Come along for the journey!

Come along for the journey!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

THANKSGIVING: (Jaipur, India)

There's nothing like being surrounded by some of life's harshest stories to make you appreciate what you have. Neeks and I continued our annual American tradition of eating with good friends and sharing what we're thankful for in life, but over here in India. We were accompanied by our good friends George & Zoe and together we went to the Raghpur Palace, previously home to the local Maharaja, for as close to 'American fare' as we could get…Pizza, Tacos, and Coke. We all agreed that seeing the world, having so much time to indulge in our pursuits, revel in pre-kiddy early married life, enjoy opportunities like dining at palaces that so few here can do, was something to be very thankful for. I thought of the verse in the Bible - 'To those who are given much, much is expected', and I thought of the 'Slumdog 3 musketeers' again. I've been thinking about what work to pursue next, and what my gratitude may lead me into next.
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Tuesday, 24 November 2009

BOLLYWOOD: (Jaipur, India)

G, Z, N, & Me went to the movies, India's largest picture house, a veritable temple to Indian celebrity. Tonight's showing not only incited a very responsive audience to riotous laughter and cheering at the deftest innuendo, but also showcased a doppelganger for one of Bristol's own celebrities, Mikey Bower.

We are keen to acquire the film with English subtitles as we often had no idea what on earth was going on. Essentially, it was boy meets girl - girl likes another boy - boy seems to spend a lot of time goofing around with other boys for someone who wants to get girl and rues squandered opportunities for nookie - boy finally lands girl to scenes of birds tweeting in the trees….you know the story.

We were most entertained by the scenes with Jesus driving a van (see video clip). We were equally bemused by the 'spit pots' outside the auditorium, fancy ones in brass, for all those 'paan' (Indian chewing tobacco) spewing local folk, as we were by the film.

3 MUSKETEERS: (Jaipur, India)

Today, feeling dreadful, we laid in bed sick and watched 'Slumdog Millionaire'. It's quite bizarre to come out of a film and seemingly walk directly into the movie set. I once watched 'Rear Window' (highly recommended if you've not seen it - Jimmy Stewart at his best) in Bryant Park in central Manhattan, right where it's set. Now, we left our sick bed and walked the streets that typify 'Slumdog'. On the way to the cinema, we met 3 young kids on the street asking for money. They looked just like the cast of the film, the 3 musketeer kids, cheeky, grubby, and walking the fine line between innocence and knowing way too much. It's tough in India discerning how, when, what to give. George bought them some fruit. It's a bottomless pit, you can't help everyone, but in the words of our good friend Maria…"it made a difference to them". 

Monday, 23 November 2009

SHANTI SHANTI!: (Agra Train Station, India)

You can't get too fixed an idea in your head about when things might happen in India. You can't get too angry either: watching squatting natives and rodents fight for platform space, whilst the announcements unapologetically inform some unfortunate customers, "The train to Varanassi will be 10 hrs and 45 minutes late", I pondered on when and where I will be later tonight. 'The best laid plans of mice & men…'
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It's hard to get to sleep because we have goats bleating in our hotel reception area, the hotel manager has a Banghra ringtone and either loads of mates or complaints, and there is a guy doing the call to prayer through a fisher price tannoy on steroids. He seems to have quite a liking for his own voice…he's been going five times longer than the other singers in their distant minarets, like the Duracell bunny.

So, between the livestock-themed hotel and our persistent Muslim friend next door, we are unlikely to rest a great deal. I am beginning to think it is through keeping its travelling tourists in such sleep deprived, sick, and deafened states, that India manages to conjure up the dizzy mysticism it is so famed for.
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Sunday, 22 November 2009


Never mind the menacing looking cut throat razors, and the fact that our street audience didn't seem to be 'laughing with us', 20 Rupees and the promise of the removal of my ferociously itchy and unbecoming beard, wooed George and me into the seats of this street-side barber. What I think our assailants heard was "Gimme a quick shave…and a full movie star beauty treatment please". In addition to the shave, we sat through unannounced massages, scrubbings, and other brutal rituals, bamboozled from one to the next. Before you can say "wallah wallah" there's a 1000% increase on the price and a smile, following what we were assured was "the best shave in Delhi". Complimentary skin lightening cream ensured any efforts to maintain a tan were scuppered. Hair product made with all Indian products (what a privilege…these ingredients aren't even available or legal in other countries) ensured my hair was stiff & sleeky for a week, like Bollywood's best…despite shampooing vigourously.

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Thursday, 19 November 2009


We took a bus from Nainital in the Himalayan foothills to Delhi - after about 2km, the bus 'broke down'. Clearly, it was a dud before we even set off, but the tour operator was able to flog the tickets for a 'luxury coach', then bus us off in an ornate but rickety old suspension-less bus-cum-shrine. Clearly we needed to make offerings to the 'god of public transport', a.k.a. 'Poopypete', or else suffer a less than comfortable 10 hr trip?

This lesser known avatar (One of my best mates, Pete) had their divine origins in 1992, when on his own pilgrimage by bike (and train it appears) through the Indian sub-continent to make the Karakorum highway the highest pass traversed by mountain-bike, he made several disciples on an infamous train journey. This cycling feat (unattested, but vehemently assured by Pete that no local Indian might have previously cycled undetected over the said pass) was preceded by a 30 hour trip in 3rd class, perched on a luggage rail (as is customary for India's popular and overcrowded trains), with a bad case of diarrhoea. Whilst the holy one slept, nature called and he unwittingly 'leaked' onto the head of a fellow traveller below. As fate would have it, the blessed recipient of Pete's gesture wore a turban, which neatly soaked up all of the westerners curry-charged goodness until, at saturation point, the fellow became aware…enlightened if you will, about the anointing he had received. Pete awoke to find an initially irate man, who not only softened when he noticed this was English poo, but was charmed by Pete's winning smile and bizarre ethnic appearance. They each shrugged off the humiliation with a shared laugh and a conversation about the state of English cricket. By the end of the journey, he was a committed friend, offering humble accommodation and perhaps even his daughter's hand. What a conversation opener.

JP and I were reminiscing over this very amusing story recently and believe that somewhere, there is a small marble statue on a family's mantlepiece…a white, tie-dyed, dreadlocked, grinning apparition, on a 1990 mountain bike (his chosen vessel) with fire emitting from his bottom, who brings them good fortune and safe travel. Hinduism is such an organic and inclusive religion. I considered perhaps mentioning to our tour operator that I have direct contact with Poopypete, and therefore could I be upgraded. No such karma…we suffered a bone-shaking trip to Delhi on the back seat at the hands of a sleep deprived megalomaniac driver.
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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

DROP THE 'GOD COMPLEX': (Gallilee, Israel)

Since Cappadocia, I've been pretty ill and not really attending to my increasingly furry face. How timely that we arrive now in Israel, fully bearded*, in sandals, having fled exile in Egypt. I drew the line at arriving by donkey.

Coming to Israel is really important to me. People who know me know that I take my spirituality seriously, but seriously…what's with the beard?! I've always been first in line to judge any of my bearded compatriots (somehow it's less sinister for people overseas). Just what are 'beardies' hiding anyway? By way of apology, all I can say is that the darn thing just crept up on me!

Our host JP was not so gracious and in fact reminded me of my last serious 'god complex' case - it was 2 years ago, saying goodbye to Jez &Ana before they left to Australia. A Saturday night trip to the pub, was followed by some testosterone fuelled fence-climbing antics, and several lacerations to various parts of the body. When I was driven to A&E by JP, I received some quizzical looks by the triage nurse: "… it's the early hours of Easter morning, you have holes in your hands and side, your friends have abandoned you, and your name is...?" I narrowly escaped a referral to the Psychiatric unit. For now, I've dropped the beard.

I hope you enjoy the pics of JP and I walking on water at Gallilee.

*Neko wasn't bearded too…v.'Life of Brian'
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Sunday, 8 November 2009


You would not believe just how long the folk in Tel Aviv can hold up play between points in a mates game of beach volleyball. Arguments about the score, the strategy, or the quality of the sand, all serve as weapons of passive aggression to frustrate the other team…actually everyone involved. 'Rann' A friend of JP's and professional football analyst, commented whilst the banter continued on the other side of the net, "That's the problem in Israel…everyone's got an opinion". And yet again, we see that sport provides us with all the social commentary we need to reduce a country's issues into a trite allegory. Stereotypes are such time savers.

BATHROOM SPORTS: (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Following excessive visits to the dungy since the onset of dysentery, it was time to visit the docs. My wife had turned my frequent trips to the bathroom into a game, keeping 'score' and performance-managing my condition. I went to JP and Sarah's Aussie doctor. It was both handy and comforting to find the services of a friendly antipidian medic here in Israel: I had no idea how I would have translated "I've been going like a yo yo" into Hebrew. Even with the language barrier out of the way however, I had to remember the potential cultural misgivings in communicating with our friends from down under. Best 'dumb it down a bit' or put it in a way my sun-burnt chum could understand. I summoned all my cultural flair and explained that "…in the world of 'poo-cricket', I've kept up a fairly impressive batting average, over what's been a fairly gruelling five-day test. I've been in dashing distance of a loo at all times, and just shy of eighty 'runs' to the bathroom has entertained both my wife and restauranteurs alike". He was unamused, but able to make a clear diagnosis: I got a prescription for antibiotics and a superfluous rectal examination (Presumably to stop me being such a Pom and to keep the wise-cracks from re-occurring).

After Maria and Polis's Salvation Army 'forced-feeding programme' in Greece, dysentery was a very timely diet. Be assured, dysentery will be the next big Hollywood weight loss fad….you heard it here first.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


So JP and I had a game - who could get to the bottom of why Israeli amy soldiers carry machine guns home with them? N & I  were amazed at the sheer number of young armed men and women on the streets and the busses. It was nearly 'Shabbat' and so soldiers were homebound from the army camps. On the bus home, I met the suspicious glances of an Israeli soldier with some nice British geniality, and asked the good fellow his name. Turns out he was from the states, a young black man from good zionist stock - converts with a hankering to switch scene from Chicago. On the next seat there was also 'Adriel', a highly literate Goa-visiting pantheist, and of course our very own Jeanph, 'grafted in' resident, married to a nice Jewish girl.

So, with three diverse and valid opinions, and a game to be resolved, the ensuing conversation was pretty fascinating. I 'threw out there' (pretty hazardous on a public bus with armed people on it) the idea that perhaps young soldiers returning to largely 'Arab' areas were potential targets if in uniform, and especially if carrying a gun. I  pointed out that British soldiers are typically in civvy clothing off-camp and never carry guns. I also suggested that a gun might seem an additional trophy / tool to someone with a grudge (max. points for a soldier with a gun?). I'm aware of the historical context and how Israel might reasonably want to be very mobile to defend itself (vis-a vis: Yom Kippur war). This was my only thought of what may reasonably explain such risky action. I felt no clearer following the conversation, but pretty thrilled to have had such a quintessential introduction to Israeli life.

I'm well aware that I am very naive of the complexities surrounding the Israeli political and military situation. It's a cliche, but I'm sure we'll leave with more questions than answers.
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Friday, 6 November 2009

PILGRIMAGE: (Egypt to Israel)

Ever since my family emigrated 'back' to Australia, I've fantasised about visiting them overland/surface. By closing my front door in Bristol, and arriving at my Mum's house in Sydney, I imagined I'd feel more connected to them, knowing the distance for what it really is and being able to paint all the details in-between.

I was keen to take the journey via Egypt, the birthplace of my father, to Israel via the Red Sea, symbolising in a poignant way for me my own spiritual journey as a Christian. It's perhaps even more interesting and special to me that we've managed to go by surface to Jerusalem rather than all the way to Mum's.

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