Adventures from Here and There

Rasputin September 23, 2011

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 7:59 pm
day 10
went to Yekaterinburg for a night to see programmes related to RfC. Was becoming a bit difficult because noone spoke english and I sat through a 2 hour seminar, long discussions, meetings, all in russian or pamiran. S was great to translate, but since she was conducting the seminar, she could not translate then. it was cold, but not so bad. rainy. overall, the visit was tiring, but we know how to move forward! i leave this evening for Geneva.
day 7
anyone want a ‘pip’ show? or some rubs?

Inside Red Square

day 6

good meetings today. one with a central library and one with another ngo. there are just too many laws here that one  must follow and figure out in order to get any sort of programme running. ‘Russia for Russians’ was a term used. every building is super secure. keypad outside to get into the main building. then a bell to get into the office you want to get into.  met with a lovely lady at the ngo today, who was so enthusiastic and believed in the cause. we had tea in a little room that reminded me of a cottage with old saucers and plates. sort of like a home in london. spent a lot of time in the car.

finally made it to the city centre. red square. kremlin, etc. getting there was a mission though. i mean there is no english written anywhere. even the russian alphabet is different. i took the metro and there are no names on the wall at each station to let you know where you are. so i got to the right station and then getting out was a problem. i think there are 3 levels with trains in the stations and way too many people, that  you feel like you are in a can of sardines. fire hazard! so i followed the masses, thinking they would lead me out. instead i kept ending up on other platforms. finally, someone assisted me in english. i spent a good 20 minutes in the station going up and down escalators! i probably looked like a lost child.

now i have seen part of the city centre i suppose. not real busy. doesn’t feel like a ‘downtown’. ended up at GUM department store, of course. Names like Dior, Armani and Zara. found a cute cobblestone street with a starbucks, obviously. what can i say, free wifi and great music. the  man next to me is sketching a picture of two girls. he’s not bad actually.

the women here love their heels…like super high heels. and knee high boots.

i guess i need to figure out how to get back to the hotel now. that will be interesting.


day 5

The Madness of Moscow

A mixture of the new and old.

Tons of people everywhere,

Even a lady in only her underwear!

Colourful babushkas,

And everywhere hookahs.

Busy streets, lots of bustle,

Saucy ads, not much muscle!

Madness of Moscow.

day 4

first time on the moscow public transport. some of the stations are beautiful. high, old ceilings. where did all the people come from? non rush hour times are busier than london or new york rush hour. but i guess it is much bigger of a city with way more people. the first subway we got on felt like a rollercoaster. it was super fast and just had no control. next, a taxi. but not a legit one because i have not seen those yet. how do you flag a taxi? well you stand by the side of the road and stick your hand out, as you would in an other city, but random cars will stop. you then find out if they know where to go, negotiate a price and then hop into the stranger’s car! yes, that is what 3 of us did today. gypsy taxi as one of them said. very normal for the other 2 girls. of course, i would not do this on my own. then on the way back from our meeting, we took another form of transport, a van. a public van. the latter part of the afternoon was spent this way. my appetite is definitely back. im okay. had some really good sushi today. still cold. i will have to get into the central city area before the weekend, as then, im off to another are in russia for 2 days. people keep speaking russian to me.

check out the subway system

 day 3

parent workshop all day. good to see a few fathers out. difficult to sit through a whole day and not understand the language. translation is there, but even that sometimes becomes tiring. nothing superbly exciting to blog. found my second home…starbucks. having a chai and a red velvet cupcake. this is the first meal i have been able to finish in about a week and a half. appetite is gone. not such a bad thing i suppose. moscow is cold and gloomy. hoping to see more in the week.  life is full of surprises…some are alright….like a red velvet cupcake in moscow – even if it did not taste quite so.

day 2

long day. this is kind of different from being in the ‘field’, in that it is not quite in the field. cannot really say moscow is the ‘field.’ went to valdamir region, 3 hours there and 3 hours back. felt like a 10 hour drive. however, it was nothing like the beautiful drives through the mountains or the bumpy adventures on dirt roads. all i saw was highway.

tajikis/pamiris in russia are our focus for this particular programme. cute baby caught my attention after ages. nice visit. i thought kyrgyzstan was the only place i would get that traditional bread…but no…i had an authentic pamiri meal which consisted of that same bread! i had tea in a special cup today. it was a message to me, ‘my best wish is your happiness’. getting that cup today, from all days, was a nice way to get the message. i was not sure how i was going to feel today and that message came at the right time.

the funniest thing happened today. a lady at bp would not sell me water and toothpaste until the person filling gas in our car paid first. but he had already paid, and then she still wouldn’t ring me in. of course, i left my stuff on the counter and walked out. so strange.

tomorrow is sunday.  a full day workshop for parents.

 day 1

landed in moscow a little after 6, local time. a bit delayed. how do people not board their flight and still not make it to the aircraft in the time it takes to remove their bags off the plane? the traffic into town was brutal. first thoughts: not such a pretty place in terms of natural beauty. unless of course you count the russian women. concrete. new and old. skyscrapers scattered here and there. great 5 lane roads. many one way roads. bright signs. big malls. ikea. marks and spencer. no flowers. english is not a problem. interesting that every driver i meet here, or in kyrgyz is named alexander!

went to an indian restaurant for dinner. what a view. the moscow state university was the most magnificent building in the skyline.  there are 7 buildings (sister) that look the same. like…wow. this weekend is a full day to evening work weekend so tonight i had a briefing. the food was great and i have a much better understanding of the programmes and why they began. it was only difficult to hear one another, every 10 to 15 minutes when the music was pumped and the russian dancer came out to belly dance! we watched her perform 5 times. what to do.

moscow has more billionaires living in the area than any other city in the world. i will have to check out tret’yakovskiy proezd and if i get time, though it does not look like it based on my schedule, hit the russian ballet.

get to sleep in a bit tomorrow…until 9 so that will be nice. it is friday, midnight. i found an english TV channel. god only knows what i am watching though. the ‘radio’ channel is wicked.

nice to be back out in the field after a couple of months.



Get Over It! September 22, 2011

Filed under: Random Stuff — travelchokri @ 10:26 am

feeling sad?

wear a fake mustache, don’t bathe, sing ginan or a hymn, don’t drink excessively, take a nap with your head on the other side of the bed, blog, sing karaoke on your own, don’t get onto the scale at home, try to say the alphabet while brushing your teeth, colour your hair red, play dandia (not everyone will know what this is. but just take 2 sticks, put on some music and start hitting them together. if you have a friend, give them two sticks too. hit your sticks together. do some twirls. jump and down and shout hey)…, throw eggs at your neighbour’s house or cover their door handles with vaseline.

do remember…to smile.


Bits and Pieces

Filed under: Articles by Me — travelchokri @ 7:59 am

Article written for a travel magazine in Kenya


Holidays, in the absence of the working world and the everyday hustle and bustle, provide ample opportunity for you to lay back and unwind, as the banality of daily life fades away. But what if gallivanting through the French Islands or voyaging on the Mediterranean seems virtually impossible? After all, not all of us have the time or the money to run off to a foreign country. Don’t let it get you down. All you need is a day or two off to rejuvenate and change your pace.

Nairobi is a city in which nature has been exceedingly generous. One can witness the abundant bird life, walk through flourishing greenery, feed a few giraffes, drive alongside the fierce wildlife, sip cocktails by a palm-shaded pool or cycle through a forest, just to mention a few! And if you aren’t in the mood to be one with nature, this city offers endless opportunities to pamper yourself in a spa, watch a good play or indulge in delectable food and drink.

 The first thing to do is to ask yourself what it is that you want. Are you ready for an adventure or something more low key? Do you need to unwind and de-stress or add a little excitement to your life? The possibilities are endless.

 5 Places in Nairobi That Give you that Getaway Feeling

1) When is the last time you booked yourself into a hotel not far from your home? You haven’t? Why not? Sure you have a house in the city, but most of us need a break from the everyday clutter and countless number of chores that seem to never end. Leave the house behind for a night or two. It will be a lot less costly than booking a flight out of town for a few days.

Hotels are a dime a dozen in this city, from stylish boutiques to grand oases, it’s easy to find one that suits your every need. Hotels vary not only in their prices and location, but the amenities they offer differ from one to the next. So do some research and find the right fit.

House of Waine is a unique hotel, situated away from the busyness of the city. Amid a spectacular Eden, the property blends the elegance of gracious living with the spirit of modern Africa.  Constructed in the 1970s as a private home in Karen, it was later transformed into an 11 bedroom boutique property. The rooms, all individually styled and named, reflect their different themes ensuring that no two are exactly alike.  If you choose the Tembo room, be prepared to relax in an elegantly furnished combination of creams, ivories and browns. Enjoy a luxurious bath in the extra wide tub found in each room.

Step outside and take in the fresh air. Hit the poolside, remembering to take a good read with you. Quench your thirst with a cocktail at the pool bar.

When evening rolls around, tantalize your taste buds with exquisite cuisine while listening to Afro Jazz beats in the comfort of the dining room.

Head to the Lounge for an after dinner drink and drift away to the sounds of the crackling fire. If you are in the mood for company, chat it up with other guests. People from one end of the continent to the other side of the world are known to stay here. You may make a new friend or two.

When it’s time to retire, head back to your room and dream, knowing that in the morning you will wake up to the exotic sounds of African birdlife.

Things to Pack

A Good Book, some sunscreen, a swimsuit

Think Outside the Box

Play an instrument? Take it along with you. Find a secluded corner and burst into song. You may even develop an audience. Everyone loves a good tune.

2) Now if you’re in the mood to drive alongside a few of the world’s fiercest animals, the Nairobi National Park, Kenya’s oldest animal sanctuary is the place for you. Harboring 400 species of birds, 80 species of animals, 40 species of reptiles and 500 plant species, this park is only minutes away from the city centre. Depending on the time of year, you may be lucky enough to see all the Big 5.

But if patience is not your forte, then take a stroll instead! Yes, in the Nairobi National Park, you will find a self-guided nature trail. But don’t think for a second that you are alone. Not too far from the trail you may run into a few hippos splashing in the water or run into some ravenous crocodiles.

If it’s you that is hungry, the park has a couple of picnic sites overlooking the vast plains. The spot is perfect for a barbecue and if it’s that time, enjoy a few sundowners with a friend or two.

If you want to get up close and personal, an orphanage for abandoned animals lies at the entrance of the park. Cheetahs, leopards and lions are just a few of the creatures that are taken care of in this sanctuary.

Before you head back to the craziness of the city, stop off at the Ranger’s Restaurant near the main gate, stretch out your legs and enjoy a fine cup of Kenya tea on the Twiga Terrace.


To fill your tank, check your tire pressure, buy a few bottles of water, put together some good music for the drive, take a pair of binoculars

 Think Outside the Box

Practice your breathing exercises. If you are familiar with yoga, head to the sheltered picnic area and inhale…exhale. The magnificent views of the savannah will provide you with an instant calming feeling.


3) If sitting in a 4×4, patiently waiting to see some game is not your cup of tea, but you do want to experience some of nature’s fine creatures, head to the Giraffe Manorfor a night or two. Not only will you get to witness the long-necked creatures strolling through the hotel grounds and warthogs skipping about, but the opportunities to feed the graceful creatures are bountiful.

The Giraffe Manor, just outside of Nairobi, is an exclusive hotel famous for its resident Rothschild giraffes. This honey-coloured haven takes you back to a time where hunting was in fashion. But don’t be fooled. Immaculately furnished rooms with large four-poster beds, antique furnishings and art deco bathrooms provide you with a modern but classic feel.

The finely cooked meals are not the only highlight during breakfast, but the company of the giraffes, standing only a few metres away with take your breathe away.

In the evening, choose to fill your belly with luscious foods in the private dining room or on the outside veranda. 

The Giraffe Manor is a popular getaway for many stars, so you never know who you may run into!  

Things to Do

Hang with the giraffes, take a stroll through the lush green gardens, enjoy a cup of coffee while you relax on a wicker chair, get lost in a good book

 Think Outside the Box

Ever wonder how to create a memory book using your favourite pictures?

Why not try making a scrapbook. All you need is a good book, preferably with acid-free pages, some picture corners, a few coloured pens and a splash of creativity. It’s your memory book so do whatever you want with it!

4) You are an African Queen, so pamper yourself with an aromatic steam, followed by a coffee or chocolate body scrub and mask. End your journey with an invigorating facial and then get spoiled with a hand and foot massage.

 For a more masculine experience, try the ginger body scrub followed by a detoxifying sauna and purifying steam.  Lie down as Asian blend massage oils are dripped onto your body for a relaxing massage. Walk out of the spa with fabulous pedicured feet and manicured hands.

Modern spas have their roots in ancient towns famed for healing powers through the use of their mineral waters and hot springs. People would travel, sometimes great distances, to restore their health. This practice dates back to the Babylonians and the Greeks. In the 19th century, Europe’s great spas were destinations for the wealthy.

Moving along a few centuries ahead, spas have become popular destinations in just about every country around the world. People are realizing that the everyday stresses of life do take a toll on the overall well-being of an individual. Spas rejuvenate and give back a feeling of youth.

Wild Earth Day Spa is an ultimate sanctuary on Peponi Road. Go through their spa menu and you will definitely find a treatment that will awaken your senses. There is something for everyone. 

Spa Etiquette

Get there 15 minutes early, do not talk loudly, give feedback to your therapist, do leave a tip

Think Outside the Box

Depending on the type of treatment you are getting, pack a few pieces of cucumber and take them along with you to the spa. Did you know that cucumbers can reduce the appearance of swelling around your eyes? And hey, if you are feeling a bit snackish after your treatment, no need to look around!

The website,, provides you with all the information that you need. But be sure to make an appointment, as you may be disappointed if you drop in. This popular place can be fully booked throughout the week.

5) If you are on a shoestring budget why not take a long drive away from city, where there is no pushy traffic, no beeping of horns and no pot holes to avoid. Get onto Ngong Road and keep adventuring along until you pass through Ngong town up until the Ngong Hills. When you get to the top, breathe in the unpolluted air and marvel at the view of the Great Rift Valley.

Further along the road, beam back into history at the Olorgesailie, a geological formation containing a group of Lower Paleolithic archaeological sites. Discovered by British geologist John Walter Gregory, this is the area where many human tools were found, along with what used to be a vast lake. Fossils of various animals, including those of extinct species of hippo, elephant, zebra, giraffe, and baboon were excavated. Imagine yourself, an anthropologist, working side by side with Leakey in this discovery.

Time to picnic? Find a place to chill on the top of the magnificent Ngong Hills before heading back to the city. Karen Blixen chose her perfect spot, inspiring her to write her famous novel, Out of Africa. If you are an aspiring writer, find your own thought provoking piece of land and jot down the stories in your head. If writing is not your thing, pull out a pad of paper and create a sketch of the beauty that envelopes you. Or just gaze beyond the horizon and clear your head of any thoughts or contemplation.

Things to Take Along

A notebook or pad of paper, writing and drawing materials, water to rehydrate, a pair of sunglasses

 Think Outside the Box

Slide down the Ngong Hills in cardboard boxes.

There is so much to see and do in the city. So what are you waiting for? Start thinking about your next rendezvous and get ready to plan the perfect getaway. Whether you are planning a trip alone, spending time with family or friends, you will find what you are looking for in Nairobi.

                                                    WHAT TO DO IF YOU CAN’T GETAWAY

 If a mini getaway is not an option, you can still get that feeling by turning your home into your own oasis. If your home is the place where you feel happy and inspired, then there’s your final destination!

Create new spaces for your holiday home. Eliminate clutter and complete housework. Change the décor in rooms around your house. Your bathroom can be turned into a spa with salts and aromatherapy oils. Arrange scented candles around the tub and place trays of white ones around the bathroom. Turn your bedroom into a lavish hotel room by adding a few oversized pillows and hanging white sheers from the windows. Leave yourself a few treats on your pillow to remind you that you truly are on a holiday. Keep the windows open and let the breeze flow in. Get lost in a few books and cut out pictures from magazines that make your heart flutter. Come back to reality when you are ready.

Feel like being in a beach house instead? Decorate your holiday home in bright colours and kikoy fabrics and open it up to the great outdoors by bringing in a few tropical plants, creating your own garden. You may have kept memorabilia from past holidays, such as sea shells and sand in a jar. Bring those out of the closet and add to your décor. What a great opportunity to take out those flip flops and tank tops! And only for this one time, break the rules of no sunglasses indoors and put them on!

Plan your menu at least a week prior to. Organize and prepare the foods that you would like to eat. If you don’t have to do this yourself, better. Make sure your house is stocked with all the ingredients that you will need to make those perfect beach drinks!

Music will set the mood, so download some good songs that will keep your feet moving. Head to the magazine stand and pick up the latest Cosmopolitan and enter your own head space and dream. Feel like taking a dip? Fill the tub up with lukewarm water and splash away! If you have a garden or deck, throw down a towel and take a snooze. Siesta time!

Remember that this is ‘me’ time. So turn off that phone and put the computer away. Let everyone know you will be away for a day or two. You will have plenty of time to catch up on work and gossip after your holiday!

My main writing was done for The Star for about a year and a half. Every Tuesday some topic around the field of Education was shared. Click on the articles for a full image.


Maya Papaya

Filed under: Random Stuff — travelchokri @ 7:47 am

This venture was inspired by my love of ‘paper’ and other niffty, hip, kitschy stuff. I opened a shop in Nairobi, Yaya centre. It was exciting and demanding, as I still kept my other job (Academy). A lot of time and preps went into getting it started. The final product was amazing.

Thanks to Almudin for designing this logo for me. It was perfect for the idea. And thanks to the others that helped me to get this venture started and supported me through the different fairs, etc. Perhaps one day, there will be a Maya Papaya again.

The name was inspired by my real Maya, who is 5 years old. She is a gem.

These are Momiji Dolls.

Momijis are super cool. You can hide a secret under them.

Oddly enough they are not made in Japan, but the UK.


Time for the Warm Stuff September 21, 2011

Filed under: Random Stuff — travelchokri @ 8:44 pm

Off to Russia this Friday. Guess it means hat and scarf time. Yuck. There was no transition it seems from summer to autumn in Geneva. One day it was hot, now it’s damn cold.  had pizza today and of course the gluten did not work well with me.

the last sort of warm weekend i suppose

well then there is always the warmth that i will receive when i am back in EA in october. bring out the no clothes.
‘Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you’

Back to the Motherland

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 2:29 pm
Tags: , , ,

june 24

the glamour girls and laura and nadeem’s wedding party

 It has been some time. To my aunt’s who told my mom they had not heard from me at all…this is for you! Okay, not just for you!
I have had a fruitful visit to EA. Spent one week in Mombasa, traveling to Kingango and Kwale and had a bit of time of time to hang out in the evening with friends. The work on the ground was intense, with 4 hour drives each day, 3 hour school visits and 1 hour follow-up discussions. But all worth it. On the second last day I attended a meeting where I was thrown into an unexpected situation and ended up providing training to 41 individuals that are involved in the Reading to Learn programme- the programme that I was visiting. It was a great session. The last day was kept aside for meeting with government officials etc to discuss the way forward.
Uganda was even more hectic. Flew into Kampala and then drove straight to Soroti, about 5.5 hours. Small town. Small hotel with no hot water, etc. We were traveling to Dokollo and Alomotar each day, about 2.5 hours one way on bumpy, dirt roads in a pick up truck. I think I am still bruised. Kenya seems to be a bit more ahead in the plans than Uganda. But the visits there were also enlightening.
On my way to EA I stopped off in London for a friend’s stagette. We had a nice time…must say certain parts of that night were also very enlightening! I still love london.
Got to spend a weekend in nairobi on the way to uganda. quick trip. landed friday night and was off again on sunday morning. had friday night dinner, attended a pre wedding party and had a small brunch. went out on saturday night as well to the… usual.
I am back in kampala and off to geneva later tonight. Will have some time to recouperate over the weekend and then back to work on monday…i leave for portugal on thursday for 5 days. wedding. looking forward to that!

   Brunching at Art

  Great Time with Gal Pals (and boy pals).


Aliyah and Farouq got married in Cascais. I spent one night in Lisbon before that. It was nice to connect with old friends, and meet some new. We did maja!

Aliyah and Farouq's Wedding in Portugal, July 2& 3

  Munira, Saira and I have known each other since we were about 5 years old. Growing up in 2 different small towns, we met on Friday’s at the mosque. Munira left us when it was time, and heading to  U of T. Saira and I followed a year later, but we both decided on Western. Saira and I then heading to the same school in toronto, to do our post grad stuff – her in human resources and me in marketing management. Saira went on her path and me in mine, in the wonderful world of Saatchi & Saatchi. We both lived in toronto, but grew apart as the years went on. Now, we are back on track. It was great to re-connect with the Grimsby girls. Nice to have them around again. And of course, we have already planned a trip for December 2011! Trouble is about to begin…

the ex farrah sunderji, now farrah jamal and I

farrah…there is just too much to write about this strong and amazing woman. one lady i know that i can always count on. love you.


The Man up There

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 8:52 am

may 10

I reached this country (kyrgyzstan) about a day ago, some odd time in the morning. Landed in Bishkek and spent a night at UCA (university of central asia) building where the offices are. I was staying in a great apt, 10 times bigger than my geneva one…and  nicer. It was good to catch up on sleep, despite the fact that is was Victory Day, celebrated with sirens and fireworks. Bishkek is the capital for those of you who are unfamiliar with this area. Early this morning I caught another flight to Osh and the day has passed with meetings and discussions on the work that i will be doing here for the next 2 weeks. We passed over snow-covered mountains on the way here, just stunning to be so close and are surrounded by views as we drive through osh. The office seems organized and believe it or not, there is an online taxi service in this small town. And unlike Pakistan, the lunch is brief and therefore I do not have to sit through Russian and Krygz convos for an hour. Oromo, some type of pastry with potatoes, onions and meat is quite yummy.
Kyrgyzstan, in central asia used to be part of the Soviet Union.   Life seemed easier and better during Soviet times. The level of culture was higher and provision was comprehensive and reliable, whether for job availability, books or fruit prices. The challenges of democratic transition, especially in the context of the country’s ethnic diversity and accompanying tensions, have given rise to considerable unrest in the years following independence. Even in the more secure Soviet times, Kyrgyzstan was among the poorest states in central asia, and almost a third of the population lived below the Soviet poverty line.After the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the economy fell into crisis and the standard of living dropped dramatically. Many facilities closed down across the country – factories, schools, theatres, hospitals – Kyrgyzstan became poor even in global terms. Although an education system remained in place after independence, many of its elements deteriorated.  A reduced national budget made it difficult to invest in infrastructure and provide adequate training or pay for teachers or to allow for the changes. Enrollment in schools dropped amongst both girls and boys as well as the literacy rates. Scores on international tests are some of the lowest amongst developing countries. There is therefore a great need for solid and sustainable programmes that meet the needs of the communities. Being a farming population, many migrate to different areas through the summer, disrupting their children’s education. Satellite kindergartens and jailoos – large tents that move around with the families to meet some of these challenges have been initiated. Anyway, that was just a bit of history and background. I am here to follow-up on the RfC, reading for children programme, which is one of the programmes that has implemented in the region, to conduct an impact assessment since initiation -more qualitative rather than quantitative.

may 14

So it has been about a week since I landed in Krygyzstan. I have been in Osh for the last 5 days and have been heading out for field visits in the Alai district. The drive is about 2.5 to 3 hours each way and it is the same drive each day. But it is so beautiful on that side, that you look at the mountains and nature in a different light each day.
I have been visiting the mini libraries and the reading for children programme in different villages. Of course, everyone is happy with the books and the work that is being done for them. It is very difficult to assess the overall impact a programme has had by just speaking to, and observing people in their homes for a short while. Of course, if an outsider is coming, behaviours will change automatically. Think about it, if your boss or an external evaluator was coming to do an assessment on your work, would you not slightly change the way that you do things, perhaps even unknowingly?
Today we had a great family visit. Most of the grandparents take care of the children as  parents are in russia for work. These grandparents were amazing, doing role plays with their grandchildren. At one point the grandpa pulled out his accordion and they all sang together! Being poor here is very different from being poor in other parts of the world. The poor here have tvs and satellite dishes and proper houses and food. Some even have cars.
On a personal level, it has been somewhat interesting and at times tough. The kitchen at the guest house in undergoing renovation, so no meals, and the food we get in the day consists of bread and lard. No joke, pure lard.We eat at the family homes, which they insist on. So first, we are putting them out and secondly, you know it is not hygienic and the tummy suffers hours later. So poor eating habits, but I have been trying to exercise a bit, taking walks etc.
In addition to that, I have been attacked by bed bugs and though the room has been disinfected the last 2 days, I woke up again today with big, red spots. I wonder why I am okay with this? There is no way in the developed world that I would be alright with this. So why here? I finally moved rooms today. Yes, i have experienced all of this before at some point in my life, but been there, done that! And of course, they say this is the first time this has happened to anyone in the guest house! Not surprised.
Travelling on your own in such places can be tough. Especially when you do not speak the language. there is no one to laugh about such things with or just vent –  someone to just listen. This morning, I had a small crying session and I wondered at what point does it make sense to say something. You do not want to seem high maintenance but at the same time, when is it considered ok to make a big deal out of something? I know some of my gal pals would’ve walked out of  this guest house on the first day and then you have my sister and mom, and they prob think that none of this is a big deal.  While I have grown up climbing trees, playing ball, getting beaten up by boys and yes, falling off of washing machines, i can only be ‘tough’ to a certain degree. But my upbringing has def. given me the strength that i need! but i am definitely not that thick skinned!  this is something that i will need to figure out as I will be traveling and encountering these type of experiences often…and those that i did in pakistan. 
I did go out yesterday with someone who I met, another expat, for a meal and some chat. it was nice and needed. I am meeting a lady by the name of gulzar tomorrow who is who experienced in writing children’s stories. will be great to meet her and learn about all her experiences! then we head out to Alai as she would like to see some of the sites. another day in the field!

typical meals

i do not think i have eaten as much bread in my life than i did for 7 days straight.


Interesting Things:
Bride kidnapping – basically if a man sees you and he wants to get married to you, he and is friends kidnap you. They take you to his family home and then his whole family convinces you to stay or they will curse you and put your family to shame. If you insist on leaving, the grandmother is known to throw herself on the ground and say go ahead and disrespect me…climb over me.
Vodka and cigarettes are cheaper here than a meal. It is no wonder everyone smokes and drinks. There is a joke amongst friends in kenya…there should be beer being sold on the roadside or drinks…well it is no joke here. for less than fifty cents you can purchase vodka on the roadside in a container that looks like a jello pudding one, sealed, and have yourself a drink.
Horse milk – i passed on that one but it is their traditional drink
I shared a pee with 2 other grown women in a washroom, like 3 men in a urinal would do. That was interesting.
A cute child peed on me today. Not so cute after that.
All the women have a row of gold teeth, either the top or bottom. In Russia they say it is a sign of wealth. I think here that was the only affordable option.

the most mystifying part of the trip
imagine we need to fly from osh to naryn. i am on a helicopter with 12 other people (3 crew) – 9 I don’t know. one of the crew members tells us that it’s going to be a bumpy ride. i feel a little anxious at this point and ask if i can get my bag from the storage area to take a relaxant (something that erum from pakistan had advised me to do after tha crazy plane ride from islamabad to multan). so i take it and all is fine. the ride was slow and steady. i hoped it to be somewhat like in the movies, now that i was prepared and all. we hit stormy skies. helicopter shook…crew said we could not go any further as they could  not see the mountains. and so we landed…in the middle of absolutely nowhere. it was cold. a couple of the guys walked to the main road and after only a few minutes were able to flag down a van, bus thingie. people traveling from new zealand had hired a whole van to themselves. you would not believe how many spare seats there were…yes 9…9 seats for exactly 9 of us out in the middle of nowhere! how do you explain that one?? and of course that pill had made me so relaxed that i couldn’t keep m head up the remainder of the journey, 4 hours. Strangers have pictures of me swaying all over the place.

Pakistan Zindabad!

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 8:33 am

emails from march/april 2011. first trip back since 1997.

march 27

i made it to islamabad, after a bit of drama of course. shez styles… like losing luggage, arranged driver did not show up at the airport. it was 3am. i took a random taxi and mumtaz, aka mommie, took me to the wrong hotel, despite me telling him a few times. then he got directions for the right one and he still could not find it.  we ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere and it was now 5am…we waited on the side of the road for an hour…a random friend of his shows up…i change cars and finally i say…just take me to the serena! which was the original plan! hotel was fully booked but after i told them it was not 630 and i had landed at 3, and i was tired and i would cry right there, they sorted it all out! it was all worth it in the end! i went to town today and to the local market with jane, a women who is running the ECD workshops. i did not take my camera, as i will be going there often i am sure, in the month that i am here. the fruits were luscious and the strawberries…amazingly red. the people were all kind and answered our many, perhaps odd questions. our driver imtiaz, thought that we were crazy and laughed at us the entire time, esp. with my lack of urdu! we were meant to leave for gilgit today but flights had been cancelled the last couple of days due to the weather. the The helicopter finally returned from tajikstan and my director, along with a few others from bangladesh took it but had to return to islamabad half way through due to the bad weather. so one more night in the serena…glad we did not have to drive…though it would have been lovely…it would have taken us 22 hours. so far it has been fun and games, but starting tomorrow, the work begins. so, i leave the fab serena. the people have been amazing. my computer crashed yest night, i took it in this afternoon and by this evening imitiaz, brought it back…fully functioning! the food has been…wow…and the hotel is wonderfully done up, islamic but modern. i have to say that is by far my fav serena. check out all the pics on facebook you can take a look at them. of course, i will  not be here for the whole month, of course. upon my return, i will be staying at a guest house not far from the office. i plan on heading to both karachi and lahore for a weekend, the busy and vibrant cities, so they say.i am looking forward to heading to gilgit tomorrow to see what changes have been made since 1997. i truly hope that i can get to singhal, the village that i had stayed in for a month and a half, to find my host family, along with the teachers. I wonder what they are up to 14 years later!

  have some local outfits now…so i will be strutting in those for the most part!
 april 20 
I am in Quetta right now. Got here on Tues and back to Islamabad tomorrow afternoon. This place is much different from the rest of Pakistan. Dry, different landscape entirely. And there seems to be a little more insecurity here. There were 2 bomb blasts targeted at ngos today as we were heading to Pishin. Not everyone is open to progression. 
Another girl from the Islamabad office, who joined a week and a half ago joined me on this trip. We went to 2 girls schools, 1 boys school and a training centre today where we met with teachers. The boys school was the highlight of the day. The 5 and boys were something else – all so adorable. I wanted to take home this one tiny chap. Nasibwallah was his name. He had these big brown eyes and he was so attentive to everything that was going on. They learnt how to say good bye, after I said it as i left the classroom, and then could not stop chanting it as they left the school gate. It became a ‘goodbye’ song for them. There teacher was equally great. The first male teacher I have interacted with on this trip, as most are women. However, in the boys schools the teachers are all males. 
One can really see how this programme (RCC) has benefited the children and the community as a whole. Unfortunately, I did not make it to Gilgit or Chitral due to flight cancellations so I was not able to develop an entire picture of the programme’s impact. 

the flight from quetta to multan was horrifying. turbulence all the way. the flight attendant and 3 others were throwing up. the pilot was either unexperienced or drunk. nothing was wrong with the weather. multan was the connection. we still had to get to islamabad. erum and i refused to get back on and one of the men started yelling at us. we told him to go talk to the pilot first. he must’ve been flying too low because we were fine the rest of our journey. gees.
Last weekend I headed to Lahore with a lady that is here for a year on TKN  – volunteer programme. We had a nice time, though the visit felt short.

something funny about the flight from islamabad to karachi on PIA

in the inflight presentation actually told passengers and showed in the video, things to not throw in the toilet. i could not control myself when i saw  – no forks,  no knives, no cups! almina, a lady i had met in islamabad and i were traveling together. i don’t know what was funnier, the video or her face when i asked her if people take their meal trays into the washroom with them! haha


This is India!

Filed under: Travel — travelchokri @ 8:08 am
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Vibrant, smoggy, individualistic and manic- this is India! If you land in Mumbai at an odd hour (530am) get into your pre-paid cab and head to juhu beach. Pick a hotel to gather your thoughts in. juhu hotel, with its friendly staff won’t mind if you drop your luggage off while you pace up and down the beach with hundreds of others, all on a mission to go…nowhere! How nice it is to begin the work day at 10am. Take a look around and notice the yoga-doers, the 2 or 3 white faces, the dried up seaweed, the rubbish and the gazillion birds being fed. Yes, the birds are being fed in a country that still has one of the highest poverty rates. What’s the source of income for them? The two minute stop while the traffic stops at a red. Little girls carrying girls even younger than them. Whose children are they anyway? At the same time, you just want to be left alone.

Too many rickshaws, cars and bicycles. Constant honking. There are days declared for no honking…but then it just wouldn’t be Mumbai! Why bother having any lanes and pedestrian walks? Whizzing on a moped in the streets is exhilarating. But hold on when those speed bumps arise, as you may land on your bare head. If you dare, take the public train and hang out the door from one station to the next. There are just too many people in this city. Yes, the entire population of Kenya is less than this one city alone!

One can get overwhelmed by all the shops and malls randomly spread out through the different districts. Pashminas in every colour and beads in various shapes and sizes can be found at one of the many stalls in the colaba area. Just around the corner, you have the Gate of India, under construction, and across, the grand Taj Palace Hotel. Stroll through and window shop at the only louis vuitton. Take a walk on the side streets and admire the old architecture and washed out buildings. After a while, colaba, juhu and bandra can all look the same…especially when the night falls. Chor bazaar is anarchic, especially on Fridays. If you don’t need a stereo or a car part, don’t bother!

Bhel puri, pani puri, you got it. But the deprived can relish in a maharajah mac or tandoori chicken pizza from pizza hut..everyday. tantalize your taste buds with fresh mango smoothies or a cold lassi. If spice is not your forte, do not forget to ask for mild butter chicken or yellow daal.

If you are lucky enough, you may see a movie shoot or meet up with people working in the industry of bollywood. Yes, it is larger than Hollywood! And make sure you get the low down. But where are those john Abraham look a likes and the gals that look like ashwariya? Definitely not gallivanting on the streets of Mumbai. Young lovers stroll down chowpatty beach, coyly, but hand in hand. Flocks of girls strut their stuff on the beach wearing the latest jeans from fashion street. On either side, high rises continue to go up; ones that only the real swanky can afford. Yes, for a million dollars, you too can breathe in the smog of Mumbai. Mumbai is definitely a city for walking about and discovering. You never know what you will see or who you will meet!

Bangalore, the silicon valley of India; pretty and much less hectic than Mumbai. This place shuts down at 11pm, including the bars. There isn’t a whole lot of sight seeing to do, but stroll through the streets of Brigade area and find man made parks, gardens rather, where residents do their walking exercises. check out the leela kempinski. Unless you have an exact address to where you would like to go, you will surely get lost, even if you take a rickshaw.

If you are looking for some peace of mind or enlightenment then find an ashram in the outskirts of Bangalore. The art of living centre provides and intro course that lasts about 3-4 days. Be prepared to get back to the basics and follow the 10pm curfew. Enjoy the harmonious bhajans at satsang, a celebration, every evening.

Be lazy in kerala. The best Indian food perhaps, comes from the south; colourful and delectable. Girls, don’t stay out past 11pm or you may get scolded by the police. The beaches in trivandrum are not much to brag about, but you can definitely lose time on the strip browsing for jewelry and sipping on interesting concoctions. Head to alleppey, about 2 hours away by car and rent a houseboat for 22 hours. They come in different shapes and sizes, some equipped with TVs and DVD players. Let your private chef serve you south Indian breakfasts, lunches and dinners as you float through the backwaters. Enjoy the sounds of the birds or take part in a photo shoot! Overnight, you will dock in a small village. Take a walk around the rice fields and remember to bring plenty of pens!

Do not forget to put your sunblock on. And bug spray, a necessity. People are generally friendly, though language differences can be a communication barrier. Watch out for cab drivers taking you on longer routes and then trying to overcharge you! If you have lots of time, then take the train at least once from one city to the next. If you are limited in time, there are plenty of domestic airlines to chose from, all reasonably priced. There is just too much to see and do! So pace yourself and make sure you have a good pair of shoes on!

Julia and I in Kerala


The Lost Underwear

Filed under: Random Stuff — travelchokri @ 8:01 am
Tags: , ,
This is an old story, from Nairobi. It happened about a year and a half ago, during the Donyo Sabuk days.
Sunday was an early start, as I had an early night on Saturday. Still trying to fight my cold without any meds. As I was in the kitchen with Canadyen, we heard Madamemoiselle Francais and Blood Clot. The two of them were nearly breaking into Princess’ apartment. I opened the kitchen window, the sun still not completely out yet, enquring about their silly behaviour first thing in the morning. I needed my chai. I cannot function without it. But the two were so hysterical I wanted to know what was going on. Princess did not open his door. Either he had a ‘friend’ accompanying him from the night before, or he was too hung over.
The night before had been Fez and Barbie’s stag and doe. Cougar had made all the dinner preparations. The mad men and women all met at hers at 8pm. Prozac had bailed. Despite her ‘cold’ feeling, we thought she might have had another episode. Her buddy Valium did show up though, with Mr. Editor.
Getting back to M. Francais and Blood Clot, they told Canadyen and I that we must come down and see something. And so I slipped into my flip flops and ran down the stairs. Clothes were scattered all over the garden; underwear and shorts. A poor khaki was displaced in the gutter. Cougar stared out her first floor kitchen window, imprisoned by the blue bars, that protected her from the night before. They belonged to Crash. Crazy had thrown them out her window during their weekly domestic. We all suspected that Cougar was behind the fight, always trying to seduce Crash.
At 3am the night before the drama, we had heard the noise; drawers being thrown about, glass shattering, losts of cursing. I thought it was our Romanian boys, young and full of energy, at their usual Saturday nonsense.  
But we discovered later on in the morning, after following a trail of blood, that it was in Crazy’s place that the drama had occurred. After a few pictures, Canadyen was kind enough to pick up Crash’s underwear, not knowing whether they were clean or not. And before taking it away, he passed it on to Cougar for one final sniff. She caressed them close to her bossom. Princess finally awoke and joined us. Someone had left him another gift. This time they were yummy. Kenya stood from her balcony asking us what had happened. Drying her clothes on the balcony, she had first thought that the ones that had laid below her apartment belonged to her. She had missed all the action the night before, dancing away at some bar, not having a care.
The clothes were returned to the crime scene. I did not dare knock on the door, but left them outside. Maybe the pot stealing askari would find them and add them to his collection of things in the abandoned house. Cougar leaves in a week. We will be lost without her and all the drama that she has caused the last few months. But I am sure..there will be more.