Feeling at home, far away from it

The weekend sun rising. Kuala Lumpur airport.

Pit-stopping on the way back to Saigon – Starbucks, Kuala Lumpur airport, no less – I’ve the usual frisson of excitement about walking back through our garden at home a few hour’s from now, picking up the girls (Issy is in Germany this week, checking out fashion trade shows) and flopping on the sofa.

After five days in Sri Lanka, to work with our Chrysalis team there (musings on which from earlier can be found over here) I don’t, in some ways, feel like I was away from ‘home’ much at all this week.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Sri Lanka about ten times since 2009. I’ve written about it quite a lot, and that, no doubt, underscores why it’s one of my favourite places to spend time.

Aside from the professional experiences gained from engaging with our team there, and the organisations and people I’ve met along the way, it’s the day-to-day flow of contact and the momentary interludes that weave through these trips, which I think bind each together in a way that feels so familiar and reaffirming.

Moreover, it’s the simple easiness curated by the people you meet which imbues such a comfortable backdrop.

Dropping down to Galle on a quick pre-wedding whistle stop reconnaissance earlier today, to check on bookings and inhale the ocean breeze, I learnt about the reality of the recent Easter Sunday attacks, in terms of their impact on the tourism industry.

Not unsurprisingly, many tourists canceled their trips in May and June as a result of the bombings, and some hotels had to close completely. July and August are typically low season months too, and so a few hoteliers I met spoke of the “double whammy” of the events happening when they did.

Bookings are picking up again now. And whilst there is heightened security evident, things seem to have settled down. The country just this week was elevated to “middle-income” status by the World Bank, and the high ranking top spot given by The Lonely Planet earlier in the year to Sri Lanka, appears to have been reallocated back to the country, even though most of Sri Lanka remains in a state of deep shock over the events of April 21st.

With such charming scenery, culture and opportunity for the visitor, let’s hope that a  positive trajectory of tourist bookings returns.

As my taxi driver, Mahinda, took a short detour this evening, on our way to the airport, to stop and offer me tea and bananas at his house, and the opportunity to meet his wife and daughter who was awaiting her ‘A’ level results, I was touched by the sentiment and the care he took to make me feel welcome.

I found the same hospitality and warmth earlier in the week when invited over to my Air BnB host’s living room, to share dinner with him and his wife.

Listening to Mahinda’s daughter talk about her plans for university, and for finding work somehow with her degree (biology) I couldn’t help hope that, in the future, not only will my daughters have the self-esteem and spark to be excited about a feeling of “doing my best” in the world, as this young woman did, but also that they – and beyond them, that I too – hold close that very core humanitarian embodiment of connection and understanding that I felt, sat with a cup of tea in my hand, listening to and being a small part of, this family’s time together.

The overwhelming feeling of being truly welcomed into their home, for a few precious moments, will stay with me forever.

Colombo at dawn.

 

 

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Rajasthani Rooster

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Smoke o’clock, Jodhpur

Indeed, the title of this post makes no sense really, without the additional footnote that, back in January during Chinese New Year (Rooster year) Issy and I took a trip to Rajasthan.

In fact, I’d set up these photos and curated that catchy title whilst we were on our flight home and yet had just not quite managed to write up some lines to glue the images and the memories all together – until now.

If my most recent work trip to West Bank and Gaza, earlier this month, already feels like a hazy memory, then the brain is really scratching around looking for the according nodules of recollection which house the sights, sounds and sensations that we experienced in India, four months back.

What does immediately come to mind is what a relatively seamless expedition we managed – 1,500 kms in 6 days from Jaipur to Jaisalmer, and back again – before closing out by dropping in at the Taj Mahal for a final day’s soak up of one of the world’s most iconic sites.

Getting around Rajasthan is fairly simple and affordable. The trains are a great experience, and we also lucked out with a wonderful driver and hire car for most of our trip “out west”.      Continue reading

My holiday in Australia (written by Florence)

Melbourne
After Christmas Day we flew to Melbourne, and we slept on the plane on our way there. We then met Phoebe at the airport. She drove us to Pobby and Mike’s house (but Phoebe also lives in the house). So does Aggie their dog. Pobby had made an egg and bacon pie, mainly for Daddy. My sister Martha got lots of tattoos from Phoebe.

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Pobby’s egg and bacon pie
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This is where we slept at Pobby’s
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This is Issy, Pobby and Phoebe opening presents.

The next day we went to town mainly to go shopping to Smiggle for me and Martha. The adults went to other shops for some other stuff.

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We walked down this road. It’s called Brunswick Street.

After that day we went swimming with Phoebe and my sister and my Dad in a 50 metre pool. I swam laps.

Raymond Island
The next day we went to Raymond island for New Year’s Eve. We were seeing lots of people there and we slept in a tent.

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Me and Sunny playing at Raymond Island.
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Martha and Hazy at Raymond Island.

After that day we went to the supermarket then we swam in the lake and Bess took me for my first ever sailing lesson. We then played a big game of boules and my Daddy and Max won. That night we watched fireworks and all the kids stayed awake until after midnight.

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Me and Bess sailing.
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Playing boules.

The next day was New Year’s Day and we went for a koala walk and I saw 19 koalas.

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This is a koala.

Then we drove to Mark’s house….

Sorrento
At Mark’s house we had 4 sleeps. We went there with Lulu, Sunny, Hazy and Ella, and also with Max and Quimby, Sam and Matisse and Henry.

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Mark made us spaghetti bolognese when we got to his house.

The next day Lulu, Sunny and Ella went to Little Nippers in the morning to learn to do life-saving. Sunny and Ella went to one beach and Lulu went to a different beach. Me, Issy and Daddy went to see Lulu that day. Martha and Hazy watched cartoons while we were gone.

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This is me watching Little Nippers.

The next day was Tuesday and none of the girls had Nippers so we practiced for a show. We did Wizard of Oz. On Wednesday we saw Ella and Sunny at Nippers then we swam in the sea with them and Lulu joined us. That day we performed the show to the adults and I was both the Wicked Witches and I had to melt at the end.

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Daddy’s favourite picture of the beach.
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Wizard of Oz Show.

At Mark’s we also did the following things – went to see a field full of kangaroos, me and Martha walked to the Lookout with Mark, we went to Mubbles ice cream shop, we played Rolling Sky and Piano Tiles, and we went to see Lulu, Chloe, Holly, Kiralee and Andrew because they also live there. Every night we went to bed late because it was light until very late.

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My photo of Martha at Diamond Bay.
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Collecting flowers with Lulu.

The very next day we went back to Pobby’s house in Melbourne.

Melbourne (again).
When we got back to Melbourne we did some relaxing with Pobby and Mike and I read Harry Potter and we also watched it on TV. And we watched Nanny McPhee.

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With Pobby watching TV.

We wanted to also go outside and so we went to the zoo with our friends Jasmine and Aleisha. I liked the elephants the best. Their Mum bought everyone slushies. Martha played lots more with Aggie and made her sit and shake hands.

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Daddy and Issy at the zoo.
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Eating snacks at the zoo with Phoebe.
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Drinking slushies.

On our last day in Melboure Daddy, Issy, Martha and me went to the Museum and saw real skeleton bones and animals and insects. We also went for fish and chips as it is my Daddy’s favourite food and we bought some yellow peach ice cream. And we had a swing ball tournament with everyone. I came third and Ella came first and Issy came second. In the evening Pobby made chicken pies and pavlova and we also had calipos.

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Pavlova with blueberries and passion fruit.
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Fish and chips was our last lunch in Australia.

On the Sunday we gave Issy her birthday presents and went to the airport. Pobby bought us more presents at the airport. We didn’t sleep on this plane but watched lots of movies and I read my kindle.

In the taxi home we all drank our drinks.

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In a Saigon taxi.

I had a brilliant holiday. This is one of the pictures I took that Daddy said is very professional…

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This is Diamond Bay near Mark’s house in the daytime.
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This is also Diamond Bay but when we went one night time and played goofy on the beach.

Back to the future

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View from a matatu, Kiboga, Uganda

In the summer of 1996 I arrived in Kampala aged 21. I’d spent the three months previous working in Israel on a kibbutz, had then dropped back to the UK for two days to meet up with a university friend, Flora, before we launched off on a year of teaching in Uganda. Last Friday, I returned to Kiboga, on the back of a week of work in Entebbe, and I re-lived as much of my year as a teacher there 20 years ago as I could squeeze into 36 hours…

As Flora and I walked out of Entebbe airport’s arrival terminal for the first time, back in 1996, and breathed in the fragrant dusty wood smoke that was to become a natural home for each of my senses for the year to come, I felt an innocent abandon about what lay ahead.

It was as if all I had known before then disappeared in that moment.

We arrived later in the night in the district of Kiboga, north west of the capital, deposited in an instant out of the side of a battered up matatu taxi, which had miraculously weaved its way unhinged over pot-holed dirt tracks for the previous four hours.

It was pitch black as we stood there on the roadside with Nathan Mayanja, a decorated local leader with whom I was to forge a twenty year friendship, and who had accompanied us from the airport.

I could feel the heat of adrenaline about what was in store next. The wood smoke scent was thicker here, and there was a constant procession of lumpy shadows and bike headlights bobbing past, as a flow of passers-by went about their evening bustle.      Continue reading

Out of Sight

Perhaps the old adage rings true – it can be hard to keep the flame of familiarity burning after long spells of absence, and “out of sight” all too easily leads to “out of mind.” How often do we find ourselves thinking this at the chink of two glasses once again toasting a re-acquaintance, or, as we scramble to agree over the phone on the specifics of a last encounter?

But then, hands up, there is also the sheer laziness on my part of not tending to this blog for the past four months. This blog being one of the only portals I have of putting down a few etchings of my current life, in the hope of forming some vague picture – for the now, and for some day in the future.

And so, in the spirit of our all too often glossed over 24/7 news cycle, to the headlines…      Continue reading

Wanderlusting

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Sunset on Dili beach, Timor-Leste
I double checked the meaning of Wanderlust – which turns out to be the “strong desire for, or impulse to, wander or travel and explore the world”.

Since running off to Uganda when I was 21 years old, in the absence of having any more concrete a plan for how to handle life after university, I’d say my Wanderlust levels have remained piqued ever since.

No doubt some genetic influence from my parents helped fuel my appetite for getting out and “seeing the world”. In reading Dr Suess poems to my daughters (as well as flying them off to different countries almost every school holiday) I suppose instinctively it feels appropriate to want to pass on that particular piece of DNA, connected to wandering, to them also.

Over the past five years, even without that DNA, the travel I’ve undertaken as part of my job has secured for me a schedule for which any aspiring “Wanderluster” would have been thrilled.

As someone working in international development, I can’t quite settle my mind about how conflated my footprint and actions in the world are. Choosing to direct my career into finding better ways to serve the poor, whilst simultaneously responsible for emitting more carbon in an average month than the output my entire family back in the UK manage in a year (ok, Mum and Dad are relatively guilty on the carbon too, but I wanted the analogy to sound extreme!)      Continue reading

Thai Green*

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Beneath snaking concrete viaduct, baking heat
Cooks sunburnt pores, street vending nooks,
Pungent fried sizzles punch lung deep, an urban Kingdom
Jostling air, space, and conditioned lifestyles.

Bangkok.

Spiced iced tea, rice soup, lychee cocktails,
Mesmerizing Soi-mazed corners
Inhale city sewer flavours,
Pavement tiles uneven, tilting, roasting.

Curbside, rainbow taxi ranks flank
Juice bar pit stops, bamboo bar tops,
High rise scrapers, elevators, shopping centres –
Eastern promise meets Western dream.

And still.

Not far flung from this urban jungle,
Nestled north, enveloped forest,
Lies a calmer version –
Country living –
Breathing, feeling,
Fibrous woodland,
Smoke-filled thatch.

Chiang Mai.

Opening up green borders,
Boundaries,
Walk amongst your past-time inclines,
Sun bleached hills and warbled song birds that
Listen back.

Stop here, stop now and let this touch you –
Nature’s glorious paradigm,
Working.

chiangmai

*A poem inspired by a damn fine Saturday morning, and several elephants

A Quick Coffee Stop in Laos

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The Mekong River at sunrise. Thailand to the left, Laos to the right.

I’m sat with a delicious Saturday morning coffee, in Naked Espresso, a funky cafe in the thick of the Vientiane backpacker area, having completed my daily ritual here of a brisk walk down the Mekong River nearby, which has presented me with picture perfect views this week of Thailand, just metres away over the water.

Since my last post about holidaying in Australia with Issy, I’ve traveled for work to Colombo, Bangkok, Singapore, and Seoul. Squeezing in a weekend of football in Manila along the way. I’m trying my best to be a good citizen of the world, but for sure I am going to carbon hell.

Vientiane represents my penultimate trip of 2015 and, fittingly, last night I kicked off the evening with some Kiwi friends, in a German owned bar, managed by a kind man called Kami from Tokyo, where we tucked into some Laotian pork rolls, washed down with a few drams of glorious Japanese whisky.      Continue reading