Amanda Stergianos, Co-Founder of SAReunited

Amanda Stergianos, founder of SAReunited, is starting a new chapter in her life. After 17 years in London, she and her husband George are taking their kids out of school and preparing for an off-the-beaten track adventure of our globe. She'll be blogging about her travels on the way...

About Amanda Stergianos

Amanda Stergianos, founder of SAReunited, is starting a new chapter in her life. After 17 years in London, she and her husband George are taking their kids out of school and preparing for an off-the-beaten track adventure of our globe. She'll be blogging about her travels on the way...

Reality Hits – Tragic Rhino Poaching Threatens our Wonderful Wildlife…

I was in Madikwe six weeks ago with my three  daughters. We had a wonderful time with good family friends and excellent hosts who taught (and fed) us all an infinite amount. Our children learnt so much as the photos tell, and I am so grateful to be living in South Africa to give them access to the wonderful wildlife on our doorstep.

However, when we were there, reality really hit home that we can not take this beauty for granted any more, our time is running out.  On the third day several rhino were slaughtered, some in Botswana and this one, featured in my photos below, just a few kilometres from our camp in Madikwe.

Game safari South Africa

Credit: Amanda

The poachers walked into a lion and shot a beautiful alpha male in defence as well. It was heartbreaking, even the children were stunned into a subdued silence for the rest of the day.

When I became aware of the #killthetrade campaign, I was compelled to get SAPeople involved to support this essential drive to unite South Africans to ‘kill the trade’ that kills rhinos, elephants and tigers. This is the perfect opportunity for us not to standby helplessly, but to all get involved to create awareness and fight the serious poaching that threatens our wildlife.

Please join the drive of #killthetrade  campaign which is to encourage people like me  an you to take pictures and spread them using social media and email. The more exposure we can give the #killthetrade campaign the better as over 400 Rhino have been killed this year already. Please help spread the word by clicking on the button below to take action.

Credit: Amanda

 

Credit: Amanda

 

Credit: Amanda

 

Click here to take action

Letter from the co-founder of SAPeople…raising money for SA children

Live2Change Empowering Women4ChangeDear SAPeople Followers…

I have never undertaken a physical challenge in order to raise money – and Friday will be my first! A group of 30 beginner cyclists (all mums) will be setting out at 6.30 am on a 3 day cycle tour – finishing in Franshoek.

Helping South African kidsWe will be doing 35 to 50 km  per day of strenuous off road (half a day of cycling) – single and jeep tracks on mountain bikes in order to raise money for rural children of alcoholic farm workers.

My co-cyclists and I have been putting hours into the saddle (and out the saddle!) to prepare and now the time has come! (see photos below). There are thousands of little kids growing up on farms, where parents are paid in alcohol – so weekends and nights are in a stupor. These kids do not get a safe, loving home environment they need, nor the education – so the abuse cycle of addiction never seems to stop.    I’ve pledged to do a small part to help our country in its quest to heal itself – by breaking the cycles of poverty that so entrench the lives of children who desperately need to be protected and given a chance to make something of their lives.

I ask you if you would please support this cause by sponsoring any amount at all – no matter how small  – it is going to such a worthy cause – and the effort is a big one, being a novice cyclist.

Cycling challenge to raise money for poverty-stricken South African children

What to do next:  Easy…

You can email us a small pledge – and we will send you all the bank details (UK and SA) via email . Email admin@sapeople.com

OR

Transfer directly to COOP (and reference Amanda Stergianos)

Live2Change
Standard Bank
Seapoint
Branch Code: 024109
Account: 071092846

Please reference my name :  A.Stergianos

On behalf of all the children of Goedgedacht, we  thank you from the bottom of our hearts …

PS: Don’t leave it for later, just do it now – our lives are so busy, we all mean well but we forget – and your contribution will make a difference.

Love and gratitude
Amanda
Co-Founder SAReunited, SAPeople

“If you want to be happy for an hour, take a nap.  If you want to be happy for a day, go fishing.  If you want to be happy for a month, get married. 
 If you want to be happy for a year, inherit money.  If you want to be happy for a lifetime, help someone else”       (Chinese Proverb)

Last few days in India

Next on the agenda was a short train ride to Trivanderim, near the  Southern tip of India.

.A four year old little boy we met at Mumbai's open air laundry. A street kid, wise beyond his years...those eyes have seen too much.

When on the platform waiting for our train, I was reminded of the scene from Slumdog Millionnaire, where the main actor calls for his lover “Latika!”   as the train rolled in.  But oh my goodness, the train was filthy (to be honest, disgustingly dirty would not be an overstatement) but we expected it so we dealt with it.

We went through bottles of hand gel and kept our shoes on, held our breath in the loo (you call that a loo?). I can tell you we were all very pleased to reach our destination and disembark.

Hats off to the Indians who bear the commute regularly!

The sea-side destination was lush and tropical, but the sea was very dangerous. A fellow guest had her face smashed, nose broken and badly cut while swimming at the hotel beach, so we spent the next 3 days  drenched in perspiration, looking longingly at the sea, but not daring to go in.

Our family took it in turns to have “Delhi belly” – which in hindsight still makes me laugh out loud.  The cramps seem to catch you by surprise, when you least expect it, and you have about 20 seconds to find a toilet and all of us would laugh knowingly when the next one was afflicted, with that “oh oh” look on their face, running off with clenched buttocks.

The sea at Trivanderim where we watched Will and Kate's wedding on a spluttering computer.

The night before the Royal Wedding (Wills and Kate) the hotel was struck by a tropical storm, it was horizontal rain and rolling thunder.  The result was that there was no cable TV, so we huddled around a dinosaur computer trying to stream the wedding – but it was stuttering, stopping and starting and at this point I felt like I was losing my sense of good  humour.  Watching the Royal Wedding, it dawned on me that although a South African at heart, there is so much of England we’d miss.

It was at that point I realized I was feeling quite homesick for London and it was a bittersweet realisation, knowing we were not going back.

The next day we packed up and asked for our laundry back (they brought it to us drenched) so we packed our wet washing and flew to Mumbai – for our last 2 days in India – a 2 hour flight away.

On checking in to the next  hotel in Mumbai, we realized to our dismay, that we had left all our passports with the check in staff in Trivanderim hotel!

By now we knew that this was going to be a HUGE challenge, on a Sunday, with Monday being a public holiday and no courier service. Even getting your laundry done, or a cup of tea, was a challenge, so imagine trying to get your passports from one place to another with so many people all nodding it’s possible, but actually not meaning it at all (sideways nod means yes and no!).

I would like to commend the staff at the Marine Plaza Hotel in Mumbai for going the extra lengths to save our sanity and getting our passports to us in the nick of time for our next international flight!

Kids will be kids, anywhere.... this was taken in Mumbai's slums, note the cigarette!

While the passport drama was going on, one of our daughters (there is always one!) seemed to turn into a miniature version of Mrs Hannigan from Annie.  Finally her sisters owned up to what had happened (she drank her dad’s vodka-orange), and we poured gallons of water down her throat and kept “shushing” her at dinner. Funny, but not!

We organized a tour guide to take us around Mumbai. The heat was a sweltering 40 degrees and we wilted while taking in the city sites.   We combed the street markets and historical sites, and passed the Silent Gardens (this is where the Sufi believe that their dead should be gifted back to nature and bodies are put out for vultures).

Open Air Laundry, Mumbai. Those stonewashed jeans we wear, this is where it was aged, in the blistering sun for hardly any pay.

We squashed into the  smallest of smelly, tiger print seat taxis and once again held onto our hair while roaring around a bustling city.

There were so many crazy moments, where all we could do was laugh at the madness (and sadness) of the situation in which we found ourselves.

What I was looking forward to the most was the visits to the open air laundry. People working in the heat, hand-washing or stone washing jeans by the dozen.  What an incredibly tough, labour-intensive work in the beating sun, day in and day out and paid so very little. Children live in the slums near the laundry and get schooled in small makeshift classrooms or spend their days begging.

Our kids with Mumbai kids. Those little pot belly's is due to lack of protein in their diet

We were struck speechless by the abject poverty – yet the determination to stay alive by the millions of slum dwellers in Mumbai.

I don’t think it is a common sight for a Western family with young children like our’s to wander the back streets of Mumbai.  I would understand that if tourists armed with cameras taking pictures of their struggle, could be met with hostility (we were warned), but in our instance, the presence of our children opened doors for us. We were even offered a meal of chicken feet!

Open Air Laundry, Mumbai: Two sets of sisters, my daughters and someone else's daughters

At the end of the day, we were parents, and so were these people, and the kids all spoke a common language. Curiosity.  The little slum kids gawped at our children and our children gawped back – bewildered by what they saw and often fought back tears.

I think the visit to the slums of Mumbai were one of the most humbling lessons in life for us all, a chance to see beyond the bubble in which Westerners prefer to live – and to admire the fighting human spirit that when it has to, keeps us alive. Whether you are 4 or 84.

Once again, as so often happened during this trip, at the end of the day we found our family unusually quiet and reflective. Each of us trying to process what we saw, trying to make sense of the human suffering.

We left India with an open mind and a humble heart.

Monkeys, Leeches and Elephants (Day 9 and 10)

From Madurai, we headed 4 hours towards the green hills and spice plantations of Thakkady.  We stayed in a lovely – and for the first time in India, what felt like an eco-friendly resort (www.hoteltreetop.com).   It was wonderfully clean (phew, and phew again!), well run and just a lovely setting up on the hills away from the hustle and bustle of towns and cities.   We had a room with a view over the tropical plantations and a little way away, a hammock between two palms, which is such a nice way to just stop, think, and catch up (note to self, next house try install a hammock).

When George and I woke up at 7 am after our first night there, we heard the girls had already woken up and were downstairs on the hammock. I walked out my room to talk to them from the balcony – and could see that a troupe of monkeys were but 20 meters away.  I called the girls to rush inside (as I knew they’d panic if surrounded by monkeys) and it was a race who got to our room first! (every man was for himself, poor Nina had to take 3 steps at a time to get to our room door with the male leader hot on her heels). Lots of squealing panic!  Tony, our guide happened to hear the commotion and came up to our room to make sure we were safe, but what a wonderful experience to get so close to these animals that can really make me laugh out loud.

They are so human and animated, like the mother and baby relationship, and the greedy adolescent.  In the end we shared a few bananas and grapes with them and then they disappeared back into the morning fog. I have to remind myself (having grown up in South Africa) that while it was not a first for me, for the girls it was an exhilarating experience to engage with a troupe of wild monkeys.

 

After our own hearty breakfast (by now we are getting quite used to Samba and Iddly  which is veg curry and rice fritter) – we headed to Periyar National Park, home to 42 tigers and an abundancy of other wildlife (we saw wild deer, black monkeys and giant squirrels) .  We were given special anti-leach socks – which tied around our knees – but nothing could have prepared us for just how determined these things really are. They suck onto your shoes and make their way up your legs in search of bare skin in order to suck your blood.   To get them off we had to dust them with snuff powder.  The leach socks did the trick, along the powder and with flicking them off, but George put his rucksack down on the footpath for a nano-second and they got on there, and then onto his back – and got stuck in!  Pretty revolting creatures, but an adventure all the same.  There is still a belief that they can cure people with “thick blood”

 

 

Never mind the tigers, watch those darn leaches!

 

 

In the afternoon, we headed to a privately owned estate of an elderly gentleman who has 6 beloved elephants.  After the previous disastrous trip to an elephant camp, we hassled our guide to make sure that where he was taking us was not going to be heart wrenching or supporting any form of cruelty with tourism. I am pleased to say these were well looked after animals, that had a balance of work and rest – and they seemed content and relaxed.    After a short ride, we got to the fun part which was to give Shanda the elephant a bath.  She was sleepy and content to get scrubbed with brushes by 3 very enthusiastic future zoologists!   The bathing session ended up in a game – where Shanda was hosing them all down – equally enthusiastically and with admirable accuracy!  It was an experience of a lifetime, one that will be etched into their minds forever.

 

 

 

All in all, a most eventful day where Tatiana came face to face with nature

  1. Leaches climbed into her trainers
  2. A rather large monkey sneaked up on her from behind and grabbed her hand  to get to her bananas – she had an apoplexy!
  3. While on her elephant ride, the elephant sneezed but directed her trunk backwards so it hit Tati bulls eye in the face.

Backwaters of Kerala by boat :

Four hours every second day in the roads, seemed to be the norm for the distances we needed to cover. Not that I would ever recommend trying to drive yourself in India, my hat off to our driver Saadji, who navigated us out of countless potential head on collisions- either with other drivers or cows in the middle of the road.

Double overtaking on narrow roads with blind corners – made my hair stand on end, so much so I tended not to watch the road.  So yet another 4 hour stretch back down the mountains brought us to a “houseboat port” on the backwaters of Kerala – one of which became our “home “ for the next 2 days.

The kids got to fish and actually caught something.  This was probably one of my most relaxing days on this tour, and mossies aside – comes highly recommended for 2 nights at most. The water however, is not clean enough to swim in, so you’ll have to be prepared to suffer the tropical heat and take in the scenery.

 

 

 

 

 

Hello from Mumbai!

It’s been very hot! And HECTIC here, but it is our last day in India, and it’s time to move on. We’ve had our fill – a few dramas (temporarily lost passports, now back with us – long story.)

Tomorrow we head to Sri Lanka and will be staying with a family (“homestay”) – and teaching in a local school for 4 days.

I’ve run out of steam right now to write about Mumbai itself, so that’s next time!

Here is my photo of the week, says what a 1000 words can not, it was taken in the Mumbai slums yesterday.
Mumbai

Munnar and Madarai – by Tati (10)

 

Wow!! India has been amazing – we went to Munnar, which is in the mountains, and it is well known for its tea plantations.  The view is very, very pretty!!

Cute little kids in Madurai

Plantations

Nina and Bella and I had tons of  noodles, and rice pancakes! Yum!! I hope we go there again because it is very special.

At the moment we are in Madurai, in a nice hotel. The staff are really kind to us and they always have a smile on their faces. I am enjoying it- even though it has been quite sad at times. We have seen kids begging on the streets and they often say hello, and even though they must be very hungry and hot, they are still happy, and they are still smiling.

 

Sadly though the streets are very dirty and smell so bad!!! We often have to cover our noses up!!  See this cow and dog picking through the rubbish which is everywhere!

A cow and dog forage for food in the rubbish

 

Mum and dad have been so patient with us! No wonder they are both lying on the bed, looking EXAUSTED!! Today we took a break from the road trips and we went for a swim. Mum went to the flower market with Tony (our very patient and kind tour guide!!). We have been to so many hotels I lost count! Yesterday, we went to a local Palace,  and they were some Indian children on a school trip – and they where crowding around us and wanting pictures!

School children at a temple befriend us

Then we went to a Hindu Temple, called Sri Meenkashi Temple, where we had to remove our shoes, but then it started pouring with rain, really pouring!! I could see from mums face that she wasn’t enjoying it at all as it is really much too dirty to be barefoot.

We bought a big bottle of dettol after walking barefoot

It’s been very interesting seeing how the life is in India and hope we come again!

Tati J

Day 4 – Heading for the hills

We boarded our little minivan and headed up the hills towards Munnar (famous for its tea plantations). This day entailed 8 hours of driving through endless sprawl of shacks, roadside stalls and markets – and what felt like an endless village road.  I was amazed that even after hours and hours, there was no break of this sprawl, it was entirely continuous. In any other country I’ve traveled through, you enter a village or town, and you exit a village or town – to cross some unpopulated land to the next village or town!  Here it just goes on forever and ever, it becomes apparent how populated India really is.

At every stop, we are befriended by curious Kerala locals, and then invited to their homes – not for our money, but pure hospitality. Sometimes the poorest people are the richest.  We declined these kind offers (with difficulty) – as we were heading for lunch with Jose and Daisy who run a homestay on a rubber plantation.

Lunch was free and their hospitality was incredible.  Their main income is from the rubber plantation, but they also have guests stay in their home from all over the world. Jose delights himself in educatimg his guests on all that grows on this plantation, it was truly interesting. Isabella was in her element, picking coffee beans, catching frogs – and learning that things really do not grow in supermarkets.  We learned how latex is reaped from the bark of rubber trees, picked bananas, pineapples, peppercorns, ate  fresh coconut and drank home made passion fruit cordial by the gallon.    I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes so he dug out a fresh ball of tumeric root and applied it to my bites and the itch ceased instantly like no other cream!  This couple were fantastic with the children, our kids took to them like they were their own grandparents.   I can highly recommend visiting this plantation homestay in Pindimana, Kerala (www.mundackalhomestay.com).

Plantation Visit

After the most delicious meal cooked by Daisy herself (she also teaches how to cook traditional Kerala cuisine in her kitchen) we continued on our drive up the hills to Munnar.  We arrived in time so see the magnificent views before a thunderstom set in.

 

Tea Plantation

 

Exhausted from our long trip, we had an Ayurvedic treatment to ease the nausia of the winding roads.  This involved a massage with essential oils followed by a lemon grass scented steam cabin/chamber with a hole for your head, that had us both in fits of laughter.  We decided one of these at home would be a great idea for anyone being a bit of a handful (adults and kids alike!)

 

George in the steam chamber

 

Coconut Juice and Elephants

Day 3  – Cochin to Guruveyoov

Upon packing up at our hotel in Cochin, we discovered that Tatiana’s Epipens  (adrenalin injectors for her allergies) had been stolen, as it was in what looked like a purse-belt. This annoyed me so much, it is of no use to anyone but us. Fortunately I had brought two spare Epipens along with us, but still…

Once on the road, we stopped for a refreshment of fresh coconut water (which is different to milk) and put fresh jasmine garlands in our hair. I love the way the Indian women do such a good job of being pretty.  Bangles, make up, earrings, ornate flowing bright fabrics and flowers in their hair, so feminine.

On the road to Guruveyoor

On the road to Guruveyoor

We traveled three hours South to Guruveyoov where we visited Banudhur Elephant Camp. Being from Africa ourselves, where elephants are free to roam in thousands of acres we found this a very distressing place, so much so we all asked to leave.  These 65 elephants are all chained (24 hours a day, 365 days a year) to a post. Occasionally they get to go for a walk to drink water with their mahood (carer), but that is it.  These animals stay chained to their post by their back leg with less than a meter slack. I felt as if they were being humiliated – as they sway  from side to side,  displaying repetitive and distressing behavior of extreme boredom and sadness.

Elephant Camp at Guruveyoor

Elephant Camp at Guruveyoor

I looked into a this female’s eyes and she just seemed so mournful that I felt disrespectful to them to even take photos.   They are kept purely for religious festivals when they are decorated for processions.  The rest of the time they wait and do not even get to “work” to ease their boredom.   People come from so far to walk amongst these elephants, but it was wrong, wrong, wrong.  I was uncomfortable and helpless being witness to the misery of these giants who humans have not respected or understood.  It was entirely possible, at any point, for one of them to lose control and charge – those chains would be nothing to stop them, yet I almost wished for such a triumph. I am angry that the corrupt government in India allows for this to happen. In fact it is the government who buy the elephants from people who capture them from the forests – beating and scaring them into submission –  and it is the government who sells them to private owners. This encourages the trade to continue. Such intelligent creatures, they must be in hell. For 80-90 years they will live this cruel life and the humans will benefit from their misery.  My mind wonders back to them every few minutes – with so many pressure groups, how can this be allowed to continue ?

We were all quiet and subdued last night.  For me and George, it was a stark reminder of what much of India is all about, a sort of symbolism of all that is unfair here, the second most corrupt country in the world (after Pakistan). There is much suffering, many very, very thin old people sleep on the streets, they look “haunted” in the depth of their eyes, just like those elephants, yet they submit, powerless to change anything in this life and do all they can to survive another day, another week, another month.

Our kids struggle to grasp this concept, asking the same questions over and over, or offer futile solutions. They can’t accept that it is the way it is, in particular Tatiana. It is exhausting to process this,  an education in life, that some things we can’t fix, but it does not mean we should not acknowledge and see suffering, in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable or upset.

 

First 2 days – survived!

Our journey has officially begun.  We arrived at Heathrow for our flight at 6am on Saturday 16th April.   After the panic subsided that Nina’s ticket was not valid (thanks Flight Centre!) we finally managed to board the plan.  After a stopover in Dubai (note to all parents, Emirates in-flight entertainment and service sets an new precedent for keeping kids engaged and happy!).

We finally arrived in Cochin at 3am, excited but exhausted.  After finally figuring out that we had to prepay our taxi fare inside the airport, we hopped aboard our taxi which lurched an hour into the city. After coming from London, the air was hot and humid- and the chaos was apparent, even at 4.30 in the morning.  The kids peeled off their layers and giggled each time the taxi driver snorted, spat and veered (no seat belts) to avoid pot holes and cows.  We fell into our hotel bed at 6am and were only seen again at 1 o’clock the next day.   We met our tour guide Tony – a lovely, lovely man, who I am sure – was given to us by some sort of divine intervention.  He is a local, also father of three, incredibly good natured, kind and patient (which some how makes us all behave better!).  Tony is sticking with us over the next 2 weeks – arranging all our transport, educating us and generally making sure we don’t kill ourselves or do something stupid (known to happen quite often).

Day 1:  Cochin to Vypeen Island

We caught a sunset ferry from Marine Drive to Vypeen Island (to which one of our daughters asked if it named after vipers.  Reassuringly, not). While standing the queue for our ferry tickets, I was amused to “no spitting here” sign.   Does that mean you can spit anywhere else, but not in the queue?

The locals seem so taken with our children (most of which is good natured, but does make you feel like a rare animal of sorts).

India photo 1

Ancient Chinese fishing netsAncient Chinese fishing nets are arranged along the coast of Vypeen Island, which have counter-weights which drop the nets down at high tide. A school of dolphin swam by and delighted the children, but not more than when George’s chair gave way in a local restaurant.  How many times must I tell everybody “don’t rock on your chairs!”

Day 2.  Fort Cochin and the markets

Tony felt obliged to enlighten us with some history and took us to Fort Cochin at Mattancherry (Mattan meaning Muslim, Cherry meaning place). In 1565, the Portuguese enraged the Raja (King) by tearing down a Muslim temple, so to appease him they built him this palace instead.   Most of this area now appears to be Christian in faith, which is very apparent in the lead up to Easter next weekend.  We headed to the local markets where us girls got an ankle chain each and we were also promptly ripped off in a store by such a kind, humble-looking Indian granny. We bought 4 bottles of essential oils at 450 Rupees each, but when we got back to the hotel the bottles contained perhaps 4 drops each. Lesson learned : sweet, kind, sideways nodding (old) person will still rip you off. Back at the hotel – one of the girls managed to change the lock on her suitcase so Mr Handyman had to be called in to break into our luggage (alarmingly easy, lets hope he’s not part of the cleaning team that come in here each day!)

India

 

As a keen photographer – I pestered our guide to take me to the local markets which has by far been my favorite 2 hours of my time here.  A feast for the senses: chaotic and noisy (people, dogs, cats, bikes, cars) as people jostle for business surrounded by seemingly oblivious to the squalor and dirt.   My 10 year old has written her take on the markets next.  Poor Bella (8) found that somehow during the course of her market trip, she’d ended up with “pooh” (and we’re not talking bird!) in her hair, so we had to make a swift trip back to the hotel for a good scrub down!

 

A trip to the market (by Tati, 10)

We are in Cochin in Southern India. Today, went to the fruit and vegetable market. It was very busy so we all had to hold a adults hand (Mum, Dad or our guide Tony) and it stank because of the river and it was polluted so much! (sewerage and rubbish) uurgghhh!!! It seriously STANK. The fruit market was very pretty though and we browsed for ages looking at all the different types of fruit and vegetable that some of them we have never heard of!

Then a dark, black cloud towered over us and everybody went to find shelter and suddenly all the streets were empty, so we tried to find a taxi –  in fear that it was going to pour down with rain any second. Eventually all 6 of us squished into a tuc-tuc (see photo, my little sister calls it a Pet-Pet ) and went to the Indian version of McDonalds! I must say, the food wasn’t that great. Mum didn’t let us eat the chicken nuggets, because it looked dodgy. Then we went back to the hotel, had a nice warm shower. As I am writing to you, I am very happy that we are in India J   Tati x

India