Tuesday, 25 March 2014

7 Days in India (or everything I know about travelling in India for 1 week).

Dear world,

Please don't think ill of me for saying these things. Firstly, I love India very much. I'm looking forward to going back there again one day and spending more time with (a different) Sangam Family. I'm an Aussie girl who has travelled a little, but not a lot and being in India was a big but expected culture shock. So here is everything I discovered from my 7 days in India. Enjoy.

1) Remember, we're running on Indian Time
Okay, so a different time zone makes a huge difference, however in India everything seems to take longer and as we progressed through the week our timetable was not strictly adhered to. A week seriously felt like a month, and when it came to my sixth day in Pune I was ready for things just to be on time and not take so long to work out. Having said that, had we ran on what you might call Lisa Time, we may have missed a lot.

India has 1.237 billion people.It doesn't always have the infrastructure to deal with that, so my introduction to this beautiful country - 15 minutes just to get immigration from the arrivals gate, 45 minutes to collect luggag

e, interesting check points at Customs and a driver who never showed up to take me to my accommodation - was rather fitting.

2) Forget everything you know about traffic laws
I've been assured that everywhere in India is vastly different, but let me tell you that I would never drive in India. There is a lot of traffic (and sometimes cattle) on the roads. 'Lane discipline' warning signs don't do much to prevent the concept being broken. Often. Small gives way to big. Or big gives way to small. It kind of depends who is driving. And, also, 'horn ok please' if you are passing a truck. Or is you are passing anything. Or, sometimes, don't horn at all.

3) Sunday is the busiest day of the week
Sunday is the traditional day off, or as my driver told me 'Sunday is the holiday'. So lots of people doing their shopping, and also stopping at McDonalds on their way to Mumbai. I did not stop at Maccas.

4) Foregoing meat seems pretty standard
While I was away I was determined not to get sick. And I wasn't. While staying at Sangam we had veggie meals most days, a
nd while eating out we also only went to veggie restaurants. Partly a religious measure, but also eco-friendly and cost effective, the idea of not eating meat often wasn't such a bad thing.

The only meal I purchased myself in India was a KFC popcorn chicken combo at the airport. I ate fast food three times while away (twice at Burger King in Kuala Lumpur International Airport). The main reason was because I know how those foods are cooked - deep fried. And while not healthy in any way, shape or form, I knew they wouldn't make me sick, wouldn't be undercooked and were part of an international fast food chain. Both of which I had worked for. So there.

5) Westerners stick out like a sore thumb
Other than my group of Guiding friends, I didn't see other westerners. A few other people had found them, but not me. Even with some Indian clothing and with a smattering of Hindi, we're never going to pass for locals. It is always worth doing what you can to blend in though, you don't want to stand out, you don't want to look wealthy and you don't want to be taken for a ride. I noticed that girls who were there for a longer time than our group wore more traditional clothes, while we wanted to keep our saris for Sunday best.

6) Security is tight in some places, but watch your back
Our friendly ATM man kindly let us go in to use the ATM together - twice. He also looked scary and stood in front of the door instead of sitting on his chair. Airport security was also very tight - no getting in or out without your ticket and passport. Having said all that, I never went out alone and would have hated doing so. Again, being a foreigner makes you stand out from the crowd and susceptible to dangerous situations. The smallest groups we had were in rickshaws (2-3 people) and most of the time we were in a bigger group. I felt safest when I had Indian friends with me - after all, I can speak, like, three words in Hindi AND India has no official national language, so there's no telling whether someone can speak the same language as you.

7) Things are really cheap!
I loved shopping in India, and despite 'going silly' with my money, I probably spent $300 AUD all up, including hire cars to get from Pune to Mumbai. Just as well I had my 30kg baggage allowance.

8) Read everything you possibly can
I read Lonely Planet inside and out (and then reread it when I got back). It really helped prepare me to 'be prepared to be unprepared'. This article by Candice Rardon changed how I felt about my trip - in a great way. It made me a little bit more brave - and a little less bold, which is always a good thing.

9) Everyone else in India looks clean, except for you. Take baby wipes. And leave things behind.
I used baby wipes on everything. I am typically a messy person who will get messy even when I'm not supposed to. I was amazed at how clean Indians looked compared to me - they could be sitting in traffic in a white shirt and jeans and be pristine. Not so much on my end.

At the end of my trip I left my thongs and slip on shoes at the bazaar box, to be sold at the annual bazaaar Sangam holds. It was a good feeling. And yes, I also cleaned my shoes with baby wipes before putting them in the box.

10) India changes you.
It was never about 'us and them', as these trips could so easily be. I'm less rushy rushy now. Things will happen in their own good time. Things - everything - should be more colourful. And I feel like India has a culture you can truly embrace - and more than that - they want and almost expect you too. I'd do my trip away again in a heartbeat. I truly am blessed.

Friday, 21 March 2014

#nomakeupselfie and/or #makeatinydentinyourworld instead

For a few days the No Makeup Selfies have been making an impact on my Facebook world. Why? Two reasons which I will spell out reasonably carefully.

Reason 1: Women getting behind the #nomakeselfie #cancerawareness trend
A few Facebook friends - and a lot of friends of friends - having been jumping on this trend like a trampoline. I'd suggest very few of them wear makeup on a regular enough basis for it to be a big thing to go without make up. This should not be a big deal. Okay, so perhaps I'm a bit biased as generally speaking I've got good skin and rarely need to cover up blemishes. But if taking the photo, and (sometimes) encouraging people to donate money to a cancer charity helps you, that's fine by me. If showing your solidarity for cancer patients by going without makeup is your thing, go for it.

Reason 2: People against the #nomakeupselfie trend
I'm part of Reason 2 for an important reason. I'm all pro taking selfies - after all I didn't live by myself for seven years without taking any - but not this way. I think trends like this don't honour the men and women who are fighting cancer, or who have sadly lost their battle with this dreadful disease.

In 2007 I lost one of the people who loved me most in the world - my Pa. He was one of the funniest, kindest and most caring person you would ever have the pleasure to meet. We laughed a lot, he wrote me constant poems and letters when I moved away to Adelaide because he knew I was homesick and he introduced me to The Sound of Music and would happily sing along to every single song - especially 'Climb Ev'ry Mountain'. That was until he got sick and he couldn't do those things anymore. In my little world people didn't get sick - with cancer no less - and they certainly never got sent to hospital, apart from the odd accident on a BMX bike. So, I guess, over the next few months there were numerous trips from Adelaide to Warrnambool, countless hours of sitting in hospitals, making phone calls when I couldn't be there or worrying and hoping and praying and wishing. I wouldn't trade any of that in a heartbeat. But come to me at that time in my life with your #nomakeupselfie for cancer awareness and I would have quite happily have taken a swing at your cosmetic-free face.

I made a promise to my Mum that I would do everything I could to prevent cancer from touching me again. A few months later the HPV vaccine - known here in Aus as Gardasil - was released and I went in for all three rounds. Afterwards I was given a tattoo and a little card suggesting to post a photo on social media the phrase 'I did'. That my friends was probably one of #thebestselfiesievertook.

If you want to get behind a charity, find one who means something to you. Yes, giving at random isn't a bad thing, but giving a set amount each month is much better and more reliable for the group who is raising money. This makes your giving sustainable for both your and the charity you are supporting. I give to the Cancer Council of South Australia. How much do I donate? No very much. In fact, you'll be surprised - five dollars a month. Why? Because no matter what, since 2007, I've always been able to afford $5. I have gone through times when I have had no income for weeks and I have always had just enough to donate. Another reason is that my Pa and Gran would give us $5 pocket money when they saw us every few weeks. It was a nod to that special tradition.

I have never been too convinced about colours representing a cause as the same colour can represent many things. For a long time after my Pa had passed away the only message I was really interested in was 'hope', the same colour as the Daffodil Day. I knew I wanted that bright yellow colour on my wedding day. I had also seen these special cards in a wedding magazine, and knew that it was something I wanted to do as well. I was beyond touched when other people wore their daffodil pins at our wedding reception, especially my Granddad.

Honestly, in some ways this blog has been a bit 'look at me, I'm awesome'. I apologise for that and it wasn't really my intention. I could write about the countless things other people I know have done - people who do Relay for Life, people who run market stalls just to raise money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, schools who run Australia's Biggest Morning Tea each year. Those things are special and they are really important, but they aren't my story to share. I'm just a country girl who has decided to make a tiny dent in the world, and maybe I can inspire you too just to do something small for yourself - like getting a vaccine or supporting a charity in an affordable way - that you might not have considered before.

This blog is the reason I don't support #nomakeupselfies

But if you still do, I won't be upset. We are all making our tiny dent in our own way and only good things can come of promoting cancer awareness. Take care kids and hug someone you love today.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Something about roller derby.

My name's Lisa and I'm a roller derby girl.

I have been skating since I was 9 - though not particularly well as my brother Matt will attest - I spent lots of time running on my stoppers - a skill lots of derby girls wish they had. We spent most Sunday afternoons at the rink for the two-and-a-half hour skating sessions for a good part of five years. And then skating wasn't really cool and public liability skyrocketed so my rink was no more. In Year Seven we had gone skating as a class and one of my friends said to me "Everyone has a sport and yours is skating".I was never good at any sport - just ask anyone in my primary school class - and skating was one thing which was not about running, throwing, catching or hitting moving objects. What Sam said that day has always stuck with me because he was so sincere and honest about it.

The short story about roller derby is this: Spring and I went to see Whip It and I was so excited about it that I started looking into doing roller derby. I saved up for my skates and we went skating a few times. There was one derby league in Adelaide then, and I moved away and hadn't put my skates on since. But I had been watching with great interest about new leagues being developed in Adelaide... and then my my favourite country towns, and then accidentally stumbled across a little mention of Copper Coast Roller Derby on Facebook. I was so excited that I messages whoever ran this league and then made myself go to sleep so whoever she was could write back to me about it. I should have waited, I think I got a response straight away.

The longish story about my time with CCRD is this: I was invited to come along to skating at some netball courts on Sunday. I was so nervous/excited and I finally worked up the courage to make my appearance at the courts to meet Becca and Shauna. I think I was expecting Smashley Simpson and Maggie Mayhem rather than two rather (extra)ordinary ladies who didn't mind that some random person was joining in the skating fun. Since then we have moved to an indoor location, learnt so many more skills and I have invested more money in my skates and protection gear than I dare to think about.

What I find remarkable about roller derby is it found me at a time when I wasn't really ready to be found. I was unfit (okay, more unfit than what I am now), I was broke and incredibly unhappy. Derby videos may have been the reason I woke up and did stuff in the morning - and I'm not even exaggerating. I had been lonely for a long time and looking for something I could be part of but without having to make a huge effort to fit in. Derby lets me be myself (and/or my alter-ego Maliboom Stacy). I have so much to learn - and so much I want to learn. I've never been one for team sports of any kind and then roller derby found me and told me otherwise.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Be the Change: Sangam March 3-9 2014

I set out for my visit to Sangam, one of the Four Girl Guides World Centres on Sunday 2 March, flying from Adelaide. After a brief stopover I arrived at Mumbai and went in search of the driver who would take me to Pune. Once we were united, my real introduction to Indian began. Traffic seemed to be everywhere, even though it was 1am. There were whole families riding gracefully on motor scooters, trucks you had to sound your horn at to pass and bilingual signs which led us to Pune.

After being greeted by Laura and signing in I fell asleep for a few short hours when I was awoken by new Guiding friends who were also there for the Be the Change (MDG3) event. We had breakfast together cereal and toast with homemade peanut butter (a big hit, I had it almost every day) and we were then given some free time before our sessions began. A trip to towards Wadi in hunt of an ATM and sweet lime soda meant that we could see our local neighbourhood and get to know one another. Monday was rounded up by introductory sessions, a visit to an Indian home and several trips to local temples. During the evening an Opening ceremony was held which incorporated both Guiding and Indian traditions. Later on the Be the Change group headed up to the library for some badge swapping and chocolate.

Tuesday was one part an introduction to advocacy and one part cultural tour. We spent the morning learning about WAGGGS, what it meant to show leadership in community and were briefed on each of the MDGs. After sharing items which represent our life as a woman in our country we were given lunch and more time to reflect on our situations. After chai we headed out for a whirlwind Cultural Tour of Laxmi Road. I slept incredibly well after our huge show-and-tell of sari purchases which lasted well after 11pm.

Wednesday saw the Be the Change participants breaking into groups to visit three of Sangam’s Community Partners. I visited one of the Maher homes which house women and children where we met some of the women and children. During the visit we were shown the different rooms allocated to crafts which the women make and sell. From my background I found the home very different to how I envisioned it being - it was very lively and active. While we were there we met women doing a range of different things - holding a cooking competition, sewing and looking after the children. 

On our return we then shared about our country’s MDG3 story and each of us gained a better insight into different country’s beliefs, needs and attitudes. We began a Memorandum of Understanding to help us indentify needs in our country which we could campaign to help come to fruition. After dinner we watched a Bollywood movie called English Vinglish. With some rain and uninvited mosquito visitors banished by mosquito nets, the day ended on a peaceful note.

On Thursday we developed our Community Leadership and Advocacy plan, and received feedback on our ideas. Dr Mune from Green TaraFoundation came to speak to us about her life and work at the Foundation. After dinner we were treated to an International Fair. Scotland, England, Australia, New Zealand, Tunisia,  India, Canda and Denmark all held little displays for us to visit at our leisure. Amanti and I decided we would teach our new International friends ‘Kookburra’, a well loved Australian Guiding song, but to our surprise our audience joined in with our singing straight away.

Friday saw us indulge in some Laughter Yoga, followed by the Wadi Challenge which was an opportunity for us to visit a neighbouring suburb just up the road from Sangam. During the afternoon we were taught how to wear a sari, attempted rangoli  and had mehndi applied by some local women. Then we had a Maharashtrian Dinner, served traditional on the floor and without cutlery. It was a fun challenge! Bollywood Dancing was the evening’s entertainment which as great fun but also a bit of a workout.

Saturday was our last full day at Sangam. It was also International Women’s Day which we celebrated in three different ways. Firstly we were visited by a number of women who held a panel about their role and understanding of what it is to be a woman. Each lady told a little bit about their past which was both inspiring and encouraging. Secondly we headed to a Green Tara site to present a small program to young women – we sang songs, played games and did a small craft activity with them. Afterwards we were treated to a dance concert. During the evening each of us were asked to dress as an influential woman from our country. I was Olympian and lovable larrikin Dawn Fraser.

On Sunday we celebrated our time at Sangam by having a morning of reflection and farewells. There were a few tears and a lot of encouraging words. During the week I felt that we had grown as a group and had experienced a lot of new things together. After chai we were presented with a Sangam badge and those of us who had finished the Sangam Challenge also received a badge. The Sangam Challenge was one of the most fun (and sometimes most challenging) things about our event and very well earned!

A few days after my return to Australia my Guide unit held a sleepover with a special Wide Game. Their Patrol mascot toys had been smuggled to India and the girls had to complete a few quests to retrieve them. The toys (Jamie and Penelope) were a big hit while I was away and featured in many photos. The girls loved this. At our next Guide meeting I held an information session about my trip and gave the girls little Sangam goody bags. One of them has asked when they will get to go on an International Trip with Guides – how exciting! I loved my time at Sangam and hope to return again soon.
Phir Milenge!