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

 

Chaos in Cochin

Arrived in Cochin, India (3 a.m.). It’s so, so humid and hot. 27 degrees and CHAOS. Even middle of the night!

So with a snorting, spitting, hooting taxi driver – we head to hotel. Girls taking it all in with wide eyes, and can’t believe no seat belts in taxi. So British!

I look forward to daylight tomorrow. Very happy to be here…finally.

Val D’Isere’s Rocking Apres Ski

Val D'IsereWe’ve been skiing for 4 days now, and we’re trying to get the most out of it as the snow is melting faster than butter on hot toast.

Its mid twenties in the mid afternoon.  The girls are improving so quickly,  its great to be able to take them on most runs and know they can get down.  I took them skiing down a couple of runs on my own yesterday afternoon- and aside from dropping their poles, losing skiis, and having to strip down mid run for a urgent wee-wee stop to the amusement of many passers by, it was relatively okay !  I now ski behind them yelling “slowwww dowwwn!!”  so that if they fall or lose a ski, I can get there from above, not below!

Down one particular run called Verte – it ends here – at La Follie Douce.  What a rocking Apres Ski party!  Most people get the lift down after this place, as skiing would be hazardous after such a rocking party, which is every day after 3.30.   Next time I go there, it will be with no kids so we can stay and enjoy it for a few hours.

Saturday afternoon – that is where I’ll be to finish my week of skiing.

 

Day 1: London to Geneva to find snow!

London to Geneva to find snow!

We have just boarded our plane to Geneva as we are skiing in France for a week, meeting school friend from CT there. We figured before we leave Europe for good we ought to have on last ski.    The girls all got travel journals from their lovely teachers and since this will be their only school work for a while, they promised to write a post each day.  Quite a landmark moment, Day 1 in the travel log. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to spell for Nina.    Fingers crossed we have good snow !

India, here we come…!

The trip is becoming a reality and we now have a plan for the next four months.  We have booked the tickets and accommodation for the first leg of our trip, three weeks in India and Sri Lanka

I have been to India before and fell in love with the people there; can not wait to go back.  I felt so at home, the people are peaceful and no trouble is too much.  Despite abject poverty in places, it is so spiritual and humble, the people want you to love their country.

Our adventure starts in the colourful ‘spice town’ of Cochin. We’ll also visit an elephant training camp (the kids are hoping to catch a ride on one of the gentle giants)  and eco-farm to walk amongst fields of spices. Next we travel by train via ‘hill station’ of Munnar, to the one of India’s oldest cities, Madurai. BTW,  did you know that the India’as national rail service employs over 2 million people?   That is second largest employer in the world, second to the Chinese Army.  Rail travel in India is by no means a picnic – so this will be interesting!

From there , we head to Periyar National Park which offers a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of Indian city life, with over 300 square miles of lush tropical forests.  We will explore much of the this area by boat. The riverside markets are apparently stocked with coconuts and bags of cashews  (2 out of my 3 kids have serious nut allergies, so no real joy there, but I do see a lot of bananas going down).

Our accommodation for this leg will be one of these houseboats. At night it is lit with lots of little lanterns.  We finish this leg of the trip in Trivandrum, where we will catch our flight to Mumbai.

In an attempt to educate the girls about what to expect when they get to India – we are all watching a heartwarming, timely, three-part documentary by Caroline Quentin called “A Passage through India” . She stays and cooks with local families throughout her journey. Below is a picture of our girls today, watching the part where they visualise themselves on the train leg of our journey.  Look at their little faces as reality dawns that this is no London Underground!  I had to take a photo, what an education is about to be had!

From there we will head to Mumbai to get a cultural fix of Bollywood.  I want to spend time at the markets with my camera – and for sure, we’ll visit the slums. I was  inspired by an un-put-downable book called Shantaram (apparently based on a true story) about  life in the slums , where hope really does overcome adversity.

From Mumbai we will head out to Sri Lanka, where we will stay on a Coconut Plantation.  A friend of mine stayed there last year and she tells me the resident cook is the only person in his village that has a gas cooker, as he fashioned one himself.  He traps the methane gas from cow dung (not quite sure saying pooh is appropriate). I look forward  to visiting his village with him.  We’ve also been in touch with Janaka from Volunteer Sri Lanka, who is organising for all of us to visit an orphanage and a school to interact and play games/sport in English.   The fee paid to be a volunteer goes towards disadvantaged Sri Lankan children.

Roll on 16th April, India – here we come!

The kids watch TV documentary of Indian rail travel


Never boring, never dull

As a child I had to endure so many of my father’s pranks and gags, nothing was as it seemed and everything had a hidden moral.He tells me now that he did it to me from a young age. The “getting the joke” was always one step ahead of my age, so that I had to figure it out with a furrowed brow, apparently to engage my little brain on a higher level.

This is one such example of his moral-jokes.  I was a weekly boarder at Clarendon High School in East London and at age 17, probably a bit too cool . I was the first girl in my year learning to drive (that’s kudos man) and he made such a HUGE point of “This Friday, I am  going to fetch you at 3pm and you are going to drive.  I got several reminders about our date, the odd phonecall and a message from the school office that was read out to me in front of the class.  Needless to say, we now had the rest of the cool gang all waiting noses pressed up to the glass door at 3pm, to see me “kangaroo petrol”  (when you don’t know how to work the clutch yet) away from the boarding school.

We were craning our necks to see Dad’s regular car turn up, but this huge, big, army style, clapped out truck with flapping, torn canvass sides was in our way.  Annoying van – “Sammy’s Fresh Fruit and Veg” – move! .  Imagine the stunned silence when out hops my short but energetic Greek dad and bounds up to the front door.   “Come on Mands, time for your first driving lesson!”   My friends all started laughing – “No way….”.  I meekly followed thinking “less protest, less attention!”

We climbed into the front of the truck with the gear stick nearer my chin than my knee – and a huge steering wheel I had to peep over. My heart was in my throat, and he said to me “Come on, you’re going to do this… and if today you can drive this old thing, then tomorrow you’ll be able to drive anything at all”.

He took me to a deserted race track. We drove, and drove some more, laughed and did alot of kangaroo petrol!  But drive I did –  and well.  Two hours later, I drove back to boarding school and hooted like mad at all my friends – strangely this time -not embarrassed. I had mastered it.

Now, I drive off-road, I’ll try a 4×4 on a dune, I’ll tow a boat or a horsebox if I must,  I drive in snow to Alps and put chains on my wheels, I drive in the centre of London, or Paris and Athens.  Many of my friends will say “sheesh you’re mad to drive here” but I know, because Dad told me “if you can drive this, you can drive anything” so I believed him.

The moral of his moral-joke , was nothing to do with the driving. As a parent, he instilled in me a feeling of specialness. “If anyone can do it, you can”.  Is it not funny that if someone we love and respect, believes in us, genuinely believes in us, we start believe it ourselves. When something looks impossible, somehow I find myself starting at the beginning, because I know I can do it.   I have a natural inclination to do the same with my girls now, but I realise now that it takes some good play acting on the parents part, to install confidence when all you want to do is step in and provide a solution or do it quicker. That would be easier, but not clever. Only took me 3 kids to realise just how well he worked his cunning plan!

I’ll tell my Dad of a problem one of the girls are facing. At one stage, my eldest (age 9)  was being bullied at school. Her school shoes were stolen at break, her science experiment ruined, prank calls all times of the day and night, being constantly excluded from games. One girl even colluded to get the class to sign a petition that she did something (that she did not do) and that if every girl signed it, the teacher would have to believe it.  One of the parents called me to tell me her daughter felt bad about signing it.   The solutions I provided were not really working, probably because I felt upset too that the school was being permissive of this behaviour by being tolerant of it, it went on for well over a year – and her confidence plummeted.

True to style – Dad explained through stories, what he thought caused people to pick on others, an inferiority complex of sorts that in order to validate yourself, you make someone else feel bad. The stories always allow her to draw her on own conclusions.  He feeds her with genuine (deserved) compliments and creates small challenges for her in which she can triumph.  He always implies to her that she is special  – and he is planting the seeds at every opportunity for her to nurture her own self love. Priceless grandparenting.

One of his favourite prank-gags when he meets us when we land in CT is to skulk around in some wacky outfit/hat/moustache/granny’s outfit!  The girls are always so excited to be the first to figure out which nutter in the arrival area is their beloved Papou (Grandpa in Greek).  So they did the same for him at Heathrow, much to the enjoyment of many other passengers, but mostly to his pure delight.

The Stergianos madness, long may it live …!

A 10 year old’s perspective

We are finally moving from London! We are going to go on a big trip! I am really excited.  My mum has worked really hard with SAR and I read the comments that some people sent in, and I was like, wow!!! I still remember when I was little my mum used  to have to lock herself in the office and work for hours and end! Thank you to everybody that liked my mum website and I feel really proud and happy that she made it possible for people to find eachother.
I remember one time when my mum was on the radio and she was having a live radio interview and my dad was supposed to be looking after me and keeping me quiet. I was only little and I came running in screaming about something (but I don’t remember what!) and the radio DJ had to cut mum off! She was rather cross with Dad.
And the other time, my mum was having a business call (to Sony) and me and my sisters where making so much noise that my mum left the office and went into her room, but it was still too noisy there . So  she has to climb out of the window and sit on the windowledge in the freezing cold on the first floor to have a peaceful business call!!
Mum has worked really hard on SAR but she has always dreamed off going around the world with us. I am especially nagging if we can go stay on farms and places like that because I can be totally free and stuff, with no homework!
Love
Tati (10)

Everyday is an adventure

It’s official, we’re mad.  We’re taking three young children on a whistle stop tour of off-the-beaten track places, but our little adventure to school this morning (in Richmond Upon Thames, London) was a sharp poke in the ribs that it won’t always be plain sailing. Far from it!

What do you do, 7 minutes to line up time, when two children are soaked head to toe in hot chocolate?  And it all started out so well!

Answer: laugh – take a photo and put it on your blog.

Can I just say (because we should commend excellence) that Pret A Manger (a sandwich franchise in the UK) have well and truly understood how to teach their staff to treat customers as individuals. They love their jobs, and they love their customers,  its so obvious and their happiness is infectious.  They rallied around, we laughed together at the hopeless mess, and they helped me mop the kids up as best we could and gave all more hot chocolate for the road (with lids on this time!). If only more businesses taught staff how to treat customers like a person, not a number, it would be so much easier to pass it on.

Thank you to everybody, your goodwill messages are flooding in. Thank you for telling us what SAReunited has meant to you. I am reading them all .  I’ll wait a couple of days and compile a letter to share with you what people are saying    While we’re taking it offline, we’ll have the site and the data, and will have a long hard think what next.  Thanks for all the offers and suggestions.

Graciously Overwhelmed

Thank you to all the wonderful people that have responded with such warmth. Your responses have really made me think! I should meet up with members where ever I can and include you in my blog. South Africans are so warm, I’ve missed that so much while living in England!  So for starters – is there anyone from near Cochin, Kerala in India, Sri Lanka, Vic Falls, Botswana and Kenya.   Please get in touch with me…  And if you have suggestions family  friendly things to in SA and countries above, I’d like to hear those too!

I’ll also be in Cape Town, George, The Karoo, in particular – Oudtshoorn my birth town.  I’ll look forward to seeing my London city slicker children eyes pop when I put them on an ostrich. Hell,  I was even chased up a thorn tree by a male ostrich for 4 hours at age 10. Nobody even knew I was missing….ah the life we had!.

Some comments from today:

Sowabona! If your travels ever bring you to the USA, I am a  Zulu hillbilly, originally from a farm in Natal, I went to school in Hilton, near Pietermaritzburg. Now living on lots of land in SW Colorado… and near to the greatest concentration of National Parks in the US… Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches, etc.  We live primitively, with our two Rhodesian Ridgebacks from SA, completely independently from the Matrix – our own water, solar power, food and shelter – but you and your family would be welcome anytime. Jessica (Wall) Byrne (pictured on the right)

….bottoms up to good travelling and i think that you need to know just how you contributed to many peoples lives. My childhood sweetheart found me on sareunited. I was in Israel and i received a message saying “do you remember me?”  it was one of the highlights in my life and i remember returning to south africa and being reunited was a blessing.So thank you once again and bon voyage!  Sharon

I just received your email about the end of SAReunited. I can understand how hard it must be to make a decision like that – almost like a death in the family. :-( But on the other side I am really interested in your next move: travelling around the world with the kids! I have been contemplating this very thing lately. We are in Dubai and are thinking about travelling overland via eastern Europe, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, China, SE Asia to Aus. Nothing is finalised yet and we still have to work on a independent source of income while we do it, so I will will follow your trials and trails with interest. We also have 3 kids, aged 13, 11 and 2. Good luck and have fun!! Ansie

Thanks for reuniting me with SA friends before I was even a member of Facebook. All the best on your travels. If you’re passing through Delhi, please come and stay!   From Solveig Bang

Great work Amanda to you and your team. Enjoy the trip and if you and your family make it out to Canada, you have a place to stay! Caryn Forsyth

It was wonderful being part of sareunited I have found many school friends. Thank You for everything. I will miss SAR. Phoebe Jean Greenwood Burger

I wish you Amanda and your family a wonderful “geographic” trip down south. if not now, when? (wise Rabbi Hillell of old). Excellent decision and kids will enjoy but it’s quite a handful. You’ll find enrichment from your travels, and emerge refreshed after for episode two or three of life after the months/years of traipsing the world. I kinda envy you……….  Randall Family

Fantastic, and Lots of luck and fun on your life adventure, which I was doing the same. Maybe oneday,ou all will visit my new country “Brazil” where all adventures are amazing…. Yani Kruger

I have received, read and seen all your comments on the blog on sapeople, on the sapeople facebook page , and those that have responded to our admin team.  Not ONE negative comment, you’ve all understood- some even offered free services.  I’ll take it all on board over the next few days.  We’re not flushing SAReunited.com, just taking it off line. Who knows…

The next survivor series

I loved this, sounds a bit like my life, and I am sure will resonate with many mothers!

THE NEXT SURVIVOR SERIES:

Six married men will be dropped on an island with one car and 3 kids each for six weeks.

Each kid will play two sports and take either music or dance classes.

There is no fast food.

Each man must take care of his 3 kids;

keep his assigned house clean,

correct all homework,

complete science projects,

cook,

do laundry,

and pay a list of ‘pretend’ bills

with not enough money.

In addition,

each man

will have to budget enough money

for groceries each week.

Each man

must remember the birthdays

of all their friends and relatives,

and send cards out on time–no emailing.

Each man must also take each child

to a doctor’s appointment,

a dentist appointment

and a haircut appointment.

He must make one unscheduled and

inconvenient visit per child to the Emergency Room.

He must also make cookies or cupcakes for a school function.

Each man will be responsible for decorating his own assigned house,  planting flowers outside, and keeping it presentable at all times.

The men will only have access to television when the kids are asleep and all chores are done.

The men must shave theirlegs,

wear makeup daily,

adorn themselves with jewelry,

wear uncomfortable yet stylish shoes,

keep fingernails polished,

and eyebrows groomed

During one of the six weeks,

the men will have to endure severe

abdominal cramps, backaches, headaches,

have extreme, unexplained mood swings

but never once complain or slow down

from other duties.

They must attend weekly school meetings and church, and find time at least once to spend the afternoon at the park or a similarsetting.

They will need to read a book to the kids eachnight

and in the morning,

feed them,

dress them,

brush their teeth and

comb their hair

by 7:30 am.

A test will be given at the end of the six weeks, and each father will be required to know all of the following information:

each child’s

birthday,

height, weight,

shoe size, clothes size,

doctor’s name,

the child’s weight at birth,

length, time of birth,

and length of labor,

each child’s favorite color,

middle name,

favorite snack,

favorite song,

favorite drink,

favorite toy,

biggest fear,

and what they want to be when they grow up.

The kids vote them off the island based on performance.

The last man wins only if…he still has enough energy to be intimate with his spouse at a moment’s notice.

If the last man does win, he can play the game over and over and over again for the next 18-25 years, eventually earning the rightto be called Mother!