening so all 5 of us crashed in the king bed and watched a movie. Indy and I were the only ones who managed to get through the opening credits before Indy departed shortly after. We couldn't quite work out the lighting system in the room so as Bec frantically tried to turn off the bedside lamp by actually turning on all the lights in the suite we finally slid into the darkness of sleep with four of us remaining in the bed and Gus back in his cot, at least until about 5am. We awoke to one of the best breakfast buffets you will ever see, Bec went the traditional western today and I the south Indian dosa, vada, idly and sambar and ofcourse accompanying chutneys. With the combination of the four cups of south Indian coffee (a milky coffee that is just so good) it certainly gets the insides going! The kids drift between donuts, French toast, pancakes and omelettes and bacon and the day gets off to a great start. After a long and leisurely walk around the expansive gardens at the hotel Bec decided to stay back this morning with Maggie and Gus by the pool as Indy and I ventured out in the autos (three wheeler Indian open taxis) and race nanna and poppa to the main shopping precinct. For the record despite leading all the way to the final leg Indy and I came in a close second in the auto race to the shops, I think Popsy must have paid off our driver, the whole thing smelled of match fixing! Indy loves the auto rides and because of the thickness of the traffic you barely get above 25km / hr and so the ride inevitably proves to be surprisingly safe. We headed into Commercial street and our favourite shop in Bangalore Fabindia to pick up a couple of things for everyone before heading back to the hotel. Maggie and Indy were booked in for their Henna tattoo like treatment on their hands, an Indian tradition of applying a henna staining paint in a decorative pattern, after a while the henna falls off and what is left is an orange tattoo like pattern which the girl love. Maggie, our resident fashionista, now has her hair braided / plaited, henna tattoos on her hands, manicure and pedicure, new Indian bracelets, new Indian dress, her Indian Bindy between and just above her eyes and ready for trouble. Indy has had a hair cut, layered ofcourse, her henna on her hands, new bracelets, new Indian dress and ofcourse her pedicure as well. Bec has had a pedicure, facial (in Bangkok), booked in for a haircut, and just returned from a waxing where Maggie believes her eyebrows have been waxed too wide apart, needless to say we have a minor drama on our hands! We all have some beautiful new Indian clothing and ready to head out tonight to Blue Ginger the resident Vietnamese restaurant. The little master has done the right thing and is having a long afternoon sleep. Popsy and I are due to have our rematch on the clay tennis courts here at the hotel. Last trip Popsy caused a stir amongst the hotel staff when 5-0 40-0 down he pulled a calf injury and had to retire hurt. This sent the hotel staff into a spin as people came from everywhere to lend assistance to Popsy as he hobbled off the court in disgrace. It culminated in the hotel physio being called to the pool to provide a somewhat soothing if not painful massage. You can ofcourse see that Popsy has called the match a dead rubber and is set to take the court again in the Bangalore tennis challenge. I will again await what moves Popsy will pull when he is facing defeat, stay tuned for the match results.

That is all for now. We are heading off by train tomorrow to Mysore, which in its time was a kingdom and staying at the famous Green hotel. A little happier than our last trip in 1995 when Bec was gravely ill after a bad idly on the train. Hope you are all well and enjoying our blog. To finish off with I have included an excerpt from Indy's interview with Maggie;

Favourite Sport: Running, Favourite Clothes: Watermelon, chips and Naan bread (recently added!), Job ideas; Florist, zookeeper, policeman (although the last one was crossed out after some consideration), Hobbies: Sport, going out and dressing up, Favourite animals: Elephant, dogs, cats (I am just waiting to be asked when we can get an elephant), Favourite hair style: Plaits and favourite type of pillow: smooshy.

And on that note I bid you all farewell from the Tata suite and the Taj West End Bangalore!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Leaving a Legacy

Last night after a long day at the orphanage we went to bed very washed out and a little disappointed. Today we awake with a real sense of purpose and focus for what it is we have to do. Visiting the kids always involves a deep mix of emotions and yesterday was no different, in fact it was even harder than usual but more of that later. Firstly our kids were incredible. Indy wanted to get involved in the negotiations with Premela the orphanage director on what was needed at the orphanage and was basically Indy in charge of proceedings with the kids. Beautiful little Maggie was her usual slightly more reserved self but found her niche in the kitchen as the meal was being prepared for the kids. We paid for the staff to go out and purchase ingredients for a special dish for the kids, chicken byriani. Maggie quietly made her way to the kitchen and sat on the floor with the ladies as they prepared the meal for the kids. This involved a kilo of garlic, several kilos of onions and tomatoes and a massive mound of coriander. Maggie was on coriander duty and plucked coriander until her fingers could take no more. She also helped with the onions until the little tears were running down her face and she could no longer cope with onion duty. As for the little master; you have to picture this. All of the kids were sitting on the floor in rows, about 30 of them. We were sitting up in front of them. Gus thought this wasn't quite right so he went down and sat with the boys. This created great interest. Then Gus found a way to interact, he clapped. This was immediately followed by 30 sets of hands clapping, you could almost see the light go on in his head. Next he stood up, so all the boys followed. Then he sat down, all the boys sat down. This went on for some time before he moved on to his next trick, the dinosaur roar, followed by 30 dinosaur roars. Gus was in his element and he found his way to connect with his Indian counterparts. It was one of the most beautiful, funny yet inspiring moments I think I have encountered. Later in the day we also had the opportunity to provide a gift to the kids. My little sister Kate through her wonderful suppliers was able to provide over 50 of the most beautiful 'surface art' t-shirts to supply to the kids. It is very grounding to sit back and watch your kids distributing kids to the Indian kids. They are always so grateful and our kids just love giving, it is quite a sight and there is always a great deal of energy created in the room. Thankyou Kate!

We spent some time during the day talking with Premela about what we need to do to support her and the kids and whilst doing this resulted in some very exciting and also some very devastating news. Firstly because of some previous action we were able to generate we identified that the school roof project that we had initially thought was going to cost $22k would now only cost $8k. It took a project that was almost out of reach and instantly made it very attainable. It was so exciting. If we can raise the $8k needed to repair the roof school can open in June for next year. School in India runs from July – June so we can start the school back up almost immediately. This will mean that potentially 150 – 180 children will get to go to the school and Premela will increased her intake of young kids (aged under 6) by 15 more kids. The 150 kids who attend the school will come from the local area and because of the way Premela runs the school about 50 kids who could not afford to go to school currently will get the opportunity to attend at this school. Can you imagine that, 50 kids currently not attending school will get an opportunity to attend school, and for what $8,000. We know that school is a critical rung on the ladder of opportunity for kids to remove themselves from poverty. The school will be an English medium school which will provide even greater opportunities for the kids. When the school is running Premela said that it brings in families and creates a number of spin off opportunities. One important opportunity is that in the evenings the school can be used by the local women as a base to learn new skills and start to manufacture their own products for sale. This in turn creates an income generating opportunity for these families who currently have very little opportunity. In hearing this news we felt a great sense of opportunity.

Whilst walking around the school Premela dropped a bombshell on us. Premela informed us that she has had to move all of the girls from the orphanage to other homes and orphanages, she thought she had already told us this news but she hadn't and it made a tremendous impact. It felt like one of our family had moved their children away, we felt a great sense of loss. Apparently a local girl (not one of the orphans) had been raped and seriously injured by some local boys on her way to school and as a result the government was tightening up its controls on all of the local orphanages and their security and threatened to shut down any home that could not demonstrate that adequate level of controls were in place. The girls from the orphanage were forced due to a lack of transport to walk to school which put them at great risk. The fact also that they are orphan kids made them easy targets in the community. Premela also informed us that she had an issue recently with one of her staff mistreating one of the girls when Premela was away from the home. Premela's mother in law, who was one of the full time carers in the home had a heart attack recently and a bad fall and Premela's husband had recently been very unwell. I think all of this combined created the impetus for what was a heart wrenching decision for Premela and you could see the emotion on her face as she described to us what this meant to her. I can't quite describe what this meant to Bec and I other than to say it hurt, a lot. As I said it was like losing members of our family. We have sat there and looked into the eyes of these kids and fought to help them every step of the way and now this. One of the elements that drew us into the orphanage, this one in particular, was the fact that Premela ran the orphanage like it was her extended family and she had committed previously that none of the kids were adopted as that would be like giving away your own children. Here we were trying to process the news that not only had some of the kids been moved, but all of the girls. I was almost in a state of shock. How could this happen? How could Premela do this? How could I sit here in judgement of Premela, a woman who has dedicated her entire life to supporting children in need and continues to do so? For me I have always loved being a father with daughters, when I first came to the home I only had daughters and I took great pride in the fact that we were helping to support these girls. It was one of the most difficult moments, in the moment, I can remember. I didn't know how to react, or what to do. It was yet another reminder of the difficulties being faced by people trying to make a difference. Nothing is ever easy, nothing remains the same and as much as we are very happy with the way things were set up we are really all care and no responsibility. We don't need to worry each day about whether the kids are being fed, we don't need to hire staff with very low salaries available and hope they are the right people, we are not the ones with the responsibility for these kids, Premela is. It was at this time we went and spent some time with our kids with the boys and Gus did all of his antics. It was just what we needed to snap us back into reality and focus, so that's what we did.

The facts are these. For $8k we can replace the rooves in the school, repair the playground and reopen the school. The school would enable potentially 150-180 kids aged between 3 and 6 years of age to attend school (about 45 of these for free who currently are not able to attend school from the local area). For another $1500 we can put in a strong back fence on the school property which is required to keep snakes and flood waters out of the school. It costs $375 per child per year to keep them in the orphanage, potentially a monthly sponsorship of a little over $30 per month. So with a full complement of kids (50) it costs $18,750 to run the orphanage per year. My sister Kate and I have been working hard together to identify income streams that are sustainable and will create a source of funds for the kids well into the future. Kate has been very inspirational to me in showing me that we can do this and we will. For all of you accountants out there looking for a special project (I hope you are listening Grampsy) we cannot claim any of our deductions overseas as a tax deduction. This means that the $50,000 we have generated in the past 4 years for kids in India and Cambodia we have had to also pay tax to our wonderful Australian government for the privilege of donating to kids in need. This means that if you donate to world vision, you claim a deduction, you donate with us there is no deduction. To transfer funds to India through our bank it costs about $30 per transaction so the option of people sponsoring a child would mean your monthly donation of $30 per child also comes with potentially a $30 monthly transaction fee with your bank. These are the challenges we currently face in providing ongoing support.

To this day Bec and I have made sure that we never directly approach anyone for financial support of our causes. We believe people choose who and what they want to support and it is not our place to push forward our needs as any more important than the many others that people support. Today is no different, we will not break this commitment. If however you are sitting there wondering if we would appreciate your support, then ofcourse we would appreciate anything you would like to give to assist us to raise the funds required to reopen the school and get these kids learning. Whatever you can provide will be gratefully received and if you are unable to support us financially we certainly understand. Please know that asking for help does not come easily to us. $8000 is such an attainable goal and we will commit to Premela that we will find this money and find it fast from our own savings and through the donations of others. Thanks to the donation from Sharyn and Bruce we are off to a flying start.

As I sat in somewhat a state of remorse thinking about the girls last night, my beautiful wife Rebecca reminded me of what it is all about and what we are trying to do for these kids. She said you can't look into the beautiful eyes of these kids and not help, you just can't not help, so help we will. These kids have done so much for our family, for us personally, no amount of money will ever repay their generosity and their donations of love and spirit they have provided to us and our family. It is hard to describe in words but I always feel so alive when I am here and with these kids, it feels like it was meant to be, one of the reasons we are here. I think back to what course our lives may have taken if as I sat in that carpark not able to move what would have happened if I didn't make those three phone calls. Since that time our lives have become so much more meaningful, we have a renewed sense of purpose and spirit, our experiences have been so rich and powerful, our kids have been brought into another side of life that has opened their eyes and their hearts and we have ultimately found an authentic sense of purpose. Of all the things I do and have done nothing compares to what we do here. And with that we will sign out for today knowing that in India nothing is quite as you expect it to be………

Monday, March 8, 2010

Landing in India

The India Experience (continued)

Writing this blog while we are away is an interesting personal experience. For someone like me who feels things at such a deep and intense level yet shares little and finds it difficult to communicate what I feel to those around me, it is like opening your every thought and reflection to others. My reaction to all of this is that it is as confronting as it is empowering. Whilst this blog is intended to be primarily a journal of our activities for our friends and family it is also an opportunity for me to open up a little and share my reflections as we go. I would expect and appreciate if this aspect gets a little too much for people that you will respectfully skip through those sections as required and focus on the things you like to read about. I hope however it also helps you to fill in a few of those gaps you may have about me, or us, and why I, or we, do the things that we do.

Before I start the day's blog I think it important that I start off with where I finished off last blog. I was retelling the story of being stuck in a carpark struggling to find the motivation to head back to work. I retold how I made three phone calls that would forever change my life, I called my life mentor Di, my uni professor Frank, and my wife and best friend Bec and as a result of these phone calls I was heading to India to co-facilitate a social work conference, visit an orphanage and try to find that thing that was missing from my life. A matter of weeks later I was on a plane flying to India, wondering what the heck I was doing, literally crying to myself on the plane and really very frightened about what fate was dealing up to me. If you believe in fate my life was about to receive a gift that would set in place a new direction and a new spirit that I had thought I had lost forever.(I have included for those of you who are interested the story of the Agape Grace Children's Home at the end of this blog). My second trip to India in July 2005 was an incredible opportunity to create some time and space for finding my sense of spirit. It included some wonderful time with Frank, a beautifully inspiring man who together we facilitated a social work conference in rural southern India for a large group of social work academics. We stayed in Chennai initially at the Dayal de lodge at $5US per night which was refreshing to strip back to the basics and create time and space for just me and my thoughts.

We travelled to the KV Kupham block outside of Vellore about 3.5 hours inland from Chennai. We arrived at RUHSA (remember this is where I went as a student) a couple of days before the conference. A few quick questions of our colleagues indicated that we had no enrolments, no facilities prepared and potentially no conference. Usually this would result in a minor heart attack and a desperate attempt to take control and make things happen but remember this is India. Frank and I headed off for coffee and a long walk into the local villages to visit old friends and see what would happen. Sure enough 2 days later we had the venue prepared, large canvass signs with the name of the conference, printed pads and pens with the same and a room full of participants ready for the conference from all of the major universities, only in India! For the most part we had a very successful conference right up until the time when Frank and I were asked to talk about our experience as professor and student at RUHSA. As Frank was introducing the program and giving an overview I felt this well of emotion come over me, quite unexpected and unmanageable. As Frank introduced me I had this awful feeling that all presenters are fearful of that I didn't think I could do it. I stood up and started talking when I had what my family now know as 'a little moment' and looked at Frank for help, nothing he could do and somehow found a way to calm myself and complete my talk. It was such a cleansing moment, all that fear, all that difficulty, all that helplessness associated with my placement all came out, and so did I. The best part of all was that after my very rocky initial student placement there had been another 70 students who had attended RUHSA for their placements (and that was up to 2005). After an amazingly powerful personal experience at the conference Frank and I then headed to the orphanage to meet a group of kids who would take my emerging spirit and give it a real sense of purpose.

The Story of Agape Grace Children's Home……

In 2005 whilst on a journey to find myself I found 50 Indian Children in desperate need of help. Quite by chance I was asked by a family friend if I could visit a children's home in India and see what if anything I could do to help. It so happened that in a country the size of India the children's home was very nearby to my travels and so I stopped in for a visit that would change my life forever. In the outer suburbs of Ambattur, (Ambattur is a major municipality in Thiruvallur district in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. It is an industrial area north-west of Chennai), I walked into a half finished building with over 50 of the most beautiful children sitting cross legged on the floor awaiting my arrival. As anyone who has visited an orphanage like this before would know it is an absolute mix of raw and powerful emotions as you are hit on the one hand by the living conditions of the children and on the other by their absolute beauty, courage and resilience. As part of my welcome to the home I was the recipient of many traditional songs and dances, it was quite a production! The most impactful part of my visit though was to sit and listen to the children as they told their stories and shared with me how fortunate they felt to be cared for at the home. To sit there and listen as child after child stood up smiles brimming from ear to ear share their gratitude and thanks for all that they had been given. As a father of two at that stage and knowing all the love, support, possessions and comfort my children enjoyed back in Australia this was a moment that would forever change the way I viewed life and put very strongly into perspective what life was all about. After meeting with the children I was given the privilege of reading the childrens' stories. Shortly after arriving at the home all of the children are invited to share their story and this is recorded as a matter of record. Page after page revealed horrifying stories of experiences that no child should ever have to endure. Children are brought to the home by social workers or police mostly due to parental death, illness or poverty of their parents. Some are brought when parents are imprisoned. One poor child with a pronounced disability was left to die in a rubbish bin before being found and brought to the home. All at once though I could see why they now felt so lucky to have a life of relative comfort, love and care.

The childrens home was started by Premela and Augustine, a loving couple who at the time were working for World Vision. They initially took responsibility for a handful of children and little by little word spread and child after child found their way to their family home. The children were initially housed in the living room until it was impossible to fit them all in. Premela and Augustine share a strong Christian faith and this drove them to not only accept responsibility for the children but to invest their lives and savings into creating the Agape Grace Childrens Home. Soon enough the number s of children swelled and so did the cost and level of support required to feed, house and educate the children. They saved everything they had to buy a small parcel of land and build the Grace Agape Children's home. It was only a matter of time though before they were to outgrow their modest accommodation.

During my visit I was hosted through the partly renovated building which was designed to care for the growing number of children at the home. The renovations were being completed little by little as the family could only afford to do a little work at a time. At the time of my visit work had stalled and funds were not available to complete the building. This meant that all of the children, boys and girls were forced to sleep together in the one room, there was no place for sick children to sleep and no room for the carers. To see the size of the one room that all of the children slept in was almost unbelievable. Within the room each child had a small hole in the wall for their meager possessions which predominantly consisted of a few school materials and an item of clothing. There was only one bathroom and toilet block so once again created many difficulties for the children. (Note toilet block meant cold showers and a few holes in the ground for toilets)

At the time of my initial visit I was able to see the school created by Premela and Augustine on the site to provide the children with an education and positive schooling experience. I was informed that the children had attended local schools however were subjected to ridicule and abuse by the other children. In response Premela created a school, employed teachers and provided the children with their education. All children at the home are immunised, clothed, fed and provided with an opportunity to attend school. The children are not adopted out as Premela and Augustine see it is their responsibility to provide a family environment for the children and a safe home for the children to grow up and leave when it is time for them. When the children arrive at the home they become part of the extended family.

The Grace Agape home was partly funded at the time through a generous benefactor from the US and also relied upon generous locals who provided food, books, clothing and money. Premela worked at the orphanage full time with other family members and a few lowly paid staff members. It was very clear that the home survived week to week. When asked about government funding Premela expressed her concerns about the regulations and expectations that came with any funding and the pressures and bribes that also came with it. Instead Premela was determined to support the orphanage through her own means.

Although not of strong Christian beliefs myself I was compelled to provide whatever support I could and once I made a connection to the children would forever have that connection. I returned to Australia with a goal to raise the $16,000AUD required to complete the building works and provide the space and facilities needed to support the growing orphanage. With the help of family, friends and clients I was fortunate to be able to raise the funds required and pay for the building works to be completed.

In 2008 my family and I returned to the childrens home to see the completed works and were pleased to know that the children now had an extended space to live in with separate rooms for boys and girls, a carers room and a sick room for children. We were able to provide a new toilet and shower block as well. We saw the incredible difference that a relatively small amount of money could do for these children. During this visit we were given the news that Bonnie the US benfactor had passed away and that funds were quickly drying up. Premela and her family had to move out of their family home to rent a smaller home to enable them to secure funds to provide to the home. We were also informed that the school had closed due to changing government regulations that meant the school roofing was no longer adequate and the school was forced to close. We were presented with two dilemmas. The need for approximately $20,000AUD to rebuild the school roof and the requirement to find a way to create a sustainable income stream for the children's home to prevent it from having to live week to week as it now does.

Aside from continuing to provide our own funds to Grace Agape we have presented the roof project to Rotary and have some potential opportunity for sourcing funds there. I have also been working closely with my family, particularly my sister Kate Harry to create an ongoing income stream for the children. Kate has created a thriving business called Little Bird, with her first shop being in Port Elliot, South Australia. Together with my wife Bec, Kate has created the concept of Lani Bird, a venture designed to generate support from within her clients and suppliers who share her vision for making this world a better place for others.

If you are reading this then I hope you have an interest in lending us your support to create opportunities for a wonderfully resilient group of children who are desperately in need of help. I know from direct experience just how much need there is in this world. The millions or orphans who require our help. Whilst I wish I could help them all I know this is impossible and rather than get caught up in the size of the need we have decided to focus on just what we can do. I don't know why the Agape Grace home found me and my family but it did and our lives are now entwined with their lives. To look into the eyes of these kids is an experience that will change your life forever, I don't know why you have come into contact with us but perhaps fortunate for us you have. I cannot provide you any guarantees other than any money or support we are provided will 100% go to supporting the children in India. Every dollar we have currently raised has been personally delivered to Premela and I have been able to see the good that it has already done. Yet the challenges of providing shelter, food and education for over 50 children is a daily one and we are determined to create a way of generating funds that will provide some sense of security and hope for the children of Grace Agape. We are once again returning to India in March 2010 and hope to be able to further our efforts of support. If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me directly and any support you can provide we will be very grateful for.


Landing in India

As I write this blog we are sitting by the side of the pool in Chennai. Indi is sitting next to me playing her DS, Maggie is inside watching a movie and the little master is having a well earned nap. Poppa is out looking for a post office, and just generally trying to keep himself busy and Mum is resting and Bec is stretched out on the lie low getting a few minutes before cyclone Gus awakes. It feels great to be back in India and great to be here at the Connemara. This hotel has a special feeling for Bec and I as this is the hotel where Bec's very special 'Old Pop' came during the war for some r'n'r. As I sit here and think about the Connemara I recall the scenes out of the movie titanic when they start with the wreck under the ocean and then transition into the scenes of the boat when it was brand new and in its prime. There is a very grand staircase in the main lobby which you can just imagine a young Ken dressed in his splendid uniform walking in to the lobby with his mates coming for a quiet (or not so quiet drink). There is a very large and wondrous lobby and the building is just such a beautiful old hotel with so much character and so many memories. If only the walls could talk? What would they say about the days that a few young aussie men stopped by for a visit. You can almost feel Ken's presence here with us, maybe that is just in our heads but there is something comforting to us knowing he was here, and this place was remembered as a very happy place for Ken that he enjoyed as much as we are enjoying it now. In the hallways they have some old photos of the hotel displayed and it gives you an idea of what the hotel was like in the early years. There is even a photo of the queen driving past the hotel. There is something very special about this hotel. It is where I came 5 years ago, had a quiet Ice tea in memory of Ken and missed home and my family very much. It is the hotel we first brought the kids to and they had their first nights in India here. It is a place now that the kids feel very comfortable in a country that has so much that can make you feel uncomfortable and that makes me very happy. In some odd way it feels like coming home, or at least to one of our homes. Quick update, Mags and Indy back in the pool, nanna up for a swim, Gus still snoozing, Bec comatosed on the lie low.

At last I am on a break. There is something very challenging about travelling and working and bringing your family with you as well. The work is also not a 9-5 proposition and long days followed by often long nights with the kids creates a very challenging environment to stay fresh and energised. I am pleased to say that I made it through, the work with ChildFund went very well and we are now having an opportunity to enjoy one of our favourite parts of the world, other than Australia ofcourse. Yesterday we had a day in Bangkok, via the skytrain (very cool) we went to the Siam Paragon shopping plaza and I took the kids with Popsy to the Aquarium and Jen and Bec had a facial followed by a little retail therapy. At the aquarium we went behind the scenes to see how things are managed, saw a shark nursing pool for injured sharks (they still looked big) and went in a glass bottom boat above the shark pool and saw some amazing fish, sharks and stingrays. The girls and Gus with their life jackets on made quite a sight and all the while Gussy calling out bad dudes and he stretched to see through the glass bottom some sizeable sharks and rays. We also went and sat in a small spa size tub and had our feet cleaned by thousands of tiny guppy sized fish which was a little freaky and good that Bec wasn't there, I don't think Big Mama would have enjoyed that one. We saw some amazing penguins and got to see a 4D movie which was pretty cool and Gus sat there through the whole movie with his glasses on. After the aquarium it was off to MBK for a little shopping and the kids had a great time. By the time we got back to the hotel it was time to pack and head off to the airport.

It becomes obvious you are flying to India when the departure gate is full of Indians, seems obvious doesn't it but it certainly makes an impact. You also get quickly reacclimatised to the Indian way with queuing and flying. As much as I love Indians and most of their culture, the introvert in me still struggles with the pushing and shoving that is Indians lining up in a queue. We were pretty tired flying but Gus was a good boy again and went off to sleep. 3 hours later, a fair bit of back pain and we were landing in Chennai. We were very lucky when an Indian official escorted us to a special immigration line for the disabled and those with infants, front of the queue, big bonus. By this stage Gus is pretty much over it and ready to run, not easy when you are passing through the airport, getting off the plane, going through immigration, collecting bags and finding your driver. It is always a challenge as you leave the airport and are immediately surrounded by a sea of faces. And then there it is, like a mirage in the night sky, the sign with your name on it and you have found your driver. Off we go to the car, bags flying left right and centre, and some tied onto the roof! Kids jumping in, me in the 3rd row with Gus and Indy on my lap (in a single seat mind you), mum, Bec and Mags in the middle and popsy up front. A short drive later and we have arrived at the Grand Taj Connemara Chennai. Extra security means a quick check under the front for a bomb under the car, a quick opening of the boot and off we go. A new airport style x-ray machine for the bags at the front doors indicates a visual impact although not likely to be overly effective if anyone had any real interest to harm those inside.

I woke up early this morning and took Gus for a walk around the nearby streets of the hotel, while the girls took their time waking up. One of the more enjoyable experiences of this trip (as distinct from the last one when Gus was only 4 months old) is watching Gus interact with the children and people of Timor, Bangkok and now India. It is quite beautiful watching Gus in his very naturally warm style saying hello, thankyou (in Thai, or in Tamil), or hi-5's and handshakes for anyone and everyone. What is beautiful is to see that life through the eyes of a 2 year old has no fear, no prejudices, no colour and no judging. Gus interacts openly and honestly with all those around him. Tonight Bec was chatting with an Indian man who has spent some time working in Australia. The man had his young daughter in his arms (she was about Gussies age) and I had Gus in mine. As Bec and he were conversing Gus reached his hand out to the young girl (called Dia) and she in return reached out hers. As the two parents talked they were oblivious to the wondrous meeting that was occurring between the young couple hand in hand they seemed to have a method of communicating involving no words and known only to them. Observing Gus on this trip reminds me of a paragraph from a book I have been reading recently ...."Our tendency (as infants) is to explore, to express our creativity, to seek pleasure and avoid pain. As little children we run around naked without self-consciousness or self judgement. Our attention is in the moment, we are not afraid of the future or ashamed of the past." There is a lot I can learn from the little master Gus!

Tomorrow we are planning to head off to the orphanage and organise a special meal for the children. I emailed Premela (the orphanage director) and asked if there was something special we could do for the children on this visit, and Premela replied with "they like chicken", so chicken it is! We will head out in the afternoon and prepare a special meal for the kids (which ofcourse will be far more special to us). This trip we have a beautiful gift for the kids. Bec's parents Sharyn and Bruce, a couple of our more committed blog followers expressed an interest in finding out more about the kids and the orphanage. Upon hearing more they very kindly and generously committed a sizeable donation for us to provide to the kids. Once again I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit of our family and friends and this very thoughtful and selfless gift will make a huge impact on the life of these kids, thankyou Sharyn and Bruce (aka Grana and Gramps). Well it is time for dinner and I am looking forward to some lovely Indian food tonight!

Friday, March 5, 2010

India is calling

Hi all. It's Friday night at the end of a big week of work. The girls have headed down to the restaurant for dinner and I am babysitting the little master, who quite fortunately has gone to sleep very tired. The damage report for the week for the little master included scribbling in pen on the table, nail polish on the drawers and his big finale ripping a 1 foot sheet of wallpaper off the wall. I am not sure if we will be locked up for these offences and hope we make it out of the country! Other than this it has been a wonderful week In thailand. The venue was perfect for the kids and Bec and they were able to do some amazing things this week and experience a great deal of traditional Thai culture. My week at work was as always an inspiration to me. To spend the week doing what I love with a groupd of individuals whose lives are dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged kids, it doesn't get much better than that, and to have Bec and the kids here just makes it so much more enjoyable. In this week's program we had leaders from the US, Thailand, Phillipines, Zambia, Dominica, Panama, and even Liberia. It is always very grounding for me to spend time with these guys and listen to their stories of what life is like for them. The man from Liberia, a country just out of many years of a very nasty conflict and still trying to restore stability. For Billy he is living in a very dangerous place, away from his family, who he gets to see 4 weeks a year, working 12-15 hours a day 7 days a week. Billy was special to me this week and was a proud African man working very hard to make a difference. Billy's story is all the harder to fathom when he shared with us how his son had died several years ago, he made a real impact on me, you can't help but be grounded by people like Billy. Billy is one of 12 special people I had the opportunity to work with this week. Not only that but I had the opportunity to work with 2 other experienced consultants in my team who showed me just how much I have to learn and provided me with great inspiration to strive for in my chosen field. These programs are always good for me. Every program I do there is always a moment when I sit there and wonder how a boy from the southern suburbs of Adelaide found his way here, I still haven't found the answer to that one.
We are all pretty excited about packing our bags and getting ready to head for India. I was reflecting the other day about why India had such an impact on me, For a number of people India is the last place they would ever want to go to and I can certainly understand why. Sometimes a place presents to you as more than a place, it gets into your soul and becomes a part of you. I remember when I was younger I never really had a yearning to travel. I remember mum and nick offering to take me to Bali when I was about 19 and I said no thankyou. I am not exactly sure why but I imagine it was a mix of fear and uncertainty that presented to me at the time. Around 6 years later I was sitting in a lecture at Uni and was absolutely inspired by a man called Frank Tesoriero. Frank just had such a passion for social justice and I connected very strongly with him. He encouraged me to think broadly about my education and before I knew it I was planning to spend 4 months in India and take my first trip overseas, alone in the first instance. So what happened? I remember landing in India and it being an absolute assault on the senses as anyone who has been to India will tell you, the heat, the smell the poverty, the rubbish and the masses of people. For the first couple of weeks I pretty much locked myself in my room and didn't really want to come out. I got very sick and yearned to be home with Bec and my family. Gradually I found some courage and started to venture out into the streets and experience India. On that first trip I was fortunate to experience city life and rural life in India. My special memories include;
Meeting Boska: I went to visit a HIV Aids clinic in Chennia and there met a young man called Boskarana. We were heading out on a visit to one of their local villages they were working with on a train. I was a little distracted and not really paying much attention to Boska who was my host, a quiet and shy young Indian man working as a social worker for the clinic. As we went along Boska started to share his story with me. He was from a village in the rural part of the country and had travelled to the city for working which he was enjoying. He was from the Dhalit caste, the untouchables, the lowest caste in Indian society. He started to tell me about his home. His brother had just been murdered for no reason other than his caste. His murder meant that Boska was required to return home to look after his family. Boska shared with me that in all likelihood he too would be murdered upon his return home but it was his duty to his family to return anyway. It was a moment I will never forget and I certainly wasn't distracted anymore and everything stood still for that train ride as I sat there glued to every word that Boska was sharing with me. I think what impacted on me so much was that Boska was about my age but with a very different life to mine. I often wonder what happened to my friend Boska.
The Chennai Slum: One day I went out for a walk, nowhere in particular. I stumbled upon a slum not far from where I was staying. I caught the eye of a couple of kids who were playing together and I approached. Before I knew it I was surrounded by a large group of local kids and accosted into a makeshift classroom nearby. The room was about as big as our laundry, thatched walls and a very basic galv roof. There I sat looking at these beautiful kids, not being able to connect through language we communicated through smiles and gestures and little by little things started to flow. Before we knew it we were singing songs together and dancing (which anyone who knows me knows this is a big thing, I dont dance!). It was a moment in time when I sat there and thought how did I get here, I am so lucky to be here experiencing this moment in time. I loved being there with those kids.
The Chennai Sewers: On another day In Chennai I visited a group of Australian people who had moved to Chennai, inspired by Ghandi who said look into the eyes of the poorest person you can find and ask what is it that you do that makes life better for this person. They decided to tackle the dirtiest and lowest job they could find, to clean up the sewers and drains in central chennia. They established a medical clinic nearby and spent much of their time working manually cleaning rubbish out of the sewers. What an inspirational bunch these guys were.
Heading to RUHSA: After several weeks in the city I headed to the rural part of India for my 3 month placement at the Rural Unit for Health and Social Affairs. Here Bec joined me and we had an incredibly challenging time of growth and learning. My project was to work with a group of elderly Indian widows offering health care in the local villages and Bec was volunteering as a Nurse. I always remember showing up to work on my first day on a 40 degree day in shorts and being sent home to put on long pants and a shirt, welcome to India! We had a small room, a cold shower and we were 50 metres from a railway line with very loud trains going past at all hours of the night.
Bec and the dying baby: I will never forget the story Bec shared with me after one of her days in the clinic. Aside from the conditions the medical staff were working under there were many other challenges that Bec experienced, one story still haunts me to think about today. I remember Bec being very upset one day when I got home from my work. It turned out that she was observing a difficult birth of a very premature baby. Unfortunately the baby was born far too prematurely and was never going to survive. The baby was delivered and placed on a gurney for its first and final few breaths of life. There was no cuddling of the baby as it passed and Bec couldn't just let this happen and simply moved over and held its hand as the life slowly drifted out of its little body. Its not our place to judge but I know this was a very difficult time for Bec as she was introduced to life in a rural health clinic which delivered hundreds of babies everyday and just didn't have the time or the resources to care for this baby, I am glad Bec was there for that little one. This was one of our toughest times.
Nights on the Roof: One of the delights of RUHSA was nights on the roof of our dorm. Every night we would head up with Frank (my uni professor) and sit up there and look up at the beautfiul starry sky which was spectacularly bright given there was no street lights to diminsh the view. We would venture up there to debrief our experiences of the day and ponder what it all meant. I am not sure we came up with any answers but we enjoyed the questions.
Dinner with Ama Damal: One of the elderly ladies I was working with on my project invited me to dinner. Ama lived out in a very small rural village in a small hut. She couldn't speak a word of English and my Tamil was extremely limited. I remember walking into this one room very small hut, fire burning in the middle of the room and a cooking production underway. I sat there and watched as Ama prepared dinner for me and we shared smiles and a few words. A veritable feast of chapati and potato currey was prepared for me and I am not sure what I enjoyed more, Ama's company, the event itself or the food. It was a memory that I hope will stay with me forever.
The old man and the beans: One day I was out riding a bike through the local villages when we came across an old man shelling some peas for his dinner. He was clearly living in absolute poverty and I am pretty sure the beans were his only meal for the day. As soon as he saw us he called us over and wanted to see us. Upon us stopping he sat up with a big smile on his face and offered up his peas to me to take with me. I think I was in shock and didn't really know what to do, what could I do. I didn't want to reject his very kind offer but knew what this meant to the old man. Why the peas, why me, to this day I am not sure what this meant to this beautiful old man to share this with me.
Difficult Times and Time to head home: By the end of the 4 months Bec and I were ready to return home. There were so many memories, a few of which we have shared here. I had run into the Indian bureaucracy at its finest and my work was failing to make an impact. This was an awakening for an idealist social work student who thought he could change the world and found out that I couldn't! Bec had done her stint volunteering in the hospital and we had lived off predominantly rice and Samba (watery vegetable gravy) every night for far too long. Bec and I returned home to get engaged and vowed that if we ever had a daughter she would be called India, after our time there together.

Fast forward nine years, we were married, had two beautiful children (our first daughter we named India), I had built a career in business and we were a long way from India, in fact I hadn't thought of India for many years. I was sitting in a carpark on Port Road and couldn't drive to work. I am not sure what was going on. I had achieved every goal I had ever set for myself, had a beautiful wife and kids, successful business, lovely home and everything I thought I ever wanted. Why was I so unhappy??? It didn't make any sense. As I sat there not able to move I started to think again of India. I rang a good friend of mine, Di and said I was thinking it was time to return to India and she said she knew of some kids in an orphanage there that needed some help and asked could I help. I then rang Frank (my old uni professor) and he said he was about to go to India and would love it if I would accompany him to run a social work conference at RUHSA. I rang Bec and she said you have to go. Do you believe in fate? Three phone calls later I was on my way back to India, I didn't exactly know why I only knew it was something I had to do..........