Monday, 21 October 2013

And they call it puppy love...

Life recently in the Daboo household has been taken over by one adorable, cheeky, precious, funny, loving, snuggly boy. No I don't have a boyfriend although if he fit all those words I would be very happy! Meet Daboo kid no.3...
This is Archie, our wonderful 13-week-old black labrador! Technically my mother's dog (as you can perhaps tell by the unshortened version of his name-Fibonacci) he has taken over the home and ensured that everything now revolves around him! He loves his cuddles and also has his very crazy puppy moments! He will eat anything and everything and permanently looks at us like he's half starved. I promise he's not, we feed him 4 times a day so he almost rivals me! 
He is incredibly sociable, wanting to meet everyone he sees and give them a big lick, hug and chew. He is inquisitive and very entertaining, often getting into fights with towels, coke bottles and his own tail. Every day he seems to break his own high jump record, making more and more safe places unsafe- I'm sure that our house will soon be the most uncluttered one in the country which, if you've ever seen it before, you'll understand is unimaginable.
As I write he is charging from window to window as he chases the lawn mower. 
While unspooked by most things, his own reflection does cause him some bother. He likes to run around and thanks to his supersonic growth rate, our stone floors and his lack of care he often falls over...he is getting rather adept at forward rolls! Do they do doggy gymnastics?
It's safe to say he's won the hearts of the entire family and you'll see a lot more of him!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Long time no blog

Canada and the moot was crazy; hectic, bewildering, exciting, fantastic, challenging fun. I met some amazing people, tried and learnt loads of new things, struggled a bit and laughed a lot. Since I've been back life has been a struggle but I'm soldiering on and trying to keep a positive outlook! 

For the past two days I've been up in Cambridge with the sister, helping at the fresher's fair and spending some quality sister time. Last night we and some of her friends spent a brilliant evening being crafty and autumnal, decorating pumpkins! It was great fun and some very different pumpkins were produced. Some were pretty, some (aka mine) were funny, some were painted, some had sequins, some were covered with leaves but all were awesome! I had seen an idea on Pinterest a little while ago of painting a pumpkin to look like a minion from Despicable Me and couldn't resist!
Here's my finished product. He's called Ivan:
This was my sister's:
And here are all the finished products:
Great fun and highly recommended. I have decided to make it my mission for the year to do as many crafty things as possible (in case you didn't know Birmingham very kindly agreed to defer my place for a year to allow me time to recover). So it begins...

Girls on tour...

Well it's fair to say that I have rather neglected this blog! Lets change that right now.

An awful lot has happened since I last posted and I haven't felt like writing about a lot of it. In short, when I was in Sri Lanka my eating disorder retook control and I have spent the months since then focussing on healing myself. It has taken some time to set up a good team behind me and progress has been slow but positive. 

Fear not though, some interesting things have happened in my life too and, in an attempt to semi-interest you, that is what I'll tell you about. 

At the end of July, my Mum, sister and I all set off to New York. There we met up with my aunt who lives in Pittsburgh and spent a brilliant girly long weekend shopping, exploring, seeing a Yankees game, seeing Cinderella on broadway and picnicking in Central Park. 

It was great fun; hectic, fast, jam-packed and awesome. We were staying in the Midtown Hilton (very fancy!) so had great access to so many great places. It was only my second time visiting but both times I've wished that I had a billion more hours to spend there. 

After New York, Mum, C and I flew the short hop over to Ottawa. As our taxi pulled out of the airport, all we could think was how quiet it was. Granted, we had just come from one of the busiest cities on earth but still, I think Ottawa is the quietest, cleanest, most picturesque city imaginable. We properly laughed when the taxi driver apologised that it was "so busy" because of the long weekend! 

C and I would be meeting the rest of the contingent in Ottawa but we had a few days there as a family first. We stayed in the Fairmont Chateau Laurier It was literally Cinderella's castle! Ottawa is a lovely place. We met up with some family, went to the Cirque du Soleil, did some more shopping, saw the changing of the guard ( strangely familiar!) and lots of other touristy things! 

Sadly our time with mum soon came to an end and she got the train over to Toronto whilst C and I headed over to uOttawa to meet the rest of the UK contingent for the World Scout Moot 2013. Tbc...

Monday, 15 April 2013

All too brief!

This weekend C and I traveled to Brighouse in Yorkshire along with around 160 other Scouts and Guides who make up the majority of the UK Contingent for the 14th World Scout Moot which we are going to in Canada in August. It was our 2nd briefing weekend and was a great chance to learn a bit more about what we would be getting up to and mostly to have fun and get to know some people.

Amongst other things we:

  • played a game of "human monopoly" (giant board set out with tape on the floor, human counters etc) where the properties and "challenges" were all related to our moot experience
  • reenacted a First Nations story about Maple Syrup (during the moot we go on an Urban adventure. There were 4 paths to choose from: Life, Adventure, Eco-responsible and the one C and I picked which was Culture. Each path works for a day with an NGO and ours focuses on integrating the First Nations people hence we were learning a very little bit about their culture!)
  • picked up our kit that we had ordered (very exciting although they accidentally ordered my fleece jacket in a Mens Large instead of a Womens Small...I drowned so it has been sent back for an exchange!)
  • did a pub quiz with different sections such as Canada, Guiding, Scouting etc
It was a great fun weekend (despite the loooong hours travelling) and I was really happy to get to know everyone a little better. I was also so happy to be able to catch up with two amazing girls who I met on the Centenary Camp back in 2010 (also funnily enough in Yorkshire!) We spent a lot of time together during that experience and had some brilliant fun but haven't managed to meet up since then so it was really good to see them. I am now so excited for the Moot and am counting down the days!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

It all started with a mouse...

Just over a week ago, my family and I arrived in Orlando, Florida and since then I've been so busy I haven't posted! We came to DisneyWorld to meet up with our family (my Dad's brother, his wife and their two beautiful kids) who live in Pittsburgh. Last year they came to England to see us so this year we made the HUGE sacrifice of coming to Disney to see them ;)

For the first 4 days in the Beach Club Resort in Epcot (also with Kim's sister and her husband). Then we went on a DisneyCruiseLine ship, the Disney Dream, for 3 days. We have now returned to DisneyWorld but are staying in the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Wish I could wear this everyday...
What we have done so far (in a very brief and undersized nutshell):

Magic Kingdom-explored, the ladies had lunch in Cinderella's castle with the princesses (yes, C, E and I all dressed up as Mulan, Ariel and Belle respectively), did rides eg It's A Small World

Epcot-Finding Nemo attractions (ride and live Turtle Talk with Crush), had lunch in France with Remy the rat from Ratatouille, rides eg TestTrack, Mission Space etc, explored some of the different countries eg Mexico, looked at the amazing flower displays/statutes and fountains, took a photo in our matching red Daboo Crew tshirts
May have bought some pink leopard print mouse ears

Animal Kingdom-went on a jeep safari in Africa and a walking safari in Asia, did rides eg Expedition Everest, saw the Festival of the Lion King show (amazing!), saw LOTS of different animals (O kept a record in his notebook) went on the dinosaur ride

Hollywood Studios-rides eg Toy Story and The Great Movie Ride, did Star Tours, saw the Lights, Motors, Action stunt show, did a Studio Backlot Tour
All Aboard the Disney Dream!

Disney Dream-parties and fireworks on board, rode the Aquaduck- the very first watercoaster at sea, swam in the pools whilst watching Disney movies on the big screens, went to Castaway Cay-Disney's private island- and lay on the beach etc, did activities like learning about the animation and drawing of characters, dined at themed restaurants-also went to a VERY posh and fancy adults only one called Remy, went to Broadway-calibre shows in the onship theatre, rather enjoyed unlimited free soft drinks

With Minnie at character breakfast
Other-went to a baseball game (Pirates vs Braves) at Wide World of Sports, had a character breakfast at Chef Mickeys, met lots of characters around the parks, got caught in a thunderstorm in Downtown Disney

Take me out to the ball game...
I'm sure I've missed lots and there is lots still to come!

The accommodation has been amazing. The hotels are all so themed and fun! Animal Kingdom Lodge is particularly cool because the buildings are right in the middle of the savannah so you have African animals like giraffes and zebras right outside your windows/balconies. If you wake up early you just pop outside and watch (or if you get supercold like me you wrap in a blanket and watch through the glass!) The entire building is African themed and decorated, it's beautiful. I don't mind having a double bed to myself either, after being on the top bunk on the ship!

Most of all I am having an AMAZING time with my wonderful family, learning to believe in the magic again and having dreams come true.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Home Sweet Home

Sorry for the delay! I arrived in the UK just after 6am on Monday morning after the journey back from HELL. It involved some panicked crying, endless phonecalls and time spent on hold to BA and a whole load of stress. Basically, I was getting home by a Jet Airways flight to Mumbai and then a British Airways flight to Heathrow. I had booked the whole thing through BA as Jet is an affiliated airline. I arrived at the airport in Colombo about an hour before check-in opened and made friends with a Consultant Radiologist who was Sri Lankan but works in the States. He was getting the same first two flights as me before heading onwards to get home and, though I didn't know it at the time, was a Godsend. When check-in opened we went straight away...and the problems started for me! I ended up spending over 2 tearful, stressful hours at that check in counter. To cut it short, Jet said that I had a ticket for the flight but not a booking...I have yet to work out what that actually means! I spent forever on the phone to BA in London who were baffled. Finally Jet said it was sorted, printed me my two boarding cards and sent my luggage off. I hung up and 2 seconds later was told that the boarding cards had just become invalid and they'd lost me off their system again. I ended up speaking to BA in the States via my radiologist friend Kumar and eventually after 2 hours, it was sorted. I had 2 boarding passes, was assured my bag would be put through and went through to security. It had taken so long that the check in man had threatened he was only going to be able to hold the flight another 5 minutes (at this point Kumar declared he was going to just buy me a new ticket-luckily it was sorted in the next minute but it was so kind of him to offer and to stay with me the whole time.) We went straight through security, to the gate and onto the plane. The 2 hour flight was, on my part, spent watching The Big Bang Theory to relax myself.

In Mumbai we were met off the plane by a Jet representative as we were transits. We were quickly told by the Jet personnel that the boarding pass that Jet Airways had given us would not be accepted by BA so we needed new ones. I was suddenly wondering why we had spent two unnecessary hours at check in in Colombo (whilst there they had said that as I had an Indian Visa they would fly me to Mumbai even though I had no booking but couldn't connect me-I had spent so long on the phone sorting it so they could connect me...) We had to wait for over 45 minutes in a big hall with no water, food, toilets or information but with 100000000000 mosquitoes whilst our passports, boarding passes and luggage receipts were taken away...not a good feeling for control freaks! Eventually though the lady came back with all our documents and our new boarding passes. We went through our own little security (still slower than a normal UK one but a million times faster than the normal one in Mumbai) and then Kumar very kindly took me to the BA Executive Club Lounge. I was so grateful and could finally relax (and use the wifi to let my worried parents know that I would in fact be getting home!) When we got to the BA gate we ended up having an extra security check. I was full body-searched and had two cans of diet coke that I'd gotten from the BA Lounge taken off me.They were even taking away liquids people had bought in duty-free. Not sure what that was about but I was so over it all by then.

Finally on board, the flight was comfortable (if very cold!) and I did end up managing to get some decent sleep. I flew through immigration and beat my luggage to the reclaim belt by about 20 minutes! As I pushed my trolley into the arrivals hall I saw my parents both waiting for me, cameras ready and despite my hellish journey, the biggest smile spread across my face. It was so good to be home!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Winding down...

Today was my last day in the hospital which was a very strange feeling. I spent my sister's birthday delivering babies and even got some more hands on experience doing all the baby are today (weighing, measuring, checking and dressing the newborns). I still feel slightly anxious when I'm holding a minute-old-baby but I'm learning to trust myself! Although babycare is the midwives job and not something I will really ever do, it has been a great experience for me and one of my favourite things. Rubbing the babies clean, keeping them warm and swaddling them nicely takes away a little of the guilt I feel that they are not cuddled up on their mum's chest. Up until now, the youngest baby I had ever held was my cousin Alex when she was just over a week old. She was probably about the same size as some of these as she was born early but that was 10.5 years ago. Having these brand new life forms in my hands and care is such a good feeling. I nicknames the only girl born today Caroline in honour of my very special sis!

Working in the hospital has been an incredible experience. Experience is definitely the right word. Thankfully I came out here prepared for the worst conditions so I wasn't too shocked by what I found (although I was still disturbed by it many times!) I have been pleasantly surprised by the doctors and the healthcare system here. The planning and setup is all there, they just don't have the resources to carry it out in the best way. Some things are good. They have field clinics where they go out into villages and do antenatal and childhood checks. They have a good and entirely free vaccination program. The doctors are generally well-trained and good at their jobs. It really is money and resources that are holding this country back from better health.

For my last weekend I have come down to the beach at Hikkaduwa to chill, relax and hopefully top up the tan (although it has been raining today!) I will spend Sunday with my lovely host family saying goodbye and then I get picked up for the airport at 3pm. My packing is as done as it can be (hopefully everything is going to fit and still be in the weight limit!)

I am so sad that my stay in this beautiful country is coming to an end but I also can't wait to get home, see everyone and share my stories! I will just have to come back to Sri Lanka one day!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Labour is the right word

A quick word of advice...

If you are going to have a baby, don't deliver in Sri Lanka

I've spent two days in the Labour Ward now and am really enjoying it. Seeing new life brought into the world is breathtaking, no matter what conditions it occurs in. However, it is a very surreal experience gien some of the programs I've seen where women have children in the Western world. I feel that the process of delivering a baby should be an incredibly special time for a family and should be a memory that is cherished and held on to forever. Sadly, I think most women in the Government Hospitals in Sri Lanka would be quite happy to forget the experience. Some differences:

  • At home, the husband or another person of choice can stay with the mother throughout. They go through the process together, supporting each other. Here, the woman is entirely alone. Men are only allowed onto the ward at visiting hours and NEVER anywhere near the delivery room. The women have to go through painful contractions by themselves, with no information as to what is happening to of the mothers I saw this morning was 20 years old...
  • All labours are induced here. Even if abdominal pain/small contractions start independently, the labour is induced.
  • All women recieve an episiotomy (look it up if you're not too squeamish) and I've been told by the two Belgian volunteers who are midwives on my ward that they are not done at all correctly.
  • The women are forced to lie on their left hand side throughout the labour. No getting up and walking to ease the pain, no finding the position that is most comfortable for you.
  • During the birth the midwives are violent. The mother's stomach is punched (I'm not joking) to encourage the baby out. The mother is shouted at. Down-there is pulled around, cut with scissors etc. 
  • As soon as the baby is born the mother is shown it's gender before it is whisked away. Forget skin-to-skin contact even though it is in the National Guidelines. Forget any bonding, any benefits such as increasing lactation, warming the baby and providing it with antibodies. The baby is put in a sideroom with all the others until about 45 minutes later when the mother must breastfeed.
  • Waste goes into normal bins. And I mean soiled bandages, placentas, the works.
There is so much more that shocks me but it's the general environment. It is unimaginable until you see it. The funny thing is, the midwives are all so lovely and gentle...until they're examining the patient or delivering. People skills/bedside manner don't seem to be taught here...

Nevertheless I am loving it. I knew (and still know) very little about the actual practicalities of childbirth-it's not something you see too often! Having the Belgian volunteers really helps as they are lovely and find it easier to explain things to me than the nurses. Let's just say I'll probably be very presently surprised the next time Im in a UK hospital!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Camping and cooking - not quite as I'm used to!

This week in the hospital was another good one. I saw lots more interesting surgeries including a huge laparotomy done by Sir on Friday where the guy was cut from his neck right down to his lower abdomen. Friday was my last day of that rotation so tomorrow I am heading to the Labour Ward for my last 5 days on my placement (I know, where has time gone?!)

Yesterday we had the medical camp, where all the medical volunteers go to a rural village where they can't access healthcare and set up a clinic for the locals. We got lots of hands on experience, taking over 150 patients blood pressures, pulses and blood sugars. They then saw the doctor we had brought to get a prescription and a few of us helped our lovely supervisor Roshini, a qualified pharmacist, to dish out all manner of medications into little white envelopes, using a plastic spoon! The locals even "rustled up" a giant, delicious breakfast spread for us including a slab of milk rice (Kiri Bath-one of my favourites) big enough to cover a whole table! It was great fun and I learnt a huge deal, particularly about the uses of all the different drugs. Mostly though, it felt amazing to be helping these sweet, lovely people to get the healthcare they desperately needed and wouldn't get otherwise. The entire thing, including all the medications we gave out, was funded by Projects Abroad as these villagers simply wouldn't have been able to afford anything close to what we were giving. Just to know that something so simple we did and enjoyed will make a big difference to them all is very rewarding.

After the camp, Jeanie and I headed down to Unawatuna, a small beach town near Galle. After our bus breaking down en route and having to find and pay for a new one, we arrived and found our guesthouse. Whilst relatively touristy, Una is small and quaint and lovely. We spent the evening sitting in beach bars, wandering the street and shops, strolling down the beach and taking a moonlit swim (a very surreal but incredibly enjoyable experience, particularly as the water is so warm). This morning we got up early and are quickly topping up the tans on the beach before heading down the road for a Sri Lankan cookery course that includes a trip to the veg and spice market in Galle, cooking, a meal afterwards and more! We are VERY excited and hopefully we will whip up some nice concoctions and get some good skills to bring home!

Monday, 25 February 2013

The End of The World

This weekend we headed to Newara Eliya, up in the hill country. It is a beautiful town often called Little England. The weekend was packed and I ticked a good few things off my Sri Lanka bucket list.

I visited a tea factory
We went to Hortons Plains National Park and did a 9.5km walk that took us to World's End (where the cliff suddenly drops away in a 880m sheer drop that you can lean right over), Little World's End and Bakers Falls (spectacular waterfalls)
I took a 7.5hr journey on a Sri Lankan train where we waited 2hrs for a seat, saw stunning scenery, listened and joined in with the locals who played and sang lively music the whole way, dealt with a suspected heart attack and generally had an extremely memorable time!

Today is the monthly public holiday due to the Poya (full moon) so we have come down to the beach at Hikkaduwa.

Amazing weekend with lots of new and memorable experiences!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Cream crackered!

This week has been pretty tough for me emotionally. I had my first venture into a surgery on Monday. Here's how it went:
  • Got kitted out in scrubs, rubber clogs, a hairnet and surgical mask-very exciting and took a few sneaky pictures!
  • Headed on into the Minor Operations theatre and had a look around. 
  • There are two beds so two patients were brought in
  • I stayed by one and his wound was uncovered. He was a 13-year-old boy with an infected and very painful looking sore on his upper thigh.
  • They started injecting saline all around the wound to flush it out without using any anaesthetic, local or otherwise. The boy was shaking and crying in pain and all of a sudden my stomach didn't feel like it was where it should be, I had buckets of sweat running down my face and I had to run out. I collapsed against the wall outside for a few minutes before a confused nurse found me and took me for a sit down in the doctors' room. 
  • After cooling down, having a cold drink and resting for a good 20 minutes I headed back into the theatre.
  • Queue next patient and his wound. It was on his foot and he was missing half a toe and the rest was messy and rotting. "Ok," I thought, breathing deeply, "this is gross but it's fine." They started to flush it with saline, the man cried out and once again my stomach turned. I didn't faint this time but I knew what was coming so I went to the doctors' room.
  • I panicked. Sitting in the room, taking deep breaths, all I could think was "I'm never going to be a doctor. I'm definitely not going to be a surgeon like I was sure I wanted to be. I won't even be able to be any kind of doctor. I'll never make it through medical school if I get ill from this!" It was one of those moments where the future you had seen vanished.  I felt like I'd wasted the last however-many years of my life trying to get into medical school only to realise now that it had been a waste. 
I spent the rest of that day feeling quite miserable. I tried to reason with myself. It was my first ever surgery, it was in Sri Lanka where the conditions are questionable (think hot theatre, two patients, clinical waste just dropped onto floor etc), the thing I was finding hardest was knowing the patient was in pain etc. It worked a little.

I also emailed my amazing sister who reassured me that I was just human, every medical student goes through it, it doesn't by any means stop you from going through medical school etc. With her words and my good old determination, I went back into surgery the next afternoon.

This time it was the Major Operations theatre and they were doing hernia repairs. I was terrified. I edged up to the locally anaesthetised patient, peered cautiously at where the surgeons were operating and took a breath. I felt fine. No stomach turning, nothing. I stayed in that theatre for 2 hours and saw 2 hernia repairs. I was fascinated, I didn't want to leave. There is something very different about a surgery where the cutting is clean and intentional and a known procedure is being carried out. I loved it and have been in such a good mood ever since. I even popped back into Minors to see some wounds and, although it was still really gross, I managed to stay and watch the procedures (I didn't enjoy it half as much but I was so proud I did it).

Today I was back in and saw a couple of manipulations of dislocated joints, a removal of an cystic ovary in a 12 week pregnant lady and 2 cesaerean sections.

The ovarian cyst case was an emergency procedure and the surgeon had been on-call when he was summoned. The cyst was putting strain on the woman and if the ovary wasn't removed immediately she would definitely miscarry her 12-week-old feotus. When we first went in we were told by a nurse that the mysterious mass (actually the ovary that was swollen to the size of two fists) that had just been chopped out and dumped in front of us was a feotus from an extrauterine pregnancy. We were somewhat relieved when the surgeon told us that, no, it was just a necrosed cystic ovary.

The Caesereans were an incredible experience. I have never seen a real birth before and, although the delivery conditions in Sri Lanka are pretty horrible and Caesareans are not ideal in the first place, it was magical. I won't lie, a few tears escaped, seeing the miracle of new life being brought into the world. I am really looking forward to going to the Labour Ward next week!

So yes, a very testing week so far but right now I am feeling so happy, very proud of myself and fascinated by the things I have seen and experienced. I am learning so much about myself out here and finding out things that will stay with me for life!

On another note, last weekend I spent a day in Colombo (very nice and enjoyable) and then a morning at Bentota beach. On Sunday afternoon I went to a cafe in Panadura to say goodbye to Liv and Sophie, two fab volunteers from the UK who have headed off to continue their adventures! Jeanie and I have a new housemate, Lisa, from Holland. This weekend is a Poya Weekend (bank holiday on Monday due to full moon) so we have been busy planning! Speak soon!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Kalutara General Hopsital

So just a quick mid-week post. I started my rotation on the surgical ward today and it was awesome. Will be going into theatre next week! I thought I'd tell you some...interesting...things about the hospital where I work.

  • EVERYTHING in the hospital is handwritten. This doesn't surprise me much, I didn't expect technology. Patients' notes are kept in supermarket-bought school notebooks that the patients look after themselves. And EVERYTHING has a separate bit of paper. I don't know how more doesn't get lost...
  • Speaking of true doctor style, all of the Consultants, Registrars and Senior House Officers have completely illegible writing. Strangely though, any House Officer or junior doctor will have impeccably neat writing (nice for us English who gain a lot of info from the notes!) Maybe they are taught it in med school here now?
  • Patients often share a hospital bed (top to toe)...they tend to have very different (often infectious) conditions...and a lot of urinary incontinence seems to be present on the wards...sounds fun no?
  • On the General Medical ward I was extremely surprised when going through patients' notes to find very frequently the phrase "Patient missing since..." often written at a time 12 hours or so later...
  • They play the National Anthem (it's long but jolly) through crackly speakers every morning just before 8.30 and EVERYTHING stops. Any patient who can struggles to stand and nothing happens for a good 4 minutes...I'm pretty sure they'd stop CPR if they were in the middle of it! (Well, not quite but you get my jist)
  • I have seen a doctor wash their hand all of once. And I have seen no gloves. They stare at me like an alien as I rush off to the sink every ten minutes and frequently whip out my hand sanitiser...
  • Nurses use a pestle and mortar to grind drugs...they tip what they can into a separate pot for the patient to take then grind the next pill...without washing the pestle and mortar...
  • One of the paediatric doctors was wearing a Christmas tie...on February 8th...I'm not sure if it was a joke or a genuine mistake...
Working in the hospital is an incredible experience. In some ways the hospital does not have as poor conditions as I was perhaps expecting. Don't get me wrong, lives would be saved if things were changed but the doctors are brilliant (mostly) and really care for the patients and know what they're doing.

Side note:on Tuesday Jeanie and I had a little evening adventure down to a Turtle Hatchery in Kosgoda where we had the most amazing time seeing how the project cares for the eggs, lets them hatch and releases them into the sea (lots of hands on help happening here, wow!) They also look after injured or sick turtles they have found. It was incredible especially as while we were on the beach releasing them the sunset was glorious!
Two just hatched
Setting them off

Baby turtles off into the sunset

Sunday, 10 February 2013


This weekend was so good! It was a very different weekend to last, much less packed and planned and more relaxed. I went to Galle with Jeanie (my new roomie from Denmark who is at the same hospital as me and is lovely) and some of the other volunteers who I had not met yet. We got the bus and met the others there. Finding a room was very hard as everywhere was full but eventually 4 of us managed to get into a room intended for 2. We watched the sunset from the fort walls, went for dinner and explored the quaint and quiet streets. In the morning after breakfast at an arty cafe we explored the fort some more before splitting up. Some went home while some of us explores the main city then got a bus to the touristy beach town of Hikkaduwa. We found room then watched the sunset from the beach this time. A thunderstorm started and we danced down the road getting soaked on the way to dinner! This is most unlike me!
This morning we headed down to the beach early and spent the day sunbathing, swimming and being hurled around in the waves and chatting. Katryn and I went to a rotty shop for lunch. I had pineapple and they were cooked right in front of us! This evening I am supposed to be getting a lift home with my host family on the way back from their weekend but am still waiting to hear from them. For now chilling in a beach bar and nicking their wifi!
Was very nice to have a chille weekend and very good to meet some other volunteers. We are goof to meet up after work during the week and travel some more together at the weekends!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Laura the Explorer

Wow, it feels like so long since I've written because I've done so much! The hospital is going well and I am enjoying it and learning a lot. Getting used to the heat so I make it through ward rounds now and also went to the outpatient clinic last week which was good.

This weekend was a long weekend in Sri Lanka (it was Independence Day yesterday) so Bianca and I planned a hectic weekend! We left on Friday straight after lunch and got buses to Dambulla. I'll keep it quite brief but:
Saturday: Off early to Sigiriya (Lion Rock, Asia's oldest garden and temple complex, supposedly 8th wonder of the world) climbed to summit, had amazing views, saw wall frescoes, mirror wall, palace gardens at summit, amazing views and lots more. We also went to the museum which was good. Travelled back to Dambulla and visited the buddhist Cave Temples (very unlike the cave temples Mum and I saw at Elephanta Island) and Golden Temple. Travelled to Kandy.
Sunday: Took a tour of Kandy in a tuktuk. First went to a Herb and Spice Garden 27km out where we saw the herb and spice trees/plants and had a talk/ demo from an Ayurevidic spa expert. We also got mini massages from his students. Ayurvidic medicine is fascinating. For every general hospital here there is an Ayurvidic one and people swear by it. I'm a little skeptical but he put a tiny bit of cream made only from jackfruit milk, aloe vera and saffron on a patch on my arm and 10 minutes and no tingling/smelling later, the hair just wipes off! Next we went to the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala where we saw all the elephants they care for, learnt about them and rode one bareback! We then went to a Sri Lankan gem shop followed by visiting the Sacred Tooth Temple. It supposedly holds one of Buddha's teeth. It was incredibly busy with lots of Buddhists going there to pray but had some good museums and I just love the amount of incense burning in there! We then sat by the lake for a little bit before heading for Delhousie (base camp of Adam's Peak) Had a nightmarish 3 bus rides, we were meant to have one. Was so squashed on the last bus winding around the mountains that I thought I would suffocate! All good fun!
Monday:Up at 1.30am to set off to climb Adam's Peak (Sri Pada). It is a pilgrimage route and is a 7km long climb and is 2243m high. The climb was tough. It is made up of very steep, rough, uneven steps in unending streams. My thighs were screaming from the outset! We were climbing with another couple from our hostel which was good fun. It was very hard and several times I was so tempted to stop and give up but we all egged each other on. Seeing elderly Sri Lankan ladies doing it, barefoot, being half carried kind of inspired us. We had been climbing non-stop over 2 hours and were under an hour away from the summit. We were sure we were going to make it now. We would push ourselves and see the sunrise from the top as we had planned. However, very suddenly we hit a queue that filled the entire pathway. We stood in it but did not move an inch for over 45 minutes. We eventually realised that there was no way we would make it to the top for many hours. We would miss the sunrise and would not get up there till about 9am. We were so upset! Seriously disappointing but we decided we would try and find a spot just below here we were to see as much of the sunrise as we could. We were absolutely freezing after standing still for so long. We climbed out of the queue, over a wall and into one of the little tea stops that lined the path. We huddled there until it was time to find our spot. We walked down and saw the sunrise. We were a little around the side of the mountain but it was still good. After the sun was up we walked down quite slowly, taking in all the breathtaking views that you do not get in the dark. The hill country in Sri Lanka is absolutely stunning. We were also stunned by the amount of steps we had apparently climbed! There are 5000+ in total and we must have done about 4000. Not the top but what an achievement! After a quick breakfast, Bianca and I headed back home to Kalutara.

It was an incredible weekend and introduced me to a whole different side of Sri Lanka. It was jampacked and hectic and just the way I like it! I am planning a beach weekend for the next one...could barely walk home from work today, my calves are agony!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Home sweet home!

Well I’m in my new home for the next 6 weeks! The family is really lovely, with two kids (both boys, aged 9 and 6 and both balls of fun energy) and two dogs. I have a room/house mate called Bianca who is from Australia and has just finished her midwifery placement.
I started my placement at Kalutara General Hospital yesterday. Everyone is very nice but I find it hard working in such heat!  At the moment I’m in Paediatrics but I will also visit General Medicine, Surgery and Obstetrics.
Most days I just work in the mornings so I spent the past two days sunbathing, once at a pool at a local hotel and once at the beach in Kalutara. Sea was a bit rough for swimming so we “paddled and dunked”!
Not much time to say more. It is a 3 day weekend coming up so Bianca and I have planned a long trip to Sirigya and Dambulla, Kandy and Adam’s Peak. We leave right after lunch on Friday and get back on Monday. Just been sorting out all our hotels etc!
The town is full of shops and markets and the public transport is frequent, if not all that easy to negotiate sometimes! It’s very hot here, the fact that the house doesn’t have hot water is almost a blessing…who would have thought I’d enjoy a cold shower!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Here's to Mum!

This post goes out to my super, incredible, lovely Mum. We have had an AMAZING 10 days together, discovering new things and having a very good time. It was so nice to be able to spend some Mummy-daughter time in a new environment where we never got even a little bit sick of each other ;) We relaxed, had lots of laughs and made some great memories.

Mum was ill so had to stay and miss her flight so we didn't get to say goodbye how we'd hoped to. She got a plane today instead. It was a shame that our trip together ended like that but the great time we had will be the bit that is remembered. So, thank you so much Mum, I will see you in 6 weeks!

I have safely arrived in Sri Lanka, and spent this morning trying to catch up on last night's sleep. A quick stroll to the sea showed me that it is MUCH hotter here than in India... May take some getting used to but bring it on!

Saturday, 26 January 2013


Yesterday morning Mum and I got up early once again and made our way to the Gateway of India where we bought return tickets on a launch to Elephanta Island. It is 10km away and the journey is 1hr each way. We had meant to be on the 9 o'clock boat but I had an hour or so of not feeling well after breakfast and we thought better than get the boat then! All recovered, we got a boat just before 10. It was a very murky day in Mumbai (pollution is pretty bad right now) so there was very little to see from the boat...I therefore slept! On arriving at Elephanta, we had a reasonable walk to the bottom of the hill, with lots of signs telling us to "Keep your Elephanta clean" and "Do not annoy the monkeys...they will attack you." The hill was steep, long, busy, slippery and lined with stalls wanting to sell to us. Finally we arrived at the top, huffing a little, and paid our entrance fee to the site. Interestingly, it was 10 rupees for an Indian to enter and 250 for a foreigner...

The caves were created in the 5th Century AD, entirely using hammers and chisels. We saw 5 in total, with 2 of them being temples and 3 just caves (I say just loosely because for caves they were pretty amazing. The first is by far the largest and Mum and I, along with two Australian-Indian girls, took advantage of one of the free Government guides. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and she explained to us in great detail the stories and meanings behind the many different statues which displayed many different forms of Shiva (e.g. Shiva as half man half woman, Shiva the dancer, Shiva the destroyer of evil...)

We visited the other caves by ourselves, being stalked by adventurous little monkeys the whole time! It was absolutely boiling but really interesting.
The island itself is fascinating, quite tropical and very untouched for the most part (excluding the site which is very touristy).

On the way down the hill we stopped at a couple of stalls where I bought a little Ganesha statue and Mum bought a marble plate. We skipped the little train that you could take back to the jetty (it was just a tad crowded!) and walked instead, having to walk on the railway tracks at one point!
On the boat to go home (I hope you're not thinking of luxury here, they are basic to say the least and no form of health and safety is in sight!) the bottom was incredibly crowded so we forked out 10 rupees each to sit on the top deck. Wise decision, the wind was a necessity in cooling us off and it was nice to have the sun on us as we traveled and to have plenty of room.
We had a Heritage Tour of the hotel that afternoon, led by a man called Viren, whom my Dad knows. He is quite the character. He managed to make the 1.5 hour tour captivating whilst also being a major flirt!
After that we went out to dinner with Mehli and Mehru at a lovely modern Indian restaurant called the Copper Chimney.

Today we had a lovely lazy day, laying by the pool and swimming. We had lunch with Viren, a fun, lively hour or so where he requested that the song "Lady In Red" be played for me...oh dear! This afternoon Mum and I indulged in massages and I had a hair treatment (where they also cut my hair which I DIDN'T want them to do but oh well...) We are getting a car to the airport at 2230 tonight (one hours time) and I will be sad to leave this amazing place... All I can say is I'll talk to you from Sri Lanka!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Namaste Bombay!

So we are back in Bombay in the comfort and luxury of the Taj once more.

Yesterday morning was spent at Sangam, sitting in the sun and finishing off friendship bracelets, drinking morning Chai with everyone and chatting for ages! (By the way there is nothing quite like Indian Chai tea. You get it everywhere here and it is amazing! Not too too good for you but it only comes in little espresso size cups so you're ok! Basically half whole milk, half tea, mixed with sugar, ginger, cinnamon and any other spices you fancy. Divine, rich, creamy, spicy...I think I'm in love!) After lunch we got the bags ready and headed downstairs to get our rickshaw to the station. Everyone was waiting for us to send us off in their special way. We each received an official Sangam pin badge that you can only receive if you have stayed there. We handed out a few badges that we had for everyone, took photos, hugged and got in the rickshaw. As we pulled away they sang "Go Well and Safely" until we were out of earshot. It was really lovely. Even though we'd only stayed for 3 days (far too short for both of our likings!) we really felt welcome and like part of the Sangam family. It is a wonderful, beautiful place and I really recommend everyone visits if they can!
The train was easy (apart from having to lug our super heavy suitcase across the station, over the foot bridge,up the huge vertical steps onto the train and onto the luggage rack- too much shopping!) and on time once again and at 1930 we arrived at CST in Mumbai. We got a taxi to the Taj where we were greeted with a little welcome that we had not got at 3.00 in the morning when we last arrived. We popped down to the bar by the pool for a snack before settling down for a comfy night's kip.

This morning we got up quite early at 7.15 because we had booked a tour of Mumbai at 9.00. After breakfast we headed down to reception where we were met by our lovely tour guide. She showed us round the city in a car, stopping to get out and look at certain interesting spots. She was really knowledgeable and had some great information and facts about the city for us. Throughout the tour she explained a lot about how Bombay had grown from 7 separate islands, populated by around 10,000 fisherman and no one else to the heaving metropolis that it is today. It was absolutely fascinating!
First stop was the Gateway of India which, although we had seen it quite a few times and wandered round, it turned out we didn't know so much about. She told us about the mix of architecture, the functions that had happened there, why it was built etc. After that we saw CDT (Victoria Terminus- a UNESCO world heritage site), Pune university and high court buildings, a Jain temple (like a very very strict version of Hinduism, although an entirely separate religion), Marine Drive and Chowpatty beach, before coming to Malibar Hill and the Hanging Gardens. This was a very interesting stop for us because it is an area in which many Parsis live (including much of my family) and there are several places that are particularly important to Parsis here. She told us a bit about the history of the Parsis, much of which we knew but had never been able to relate to specific places. We saw the Tower of Silence from a little distance (no one is allowed in except families of the dead and even then they are only allowed so far). Parsis worship fire and the earth so do not bury or cremate their dead. Instead they lay the body in the Tower of Silence (a set of open wells, generally one each for men, women and children) and let the vultures destroy the body. The Hanging Gardens were beautiful. There are no hanging baskets or flowers as I expected. Instead, they are called the Hanging Gardens because they are built on top of a reservoir. There is six feet of soil between the water and you when you are there and so the gardens are "hanging" above the water.
Next we went to Mani Bhavan (Ghandiji's residence when he was in Mumbai). This was a fascinating place. It is a small building but so much about Mahatma Ghandi's life is packed into it. On the top floor is the telling of  his life through a series of scenes of dolls. They are exquisitely decorated, very detailed and a really unique way of showing his life. It was definitely my favourite part. On the floor below was the room which he stayed in, set up as it had been along with several spinning wheels. There was also the telling of different aspects of his life through pictures. This exhibition had pictures of him all throughout his life as well as copies of his letters sent to Hitler and President Roosevelt, a letter regarding him written by Albert Einstein and many others. On the bottom floor is the most extensive library on Mahatma Ghandi in the world.

Next on the tour we headed to Churchgate train station to see the Dabbawala. These are the men who run the most amazing lunch system in the world. Most workers in Mumbai travel anywhere from 1-3 hours to get to work each day as they have to live in the suburbs where it is less expensive. Indians are very traditional and their lunch must be cooked on the same day as it is eaten and they always have a cooked lunch (consists of daal, veg curry, chapatti etc). This would mean someone in their house having to get up at around 4am to cook their lunch before they headed to work. This is where the dabbawala step in. They visit the houses of the workers during the mid-morning to pick up the lunchbags that someone at home has just prepared while the workers are already at work. These are then all transported by train to Churchgate station where they are passed on to dabbawala on bikes or with handheld rickshaw trolleys or very large trays on their heads who then take them to the offices and distribute them. They deliver around 200000 lunches a day. What makes it even more amazing is that the majority of dabbawala are illiterate. Writing a name or office address on the boxes would not work. They have a unique coding system that they mark on the bags. No bag ever gets lost. It's absolutely incredible. They all arrive at the station between 11.45 and 12.00 and all lunches are distributed by 13.00. The dabbawala then collect all the boxes and have them back at the workers' houses before they get home! Such a clever system...
Our next stop was quite similar. It was to see another system that has become established in Mumbai and this is the one of the Dhobi. These are the locals who do laundry for residents and local businesses. In Mumbai they work in an area known as Dhobi Ghat which is in a slum area. They take in hundreds of thousands of pieces of linen every day, from hotel towels to precious saris, and wash them using traditional methods of rubbing and hitting them against the stone sinks they use, before returning them the next day, often ironed and starched. Like the dabbawala they are illiterate so have a complex coding system and similarly, linen is never lost or returned to the wrong owner.

After the tour, we were meant to be having lunch with Mehli but as he couldn't make it, we decided to sample the Indian Starbucks. It was fab-although we did have to go through a security check to get in. They had mostly similar drinks, without some of the specials but with some extras such as the green tea lattes. The food was completely different, all Indian in general. Mum had a Chai Tea Latte and a Banana and Coconut Muffin (apparently very yummy) and I had a Shaken Iced Green Tea with syrup. I also bought a Starbucks India mug because it's awesome.

After our coffee stop, we lay by the pool for a bit and had a quick swim before getting picked up to go and see Pesi. Pesi is my Granny's brother-in-law (he is also my Grandpa's first cousin-marrying in the family is common for Parsis!) We had tea at his apartment with him and chatted for a while before meeting his sister. He is 82 and his sister is 87 and they go for a daily walk together along Chowpatty beach! They dropped us back at the Taj as we were going out for dinner at Indigo, a very fancy restaurant.

We had a lovely time at dinner before heading back to the hotel and going to the Harbour Bar where Mum tried their signature cocktail-it came complete with story telling and flames as it was mixed before our eyes!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Culture=shopping? Fine by me!

This morning, Mum and I embarked on our Laxmi Road cultural tour with Priya and Ana from Sangam. This is something organised by Sangam and everyone had been telling us what good fun we were going to have. Laxmi Road use to be the centre of Pune but as the town has expanded into a bustling city, a new centre has developed. Now, in Laxmi Road are the temples that used to be so central, the Pune Municipal museum, the vegetable market and lots and lots of shops and market stalls.

We started off in the veg market which is absolutely ginormous. I have never seen so much fresh produce in my life and it all looked absolutely amazing! It is all grown locally and brought in fresh each day. There were so many things that I have never seen before and had absolutely no idea what they were. Mum and I were both given a little card with the pronunciation of a product in Hindi and Marathi on it and were given the task of buying as much of the product as we could with 10 rupees. Mine was pronounced adrak in Hindi and aale in Marathi. I tried communicating with the local sellers and soon found out that my product was ginger. Luckily I knew what this was and looked like! I quickly found a seller who had some and found out how much I could get for 10 rupees. I attempted flirting with him to  try and get one more piece but it was lost in translation (or at least that's what I'm telling myself!) Mum had ended up trying to find some white "icicle" radishes. We both managed to buy our produce and it will be donated to the Sangam kitchens...if there are radishes at lunch tomorrow we know where from and the ginger will no doubt be used in the sweet, rich chai tea we get at 11.00 every morning!

After this we went to bangle alley. This is one of many small alleys off Laxmi that hold mini stalls. This particular street had 10s of stalls all filled with beautiful Indian bangles. The first challenge was knowing which one to pick! We ended up choosing one because Priya knew the owner and had started chatting to him! We were quickly brought stalls and served a cup of chai before being shown and trying on all manner of bangles! I ended up buying some turquoise coloured glass ones with beautiful gold glitter on them. Mine were the Indian size. When they saw Mum they all kept saying "Ah, big size, big size!" We had been warned about this beforehand. They are not being rude in any way, they are simply proud to sell bangles which are sized for Western hands which tend to be far larger than Indian hands. Mum chose some deep pinky-purply-red ones similar t mine. The whole time she was choosing the man kept  trying to push her to get green ones and when she didn't he gave them to her for free. It turns out green bangles are what all women in India wear if they are married!

Next was the Pune Municipal Museum which is a small place in a beautiful old building that tells the history of Pune. Most of it was only written in Marathi but there were some very interesting bits in English. We were also excited to see photos of some places we had visited eg Parvati Hill. At the end of the museum was a small shop which sells products that are all handmade by the ladies who work there. It is part of an NGO so all proceeds benefit the women whom the charity helps.

The final stop on our tour was Kurti's shop where they sell all manner of Sarees and Punjabis. When inside you take your shoes off, sit on padded mats and are treated like royalty as your are shown all the different products. I chose a cheap Sari that will be good to wear in Sri Lanka (It cost 170 rupees, just under 2 pounds) and Mum chose one similar and one very fancy Sari, decorated with jewels and made of silk. The sarees come with an extra bit of fabric that is used to make the traditional blouse so when we returned to Sangam, we were measured up by their tailor. She will have them ready by lunchtime tomorrow!

In the afternoon Mum and I went to the Aga Khan Palace. This is also known as . It is where Gandhi was held after he was arrested in Bombay and it is where his ashes are kept along with Samdhi's to his wife and secretary who both died at the palace. It was a very interesting visit with lots to think about. It was a very peaceful, beautiful place in lovely grounds and gardens. It seems a fitting resting place for such an inspiration.

Monday, 21 January 2013

In and around Pune

Mum and I had taken a look at the big map in the dining room here at Sangam which shows all of the attractions nearby as well as the best restaurants, cafes etc. After looking at them we both decided that one thing we really wanted to do was go to Parvati Hill. This is the highest hill in Pune and on top of it are several temples. From the top you can get 360 views of Pune.

We set off this morning at around 9.30 and got a rickshaw which took just over 20 minutes. We walked under a big arch which took us onto a very steep path with a few steps. We huffed and puffed our way to the top and had a look around. There are about 5 different temples up there, varying in degrees of beauty and extravagance. You had to take your shoes off to go in all of them. Some of them had lots of pictures, paintings and information in them while others were just left to explain themselves. All had extravagant and beautiful statues of the gods and spirits that they worshipped. We walked around them all before coming to the last one. In this one it is possible to pay 5 rupees to go up onto the terrace (which has no railing) and from there you can get the best view possible of Pune. It was amazing. It was quite hazy because of all the smog that is around but it definitely showed us the scale of the city. By this point it had also gotten very hot and we enjoyed walking around in the sun for a bit before heading back down the hill. It was a slightly strange place because it is right in the middle of the city (the entrance is on a main road) but as soon as you start climbing the hill it becomes very peaceful, calm and quiet. It was a very serene morning and a lovely trip.

After lunch we were taken on a neighbourhood tour by Sayali, a staff member here who lives in the neighbourhood. We walked around seeing some temples, schools and homes. We were shocked that in this community of around 200 families there were Hindu temples, a buddhist temple, a mosque and a church. It is a very diverse place. We saw both legal and illegal slums before heading to Sayali's house where we met her mother who greeted us by marking our foreheads with turmeric and vermillion and giving us some little Indian sweets. We also got to see Sayali's cat's 3 day old kittens. They were adorable but so small they almost didn't seem like cats!

It was a very enjoyable day where we discovered a lot about Pune and local families.

I finally worked out a way to transfer my pictures over to the computer here only to discover that Flickr has a monthly limit on photo uploading so I couldn't add any more! I started adding them on photobucket instead but it was an incredibly slow process (the internet here is iffy) and not all of them have uploaded. Still, you can see them here:

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Safe in Sangam

Well, we have arrived in Sangam! There is internet, but only on their computers so I cannot upload any pictures.

The train journey here was a fun experience. We left the hotel at 0600 in a taxi and arrived at the station with masses of time. The info boards were all in Marathi but we managed to locate our platform. We had prebooked seats and they were easy enough to find. All in all, the train was much nicer than I had been picturing. Sure, it was old and rusty and appeared to be made of tin, but we had reasonably comfy fake leather seats, some air conditioning and some lovely fellow passengers-I was sat next to a lovely lady from a town just outside Pune and we had a nice chat. The train left exactly on time so it was doing better than a lot of trains in the UK! I spent the 4 hour journey sleeping, knitting and looking out of the pink-tinted windows which was slightly odd! Men walk up and down the aisles constantly, selling all sorts from Chai coffee and tea, to biscuits to idli to tomato soup. Best not to try any of that though the Chai smelt rather appetising! The "wildest" part of the journey was going to the loo and even that wasn't as bad as I'd been expecting. Yes, it was a hole in the ground that had to be used while the train was moving but it was a pretty clean hole in the ground so what more can you ask for?

When we got off the train in Pune we followed the crowds. Initially we took the shortcut out of the station which wouldn't have been a problem if we weren't meeting someone fom Sangam at the main entrance. We soon found her and all headed towards one of the motorised rickshaws: