Kolkata to Bhubaneswar

(September 20-21)

On our last full day in Kolkata we returned to Mother Teresa’s house to see the museum and her tomb which were closed on our Friday visit. Petals shaped into words on Mother Teresa’s tomb read – ‘YOU DID IT TO ME’. This seemed a little sinister but one of the nuns explained that it was a bible reference. Any of the work that Mother Teresa did such as feeding the poor and looking after those with leprosy was done in the belief that she was doing it for Jesus. There’s been a lot of controversy around Mother Teresa and a statement in the museum denied allegations that Mother Teresa would only help Christians or converted the people she helped to Christianity.

Mid-morning we visited a colonial cemetery which claimed to have an ‘Architectural Fusion’ of tombs. We’re learning that ‘fusion’ is a popular word in India used to describe everything – food, clothing, architecture. It’s been interesting that despite the number of temples and sites in Kolkata, our guesthouse and driver continued to assume we would be more interested in visiting colonial sites.

We then hit the local shopping complex which was a stark contrast to the streets of Kolkata. We had some amazing food chosen by Jeyaletchmi (letchmi), watched a hindi movie, ‘Kati Bati’, and went clothes shopping at ‘FabIndia’ where we bought some clothes for placement. I picked up some Kurtis (long tunics), churidars (leggings) and a dupatta (scarf/wrap). When I told the shop assistant that I had plenty of pairs of black leggings to wear with my Kurtis he said ‘Madam, you need to be more colourful’. Clearly he’s seen my last 7 years of travel photos! Georgie and I found it hilarious that one of the fabrics was called ‘chicken curry’, only to read the tag later and find out later that he was actually saying ‘chickankari’ – a type of intricate embroidery?! Chikan comes from the Persian word chakeen which means to create delicate patterns on fabric.

Prior to checking out on our last day, we had a quick walk around the streets of Kolkata in search of an ATM and a few interactions with the locals. So far when people try to guess where we’re from they usually ask ‘England? America?’ and then when we tell them they say ‘Ah, Australia. Ricky Ponting’. And we normally respond ‘Yes. Australia. Ricky Ponting’. And that’s as far as the conversation goes because none of us have a clue about cricket!

After saying goodbye to the friendliest, smiliest staff, Suresh and Pablo, we jumped on the train to Bhubaneswar to start our placement. The journey was pretty smooth but I possibly should have experimented with a squat toilet before trying it out for the first time on a moving train!

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My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

Melbourne to Kolkata

On Wednesday’s flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kolkata we were all pretty exhausted from the early start in Melbourne. Sleeping was made impossible due to the pilot switching between a torturous combination of dim mood lighting versus interrogation-style spot lights. This seemed to go on for hours and when we finally touched down in Kolkata it seemed like we had met our fate when the cabin crew announced that everyone should cover their faces and proceeded to spray a white, gassy substance everywhere. Given that we’ve lived to tell the tale, I’m hopeful that this was some kind of DEET and malaria prevention and that we’re not going drop dead next week.

In Kolkata we’ve been staying at the Bodhi Tree guesthouse and it’s amazing! The staff are so friendly and the rooms are filled with an eclectic mix of arty pieces, carvings, prayer flags, lanterns and wall hangings. It’s got a Balinese kind of vibe and the dim lighting is so peaceful to come back to after the craziness of the city.

We arrived for the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, a festival celebrating the birthday of Lord Ganesh who is widely worshiped by Hindus as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. I know him as the remover of obstacles (and I have a little Ganesh at my front door) so it seemed very appropriate for the start of our journey! During the festival, temporary shrines (pandals) are set up for worshippers to make offerings to the idols and at the end of the 10-day festival there’s a mass-emersion of idols at Indian beaches. It’s really humbling when you see people who appear to have so little celebrate life and give thanks for what they have. A huge lesson in gratitude.

I love the sounds and chaos of the city – the smell of incense, waft of sewerage,
stalls of street food, and constant traffic horns! It’s been so much fun trying new dishes every day. My favourites so far have been masala chai tea, dal makhani (black lentils, butter and cream) and Gulab Juman (deep fried, spongy dough balls soaked in syrup). And there was a really yummy, savoury pancake-style bread that was delicious for breakfast too! I’m not great at ordering food though, even in English. Apparently, ‘we’re going to share’ also sounds like ‘I’d like a kingfisher beer’?!

My first impressions of India have already challenged some of the assumptions I had made about travelling here. Yes, the men do stare but everyone stares at us – women, children, goats! There is so much negative Western media about India but I have found that people are just curious and interested in what we’re doing and that’s a feeling I share for the people here too. We’ve had a few paparazzi moments already, posing for some family photos and we were also stalked a few blocks around the New market area by men keen to become our tour guides and take us to their shops. We managed to lose them eventually and I guess we’ll become much assertive over the next few months here.

On Thursday we caught the metro and spent time orientating ourselves with the city, and today the Bodhi Tree organised for a driver to take us to some of the sights around Kolkata including the Victoria Memorial, Mother Theresa’s Motherhouse, New market and the Indian museum. In between stops we walked along the Beautified Bank Of Ganga River where heaps of couples sat cuddling on chairs by the river bank – so cute. Jeya placed her hand in the Ganges water but neither Georgie, Bec or myself were that game and were quick to pass her the hand sanitiser. Later that afternoon whilst we waited to meet our driver, we were caught in a monsoon torrential downpour – clearly we should have put our hands in the Ganges and the universe made up for it with a drenching cleanse. As I waded through calf deep water to get to the car, my thong washed of my foot and started floating away down the street. As I hopped over to get it, luckily Bec was able to rescue it for me and we jumped into the taxi dying of laughter. The owner of our accommodation told us that monsoon season use to run from June – August, however climate change has meant that the monsoon season now runs into September. We haven’t even started placement yet and I feel like each day is filled with Social work learnings – white privilege, spirituality, climate change.

Despite being covered from ankle to neck at night, the mossies found a juicy area under my chin to feast on so I may have to step up malaria prevention to a full body suit this week.

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My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

Aim for the Stars Foundation

layne_profile

Photo and image credit

In 2015, I’m returning to blogging to share my journey as a grant recipient of the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation.  I applied for this grant late last year and in January 2015 I received a call from LAYNE BEACHLEY herself to let me know that I was successful. Despite that fact that my phone battery died mid-conversation and I had to wait an agonising 15 minutes for it to recharge and call her back, it was super exciting to have a personal phone call with Layne.

The foundation was established by Layne in 2003 to empower women and girls to achieve their goals though financial support and mentoring. The 2015 scholarship recipients are girls and women from across Australia who are involved in a range of sporting, academic, community and cultural pursuits.This grant will support me as I enter the final year of my Master of Social work (Qualifying) and prepare to complete my student placement in Odisha, India. Initially after applying for this grant and then finding out that the foundation had received over 1000 applications, I ruled out my chances of receiving a grant and accepted the fact that I would not be able to complete my final Social work placement overseas. As Layne has said,

“it’s amazing what you can create if you don’t place limitations on yourself”.

I feel really blessed for this opportunity and excited for what 2015 will bring!

10 memorable slow-travel moments in Ireland

Gumboots ready for WWOOFing on the farm

1. Exploring my ancestry in the huge red volumes at the Irish Life Centre. An afternoon spent researching led to a reunion with my Great Aunt and cousins the next day – Finding family in Dublin

2. Meeting Italian English-student, Valentina, who demonstrated her family recipe for kneading and rolling handmade Gnocchi. In exchange I taught her Aussie-English phrases such as “how are ya?” and “no worries” – Cooking in Cork

3. Volunteering on an eco-retreat and persevering with a compost toilet. Every scoop of sawdust and visit to the humanure compost heap was a lesson in sustainable living – WWOOFing in Dromahair

4. Appreciating traditional farming skills as I spent the day building and rebuilding a 200 year-old stone wall – Farming in Wexford

5. Stepping on many Irish toes while learning the reel, jig and polka – Set dancing in Bantry

6. Drinking at a trad seisiún of guitars, fiddles and flutes, violins, accordions and a bodhran – Listening to music in Ballydehob

7. Chatting about politics, religion and family with a local who’s Grandma made bombs for the IRA – Understanding history in Derry

8. Meditating by the Atlantic at the Dzogchen Beara Buddhist Temple – Practising mindfulness on the Beara Peninsula

9. Hitchhiking to Croagh Patrick and overcoming fog and fear to climb to the peak – Making a spiritual pilgrimage in Westport

10. Devouring eggs, bacon, fried chips, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding and endless cups of tea. Sharing stories, laughter and sleep-deprivation – Staying with family in Dublin

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This post has been entered into the Grantourimo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 4,500 times in 2010. That’s about 11 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 15 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 77 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 143mb. That’s about a picture per week.

The busiest day of the year was April 24th with 113 views. The most popular post that day was leaving London and the city behind.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were stumbleupon.com, digg.com, matadoru.com, twitter.com, and slashingtongue.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for kyoto, irish family, kinsella family tree, rebecca kinsella, and kyoto garden london.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

leaving London and the city behind April 2010
12 comments

2

About Me December 2009
7 comments

3

10 Travel Quotes I love July 2010
9 comments

4

Photo Essay: Kyoto Garden, London May 2010
11 comments

5

Writing February 2010

PocketCultures e-book Concept: Children’s Games

Over at PocketCultures we are producing an e-book on children’s games around the world.

We are in the concept-development phase and researching how potential readers would like the book to look.

If you’d like to help out, please complete this quick survey and share the link with anyone you think might be interested. More specifically, anyone who is a parent, teacher, language learner or involved in the literary world would be great.

This survey will stay open until 14th August and we’d love to have your input.

http://polldaddy.com/s/E5FB78F57E203206

Thanks for your help! And check out PocketCultures to learn more about world cultures.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade, New York City

The parade marches down Fifth Avenue, NYC

Her curly blonde hair was clipped back with a shamrock, and she sat high above us on her Dad’s shoulders. Their home-made sign was covered in glitter pen, and it buckled in the breeze. But she didn’t care.

Across Fifth Avenue, the crowd wore Aran knitwear, peak caps and Celtic gear. Anything they’d collected on a trip to Ireland was now proudly displayed.

The hot dog stands were selling green fairy floss and shamrock-shaped cookies. And on the side streets, doughnuts with green sprinkles and fluro-green bagels coloured the shop windows.

On the street, high-school cheerleaders twirled batons, marching bands thrashed on drums and policemen paraded past. A couple of boy scouts ran from over to the metal barricades, and high-fived me in excitement as they ran by.  It was so American. Just like I’d thought it would be – and I loved it!

I celebrated among generations of Irish-Americans and hundreds who had made the pilgrimage to the biggest St. Paddy’s Day parade in the world.

At night the beer flowed green,  the Empire State building flickered green and a billboard at Times Square flashed green, asking “Who’s your Paddy?”.

It was the first St. Paddy’s I’d celebrated since researching my Irish ancestry and finding my relatives in Dublin.  And although I couldn’t be with them, or my own family in Australia, in New York I shared a sense of patriotism and belonging with others who’d come to call Ireland home.

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This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

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