Thursday, April 30, 2009

Everyone wants to be an Egyptologist

Egypt was completely overwhelming and awesome. Simon had put Egypt on our itinerary because of years of study at school. We all came away with a new appreciation and interest in Egypt and its past. Pictures, since they tell a thousand words, may be the best way to summarize our time there.

Here we are at the 4,500 year old Pyramids in Giza - we were lucky enough to walk into the Great Pyramid next door to this one.

This should give you some scale of the pyramids - a great puzzle for a civil engineer.

Manar, our guide in Cairo, was a wealth of information. Simon is on overload already.

After an overnight train to Aswan we boarded a boat and were off to see the temples along the Nile. Here is the temple of Philae, rebuilt stone by stone on higher land after dams were built on the Nile and flooded its original location.

The Temple of Kom Ombo - the heiroglyphs and images kept us all fascinated with their stories. Imagine all this in colour as it would have been 2,000 years ago.

The boat was a wonderful reprieve from the heat and the kids enjoyed the company of a few other children.

The Valley of the Kings - 62 tombs found so far and there is much left to explore and discover. We entered three of the tombs and each was unique and fascinating (no pictures allowed though). It was in this area that King Tut's tomb was discovered.

The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut - if you get a chance to read her story in a recent National Geographic you should. The movie is coming out soon.

After Luxor we made a quick hop to Sharm el Sheik and a morning swimming with the fishes. That same night we climbed Mt Sinai and started our 300th day on the road watching the sunrise.

After 10 days we were back in Cairo and our amazing history lesson was complete. Acutally this introduction just whet our appetite and perhaps one of us will become an Egyptologist.

Monday, April 27, 2009

At Home in Holland

When we stepped off the Ryan Air plane (that’s a story in itself) in Holland it felt like we were coming home. Uncle Rick, John’s brother, and his family live in Eindhoven. We stayed with them for more than two weeks a couple years ago, so stepping back into their home felt very familiar. It was a familiarity and an “at home” feeling that came at a good time on our journey. We can see the finish line, so to speak. Yet, there are still lots of adventures, and the need for the same energy and stamina we’ve needed for the past 9 months, to tackle what still lies ahead of us. Somehow sleeping in a familiar room, sitting on a familiar couch, and still knowing where the candies are hid in the kitchen cupboard, gave us an unexpected boost.

Danielle, Simon and their cousin Joram were inseparable the last time we were here – except they didn’t sleep in Joram’s room. This time all three slept in the same room, and except for the times that Joram was at school, the three cousins were playing together. That was an extraordinary gift for Danielle and Simon. They’ve been missing their friends at home so someone to play with full-time came at a good time for them. They also had the opportunity to go to school for a morning with Joram. There was a special Easter breakfast and gym class. Fortunately the kids didn’t need much Dutch and the nervous teacher didn’t need much English to get through a morning of eating and playing. It is worthy of note that Joram did very well as a simultaneous translator during a short story time that morning!

Danielle and Opa out for a bike ride.

We spent Easter weekend further north, close to Steenwijk, with John’s parents, Rick’s family, and more relatives! As you can imagine, there was lots of coffee, biking, swimming at an indoor pool, Easter Egg hunts, and chocolate. The holiday park was next to the national Weerribben park that consists mainly of peat bogs. We spent one very pleasant late afternoon and evening boating about the canals.

Captain on the high "peats" of the Weerribben

We weren’t able to fill our bags with all the treats we usually bring home after a trip to Holland; however, tucked into our hearts is a little piece of “home” that we’ll savour during the coming few months.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Walking in London

Harry Potter Walk
by Simon

The Harry Potter movies were filmed in London. I have read all the books and seen all the movies that have been made. I went on a Harry Potter walk and learned some unique facts.

- The Leaky Cauldron is actually an optometrist shop and the only part that you’ll remember from the movie is the round door.
- One of JK Rowling’s friend’s last name was Potter and she liked the name Harry so the character of Harry Potter was born.
- Gringott’s Bank was filmed in Australia House. We tried to get in to see it but the area is closed to the public.
- The names Snape and Hermoine are the names of villages in England.
- When JK Rowlings thought of platform 9 ¾ in King’s Cross Station she was actually at Euston Station sitting in between platforms 9 and 10. King’s Cross Station is where her parents first met.

The London Eye
by Danielle

The London Eye was my favourite thing in London because I like going up high and I got to see the city with my Grandma and Poppa. You can see the Eye from many places in London.

To get out tickets Poppa had to stand in line for over half an hour. We looked at several street performers, mostly people who were pretending to be funny statues.

We went through security and got on the pod with about 20 people in total. The ride takes about 30 minutes to go all the way around. One of my favourite parts is when we were at the very top. From the top you could see Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Big Ben clock tower. My other favourite thing was when they took our picture. Simon and I made funny faces – we did not buy the picture.

Because We Visited Bangladesh

When we got on the plane out of Bangladesh in the wee hours of the morning, both Pam and I thanked God that we made it out safely. We found this to be the toughest country we’ve lived in so far, but you know that a challenge can only mean great opportunities for learning and unique experiences.

Some of the things that will remain with us are: the sheer number of people who live here, the constant staring, and the opportunities we had to see and experience village life.

There are people everywhere. In the city there is a constant press of people. Even in the country-side you can never be in a place and not see someone around. In the rare case you are alone there will undoubtedly be someone along within a second or two.

Staring is completely acceptable in Bangladesh. It even gets special mention in the travel book. As one of the few white families in the town we lived in, we were constantly stared at. Often we would be shouted greetings as we passed by, or asked where we had come from by complete strangers on the street. Most times this was fun but sometimes it was very intimidating. In one instance, we were waiting in a train station and a circle of twenty people surrounded us to simply stand and stare. We`re so unaccustomed to staring that it even felt awkward to stare back, but with some practice we could do it too!

Our volunteer work involved visiting a number of rural villages. We met with small groups of men and women who, with the help of CRWRC`s partners, are gaining literacy skills, learning new farming techniques, establishing small savings and loans accounts, and challenging some harmful cultural practices, such as early marriage and dowry. We were in the small town of Birisiri and surrounding villages for ten days. We also visited groups in the Gozni, Jamalpur and Netrakona areas. This was a great chance for all of us to see what life is like in rural Bangladesh. John gathered stories that will be helpful in promoting the work of CRWRC and its partners. Pam helped develop some training modules around the subject of `gender and development`, and gathered some stories about positive changes happening for women and girls.

The children enjoyed seeing (and chasing) the animals (dogs, goats, chickens) and playing with other kids. Sometimes when the adults were meeting we had to ask Simon and Danielle to go far away from the group because they always attracted such a large crowd of children. Playing was not easy without language but we quickly learned that all you really need is a ball to throw around. The kids really enjoyed riding around on motorcycles along dusty roads and narrow paths through the rice paddies.
It is very easy to see the hurdles – cultural, political and environmental - facing the future of this country, but during our stay it was the strength and resilience of the people, and the commitment of those we met who are living and working alongside them, that made a lasting impression.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Sundarbans

After spending the majority of our time in Bangladesh in the central and northern area, we decided we’d end our time here with a cruise in the southern region of the country. The Sundarbans are the largest mangrove forest in the world. They are a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home of the endangered Bengal tiger.

There is a poster in Bangladesh that has been in circulation for at least a decade. It has a picture of a Bengal Tiger and the caption says, “Visit Bangladesh before the Tourist Comes.” “… the Tourist …” Singular. Not a typo. The tourist industry in Bangladesh is still very small.

Our three day tour included two overnight bus trips (read “two long sleepless bus rides”), two full days of cruising on the boat to the Bay of Bengal and back, and a full day exploring various parts of the mangrove. The boat slept 30 people and our group consisted of 8 Westerners and about 15 Bengali men. This included a group of men who are part of a Tourist Club. They were a noisy group, and their loud voices and chattering pretty much ensured we would not see any wildlife during our tour. Oh well, it was part of the cultural experience, right?

Our tour guide dedicated himself to scaring the pants off of us as we walked through the forest. He pointed out the “tiger ferns” that are perfect camouflage for the tiger.

“The tiger could be sitting 3 metres away from us right now and we’d never know it”.

“They pounce on your neck and kill you instantly”.

We met a man who had been chased by tigers twice and saw one just yesterday. To add to the effect we always walked with an armed forest guard. We did not see a tiger and learned later that it is very rare to see them.

We did, however, see deer, beautiful king fishers and dolphins on the cruise up and down.

We saw one monkey. When we asked our guide what kind it was he replied, “a local kind, small.” This pretty much sums up the quality of the information he shared with us during the tour.

The highlights for all us were just being out of the city and seeing a different part of the country. We appreciated the chance to lie on the deck in the evenings and watch the stars. We also appreciated the company and the chance to meet and chat with new friends.