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1 Apr

12 months ago, I was in London maniacally preparing for a work trip to India and Nepal. This was how I spent my April: spending time with an organisation working with deaf-blind children in rural Gujurat;, visiting the biggest red light districts in Mumbai; celebrating Nepali New Year (2067!) in the pure mountain air of Pokhara where street children as young as 6 stick their heads in plastic bags to sniff glue.
Over the course of three weeks, I was inspired, challenged, and humbled. And I still haven’t found adequate words to describe the Mumbai brothels I entered in particular, or the energetic children (they are just children) whose mothers work in them.

This was the first of intense work trips for me in 2010. I returned to India and Nepal to visit NGOs, as well as Bangladesh and Cambodia in August. In terms of personal travel, I had the most beautiful romantic time in the south of France and Italy. And in June, my love and I broke up, in Australia of all places. I escaped to Switzerland in November to visit some close friends I hadn’t seen for a long time. 10 countries in 2010.

I ended the year in a state of exhaustion- a tiredness that was partly physical, but mainly wearing in emotional and mental ways. All this to say, I took a huge decision, to leave my job after 3 years in an organisation which had been so good to me, and move in with my parents for a few months for the first since I left home in 2003. This was a simple choice in many ways, that of spending quality time with my parents, both of whom I enjoy being around, in the sunshine of the Middle-East where I grew up. But I was still terrified. I have been very goal-oriented over the last few years, and as I was ringing in the New Year in January, one of my first thoughts was, ‘Now what?’
So I have worked hard to remove the ‘what’ from that question, and just bring the ‘now’ to the centre, closer and closer. I have been able to take a step back and appreciate things for what they are. To focus on personal relationships, to reconnect with my parents as an adult, to make time for friends. I feel rested and stronger. My brain has reassessed certain experiences and made healthy space for some new ones. Some things I will process for a long time, some images I will keep with me, and that is okay too.

This has turned out to be a transitional time, one that I connect a bit with ‘coming of age’, which I know is traditionally associated with a young person’s transition to adulthood but which I now feel people go through at different points throughout life. Perhaps that is why it is a theme that is come up in all of the books I have read since the start of the year (more detailed post about the first few just below).
In all of these books, as different as they are, I have connected with the ideas of growing, questioning, longing, adapting, changing. All characters seem to be questioning their life, finding themselves in situations they might not have prepared for, eventually changing in ways they might not have predicted. I suspect this might be me projecting a little, an Anais Nin case of ‘we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are’. How do you see things right now and are you happy with what you are seeing?


In the Clouds

19 Aug

My travel companion on this trip in Asia, Andy, is a professional photographer who has travelled extensively for his work. Before we embarked on our journey to Uttarakhand where the Central Himalayas are situated, he shared some simple but wise words: ‘The harder it takes to get to a place, the more beautiful it tends to be.’

The toughness of getting to our destination is not to be underestimated, starting with the seven hours on an overnight train from Delhi which took us to a town in the foothills, before a thirteen hour drive to a town called Jasimpath which was our base. To get to Subhai village, we had to drive another two hours and hike ten kilometers up an incredibly steep mountain. When we reached the top we were left breathless by more than just the trek, awed by the view of the valley below. The mist moving slowly across mountains gave a strange but wonderful feeling of being up in the skies, within reach of the clouds.

The remoteness of these villages in the Himalayas is part of what intrigues us visitors, touched by the hospitality of the mountain people who live here. But to the residents it means months of being cut off from the rest of the country, particularly during winter.
As well as being geographically quite isolated from India, sharing close borders with Nepal and Tibet, the Himalayan region also faces exclusion on a political level in the way in which government representation functions- through numbers. That is to say, the more populous the state, the more representation through Members of Parliament it will receive. In the entire state of Uttarakhand, there are only five MPs to represent the state population on a national level, compared with seventy-five MPs in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

A primary school was brought to the 41 children of Subhai village by the government of India in 2007, following the ‘Sarva Siksha Abiyan’ (Education for All) movement which started in 2001. Whilst other states in India steadily move to improve the quality and standard of child education, isolated communities such as these are merely concerned with basic access to the facilities which they are still not receiving fully.  Bright-eyed and beautiful, the girls and boys of this village are deemed ‘statistically insignificant’ by their national government and with tough road conditions and harsh winters, teacher absenteeism remains extremely common.

It has to be said that policy-making is very intellectually advanced in India. A large amount of sensible and principled laws exist, but the fact is that they are very far removed from the practice at ground level. Although the Right to Education Act in India has taken on many forms in recent years, it is still far from being implemented in areas such as these, illustrating what is probably India’s biggest development challenge: the gap between policy and implementation, without the infrastructure to bridge it.