Friday, September 28, 2007

North Korea and beyond...

Dochi Township North Korea, September 2007.

I (Andi) tallied up that I have visited in the last nine months - six countries and even more cities, four of these countries in the past two-three weeks. And now I'm home after being away with work and is time for another blog. Is so nice to be back with Gareth who has also been busy recently, organising and leading a global conference with his work.

We are in the midst of heavy monsoon rains and as I write this the water is pouring down the streets and thundering off the roof of the apartment. Is actually quite refreshing as it cleans a lot of things up, cools things down and fills up the tanks for when the weather turns hot and dry again.

So back to the recent trips. I rivaled Gareth's last crazy schedule with one of my own. Heading to North Korea as a World Vision delegation of 3, to assess and respond to the floods which hit the country last month and also check on our shipments. I was curious to visit this secretive, little known country which in 2002 George Bush named as part of an "axis of evil". I don't often quote George Bush.....
Beijing, China.
Is difficult to operate as an NGO here but World Vision have had development programs and relief response to disasters since 1997.

The three of us included the WV DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) National Director who's based in NYC to be close to the UN, is Taiwanese and the Regional HEA Director who's also a friend as we've worked together now for five years. He's British but based with his family in Singapore. Then me.

My journey to get to the country included Bangkok, Singapore, Beijing and then North Korea. You can only get your plane ticket and visa to NK from Beijing. So I was in the WV Singapore office for few days and then Beijing for few days inc a chance to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Palace. This visit was special for me as this was my first visit to the country my Mum was born in.. Then we traveled onto North Korea.

Forbidden Palace, Beijing.

We were only allowed to visit DPRK for five days as you have to seek permission for NGO delegations. Part of this included inter-agency meetings we had arranged with The Red Cross, UN, World Food Programme etc and visiting some of our field programs, seeing the flood damage and making reports, assessments, gathering footage, photos, stories, interviews etc.

On arrival at the airport our mobiles were confiscated and we were given a receipt to retrieve them on exit, as calls are monitored and you are allocated 'minders' or officials who check your itinerary and again monitor your movements.

I was surprised at how beautiful the country is and the average person was so welcoming, but this is in contrast to the dictatorship, poverty and a crumbling infrastructure and it felt so surreal at times as we traveled and were watched at every move. North Korea by the way has the world's fifth largest army of one million, despite only being a population of around 23million.

On this note I also had a scary moment when a gun was cocked and held at me in the dark, but it all worked out ok and my security training kicked in as laid my things on the floor, held my hands up and kept calm (until I got back safely to my room that is!)

I was also really encouraged when global news agency Reuters offered me a job based on my photos, footage and stories, as we met them and other media to do planned media interviews in Beijing as we exited North Korea.

Then briefly back to Bangkok on route home to Hyderabad, I was up until 4am the night I arrived editing the footage for our global offices/media to use. I have never slept so well on a plane when traveling later that day.

Since being back we've had a Hindu festival in India again. Ganesh took place this Tues, as the night before India had won the T20 cricket world cup and seeing the city light up in fireworks the sound of shouts and drums, bikes racing down the street with flags on the back was really fun.

We've also caught up with friends since we've been back. I had a girls night out here recently for a birthday and Gareth had a boys night out while I was recently away (a night of sport on TV and pizza). Its also been another round of birthdays and different events for us so we've been kept busy gift buying, cooking meals and eating too much!

I could share so much more about my trip to North Korea and China etc, but maybe I'll save it to this short update and update you more individually if interested. On a final note huge congrats to our friends Athena and Paul on the birth of their son William.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


This is possibly the best commentary ever.

The night boys became men.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

All singin', all dancin'

The last few weeks have seen us dancin' and singing a number of times, continue to travel the world, see family and friends, take part in courses, have busy work period and be involved in some great church events and daily life. We completely recognize we have been rubbish at updating the blog recently, life has taken over a little and we have had even less time to post news.

But one singing all dancing night was to the music of Martin Smith and Stu G from the band Delirious? visiting our church Pearl City. This was an amazing event, many people who hadn't been to a gig at church before really enjoyed it and the place was packed out. More pix and news to follow.

Delirious command the stage, Martin Smith & Stu G...

Another dancin' moment was a dinner party including expat and Indian friends we had over to our apartment. I cooked for 10 people a Jamie Oliver, 'proper bloke sausage pasta' dish. Took some effort and many pans on our hob, but with a salad and bread courtesy of the Marriott we had a fabulous meal, that's not me saying this but friends, honest! We then went onto dancing all night in our kitchen/tiny balcony to some great 80's sounds.

Good friends; Lynden and Rajani..

Other news we need to share is our weekend trip to Jaipur - including elephant riding, visiting some amazing forts and palaces.

The stunning Amber Fort

Plus I (Andi) recently had a visit to Australia with part security/conflict training for both personal and team situations (some interesting stories to tell inc being 'fake' shot at, ambushed, evacuated at 2a.m.) Then having few days to see my sister and family after and again some stories to tell of both these events and promise I will write these up. Plus Gareth's brief trip to the UK for his Aunt & Uncle's 70th birthday celebrations and a Cam's wedding all held on same weekend.

Sadly there have been more bombings in Hyderabad and many lives lost so please pray for peace and for the city to settle. Thankfully no-one we knew was affected but this doesn't negate the fact that a normally peaceful city is losing lives and experiencing terrorism. Last night saw a lock down by police of some businesses/schools/restaurants etc as they keep peace in the city and try and find out those who committed the act.

There has now been three bombs in three months, but most people on the street are determined to carry on as normal and not let this change life in this fantastic city.

I (Andi) head off to North Korea with work next week but before this Gareth and I have friends visiting from Australia for few days and a trip is planned to the Taj Mahal for the first time. Again we will have to update you with pix and stories. So this is a holding page! for more news to come and we'll be in touch again soon.

Hope you're all well.


Gareth and Andi.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


We've had another relatively busy week after Gareth's return from his marathon global trip. Taking Monday off to recover meant he had a much needed long lie in especially as jet lag kicked in and a number of days of not being able to sleep till 4am was starting to take its toll. Eventually he got back into a regular sleep pattern and was able to take some time to rest.

Good-bye guys, we'll miss you

The weekend after he returned saw us wave goodbye to one set of expat friends after their two years in India. Paul, Athena and son Taylor waved a teary farewell before boarding their plane back to the States where Athena is due to give birth to their second child later in the year. After the group lunch with them we almost immediately said 'hello' to our friend Pete from London, visiting us in Hyderabad for a couple of days as he was over in Chennai with work for a little while.

Was lovely to see him standing there at the airport and we whisked him off for dinner that evening in a restaurant, that as far as possible did not serve spicy food. Pete is not a lover of spices and his taste buds are highly tuned to seeking out any errant chilli flakes etc lurking in the dish. This skill was quickly demonstrated, as in India asking for 'no spice' translates as 'less spice' to most restaurants. Pete's meal therefore had to be sent back and made again, this time in their minds as bland as possible so he could enjoy.

Andi, Pete and Gareth (two cameras on us at one time meant eyes in different directions!)

However it was a nice start to our time with him and we rose early Sunday to head to church and go on after for a tour of some of the sights of Hyderabad. This day however we hadn't realised was a festival unique to the city - a festival of colour. So when we arrived after lunch at our first stop Golkonda Fort, which we've talked about in earlier blogs, we were suddenly struck by the abundance of colours stretched out before us.

How many different colours can you count...?

Sarees, scarves, blankets, pots, pans etc were brightly coloured and looking beautiful with the place itself packed out. Sunday being a day off for most we knew it would be busy, but the Fort was heaving as people came out to celebrate the festival. Some were plucking or chopping up chickens to then cook in pots for family meals and there was a number of different smells as dishes were being prepared.

This leads us to our first unique part of the story, witnessing the sacrifice of a goat or more correctly the goat had already been sacrificed and we were seeing the aftermath. Out of the three of us, I the non-red-meat-eater saw the most of the goat with its throat cut being held down in the last throes of death, as blood streamed down the path. A 'glorious' moment for me and one I am unlikely to forget or encourage me to eat goat.

Then pushing up the path being greeted by many 'namastes' or 'hi's' as we were one of very few western faces visiting that day. Hearing the beat of the drum and passing the crowds who were keen to touch the shrine of the Hindu god, we reached the top of the fort and had an amazing view of the city and could imagine something of the lives of those who lived in this impressive structure many, many years ago.

Then the rain started, so working our way back down Gareth the Pied Piper of Hyderabad surrounded by 15 young guys desperate to chat to him, created much excitement as he spoke to them in Hindi and handled some of their many questions.

Pete and I also got caught up in the fun and both Pete and Gareth teased the guys, that they had to pay 50 rupees for every handshake they were asked for.

Making it down to the bottom again we took shelter for a short time, crouched in one of the archways with others, we eventually made a run for it to discover our car had been blocked in by a 4WD and auto van.Drenched by the monsoon rains, the men take charge of the auto van blocking our exit..

This is where Pete impressed the local men while Gareth had to do a 20 point turn, as he and the car park guys managed to push the auto back far enough for us to squeeze out and dripping wet we headed off to our next stop, Charminar in the old city. Scene of bombings a couple of months ago it is now back to normal, we didn't however spend that long before we needed to get back for dinner and rest/dry off at home, as we were saying goodbye to Pete at 5.30 the next morning. This evening also involved the men avidly watching the golf, football and Grand Prix coverage.

We really enjoyed our time with him and also having the chance to later that night skype his wife Fi and son Josh to catch up quickly and say hi, as they wait in the UK for Pete to return home.

A couple of days earlier I (Andi) had been going through a slight cooking revival, suddenly enthused to try some new recipes as much as possible with no oven, one day saw me looking at a recipe for broccoli soup. Preparing all the ingredients I did exactly as Jamie Oliver said and added part of the hot water from the pan into the blender with the softened veg. This is where it started to go slightly wrong...

The blender obviously not coping with the heat, mid blending decided to blow its top off as I stood over it - hot green veg flew up in the air landing mostly on me, the wall and the floor. Gareth hearing a 'small' cry from the kitchen came rushing through to find me standing there head to toe in broccoli. Very sweetly he packed me off to the shower as he set about cleaning up.

That was the end of the soup, but have still been inspired to try some new dishes and Gareth's (and my) stomach is benefiting from the more successful efforts! Attempting to counter balance this, I've been able to enjoy regular swims recently, as the monsoon weather has meant many people locally think it is too 'cold' to swim and at times I have had it to myself and not had to play dodgems in the normally packed pool.

The other amusing but great example of life in India re effects of a power cut, was when I got stuck in our apartment block lift. Coming back from picking up some groceries, dragging in a few heavy bags to the lift I pressed for our floor and half way up the power cut in the building. Now this is a normal occurrence so not something to be worried about. However our back-up generator which powers up the lift and emergency lights in these situations was not responding, so left me stranded between floors and therefore unable to crawl out, for over 20 minutes. Eventually the poor watchman was able to get the power on again and the lift slowly wound its way up to our floor and let me escape the heat.

The coming few weeks see us next Sunday enjoying UK worship band Delirious lead worship at our church, Pearl City, plus play at an evening event the church is also hosting. Tickets for it are also being given out on the streets and going fast - so we hope it's another opportunity for new people to visit and enjoy the music and talks.

Gareth and I have then planned the following weekend a short break to Jaipur in Rajhastan, one of the most beautiful parts of India which boasts stunning palaces, forts, hills and walks. We plan to do some exploring but also take advantage of the hotel amenities to relax.

Amber Fort just one of the many beautiful places to visit on our trip.

After this I (Andi) will then have one more week before I fly to Australia on the 12th Aug with work, where I will be trained in personal and team security during conflict scenarios for when I travel to different countries or respond to disaster situations with my job. This might involve being kidnapped at 5am from my bed and held at 'fake' gunpoint, or walking through an imaginary minefield, as I have to respond as taught...

Some theory and some practical training, it will most definitely be an experience and honestly if someone kidnapped me and held a gun to my head I think most people would have the same reaction - and not sure if any training can ever fully prepare you! "Don't panic Mr Mannering!" (A quote from an old UK TV show, 'Dad's Army', if you're unsure who Mr Mannering is..)

After this I have meetings in the WV Australia office and then a few days holiday to visit my sister Nikki and the family, including seeing how much our niece Ella has grown since the last visit at New Year. Gareth's got some trips with work later in the year, which includes the Philippines this time and America again. Tonight we have dinner with some of his international STL/IBS colleagues who are visiting for a few days.

Work for both of us is still busy but rewarding and we continue to be excited about the church. We've been chatting to them about setting up a 'life group' our end of the city, as existing groups meet far away and with many living this side and currently no group set up, we hope to change this fairly soon. I've also been asked to get involved with the music group.

Our friendships continue to grow and we feel really blessed by these and also knowing, investing into and learning from so many people with different backgrounds, experiences, cultures, countries, languages and religions.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Avocado, Australia and memories...

The Birthday Boy with Andi, Ben and Libby

Hillsong Conference

The Birthday Breakfast

Do you ever look back at your life so far and are thankful and amazed at the people met, communities part of, friends made, experiences had, cities and countries visited, some mistakes made, some great choices/decisions or a life you may have impacted in some tiny way..

Risks taken (including for me jumping out of a plane!) opportunities, career developed, funny memories, sunsets, crack of dawn moments.. Times you have laughed so hard your side hurt, cried so much your eyes could hardly open, celebrated birth and celebrated the lives of those you've loved and lost - asked yourself and God so many questions and sometimes got answers...

Well I have (Andi) and at this privileged and happy point in my life with my husband in India one of the world's most colourful, rich, poor, generous, tragic, beautiful, unjust and amazing countries, I was reminded of a period in my life as I watched a travel programme the other day. I love travel, history, biography or nature programmes!

The programme was showing St Patrick's Day in Dublin, Ireland this year and I sat there feeling so nostalgic, I could almost smell the air and the atmosphere as I was taken back 14 years to when I was 19 and doing part of my degree in Dublin. I was involved in a local church who that year were part of the annual parade past St Stephens' Green and down O'Connell Street, and there was a group of us taking part.

As an English girl I was dressed in green with Shamrocks all over me and a painted face, belting our hearts out waving flags and banners and walking alongside a float. It was such a great day despite the dismal weather and I made some good friends there during that time. I also got the chance to go to the Trinity University Ball, a famous event which goes through the night and ends up with breakfast, a big greasy fry up at a local caf'.

Though I was studying at DCU I had many friends at Trinity Uni and was formally invited by a guy to the event and even given a corsage, which I pinned to my gown not always a norm in the UK, more American Proms I think.

Why am I telling you all this, I don't know really! Maybe I'm just thinking about the past few weeks and events in our life here and how much has changed and yet how much remains the same. In the sense of friendships, community, church involvement, love, food, laughter, dancing, great cities etc, etc.

These last few weeks we've celebrated a number of events some of which were birthdays including Gareth's. One birthday for a friend Rajiv was great fun and involved a game of football boy/girl mixed teams. Only four-a-side we were all shattered at the end, but took me back to high school when I played in a girls side and we won the Yorkshire schools championship. I felt I played ok after so many years, and even managed to score past Gareth twice, though his version of events may include the comment, "I let her" . That is blatantly untrue.

I had a women's' church breakfast one Saturday morning, which was a great way of getting to know many of the women in the church better most of whom are Indian and just two of us expats and hear more about plans for community work etc. Plus as per many women's get togethers, it involved a lot of good food including homemade banana and toffee muffins!

Gareth's birthday was also lovely. As is our tradition for each other I planned a surprise day for him prior to a dinner in the evening with friends. I had a cake made with the MK Dons (football or Soccer for you Yanks)logo on the front, which was a bit of surprise. The evening dinner itself was held outside, candles burning we had our own 'tent', and despite the high winds that night we had a lovely meal with good friends.

Part of the birthday day itself rained as we are in monsoon season, which means lovely cool weather and rain which cleans the dusty roads. After a special lunch I had then planned for a swim in the hotel pool, secretly packing our cossies and then next driving onto one of the palaces in Hyderabad we had not visited. Well with lunch done and the rain still coming down we discussed our options and thought why should the weather stop us, hey we're British after all!

So as the only ones in the pool we hopped into the cold water and in the rain had a game of volleyball, well as much as you can with two of you and me being 5ft 2". Was so much fun and a great memory of the two of us - when Gareth lost his wedding ring... for the third time.

Yes, that's right while hitting the ball over the net the water had loosened the ring which came flying off. This then meant we had to borrow goggles from the hotel (who thought we were mad swimming in the rain) and spend a little time underwater 'Lord of the Rings' style hunting for the ring. Eventually we found it glittering in a corner, Gareth was extremely relieved and will never wear it while swimming again!

Currently he's in the States with work for the last week of two weeks away before returning home, having experienced eight flights in total. The week before he was at the Hillsong Church conference in Sydney. Has been an exhausting but rewarding time for him.

Also while in Sydney he got to spend time with my brother and sister-in-law, Matt and Amanda and their son Noah. They were visiting the conference and know Gareth enjoyed catching up with them when he could. While at Hillsong he had a number of meetings and was also asked to speak at one of the conference seminars, focusing on digital music.

I miss him terribly and can't wait for him to get home, but thankfully the two weeks have managed to fly by with work and time with friends, church.

This is so sad but I got excited about lettuce and avocado being on sale again (well in one grocery the other side of the city!) When I say 'on sale' I mean 'now and again', but for the first time in a long time I made myself a tuna, lettuce, avocado and tomato salad and for those who know me well they know this is heaven with a bit of sweet chilli sauce dressing on the side!

I've also worked out or been given recipes for some new dishes inc using some favourites such as courgettes, kiwi and sweet potatoes plus how to make a chicken and herb lasagna, great mexican salsa and a prawn Pad Thai dish, and all comes off the microwave or the four top gas stove.

We are planning ahead for a number of visitors.. Our friend from London, Pete Garratt is coming for a night and day while in India with work, so will be lovely to have him stay. Then literally three days later one of my best friends and bridesmaids Rachel is flying in for a week.

Later in the year we may see my sister Debs arrive and then Gav and Natalie from Glasgow come for New Year, 2008. Is always fantastic and special to show those we love our lives here and be able to share some of India with them.

I (Andi) am also heading to Australia with work in August for 10 days and will give you more of an update soon.

So a longer blog this time as know we've been very slack over the past months. Pix will be downloaded and added to this blog update soon, when I/we have a chance or the time to save them to my laptop! Hope you're having a good week...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Operational Hazard

Not sure if this story from South India will have crossed the globe, but it is a bit scary...

NEW DELHI (June 22) - The 15-year-old son of two doctors performed a Caesarean Section birth under his parents' watch in southern India in an apparent bid to gain a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest surgeon.

Instead, the boy's father could be stripped of his licenses and may face criminal charges, officials said Thursday.

Dr. K. Murugesan showed a recording of his son, Dhileepan Raj, performing a Caesarean section to an Indian Medical Association chapter in the southern state of Tamil Nadu last month, said Dr. Venkatesh Prasad, secretary of the association. The video showed Murugesan anesthetizing the patient.

"We were shocked to see the recording," Prasad told The Associated Press, adding that the IMA told Murugesan that his act was an ethical and legal violation.

Murugesan owns and runs a maternity hospital in the city of Manaparai, Prasad said in a telephone interview from Manaparai.

Murugesan, who could possibly be prevented from practicing and face criminal charges for allowing his son to perform the operation, expressed no regret and accused the Manaparai medical association of being "jealous" of his son's achievements, Prasad added.

"He said this was not the first surgery performed by his son and that he had been training him for the last three years," said Prasad.

Murugesan told the medical association that he wanted to see his son's name in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The family could not be immediately reached for comment.

Indians have long had a special fascination with world records, and reports of unlikely feats are staples in the Indian media. The underage surgery is not the first time that record-setting zeal has proved dangerous.

Last year, a 4-year-old boy, Budhia Singh, attempted to run a 43-mile marathon in an attempt to earn a spot in a local record book. Doctors stopped him after 40 miles when he showed signs of extreme exhaustion. Afterward, they found the child to be undernourished, anemic and under cardiac stress.

The baby that Raj delivered was born with a noticeable lump on the spinal cord, Prasad said, but added that the birth defect had nothing to do with the surgery having been performed by a 15-year-old.

Prasad said that his team had reported the surgery to the state's top medical association in state capital Chennai.

State health secretary V.K. Subburaj told reporters Thursday that the government would investigate.

"We'll get the report and then we'll see whether there are any violations ... prima facie it looks like there is a big violation," he said.

"We will definitely take action against the concerned medical officers."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dinner in the dark...

We had a round of social engagements and entertaining last week. Josh D'Souza, a friend from STL OM Books came over for dinner Weds night and Thursday we had some American friends Athena, Paul and their son Taylor also over for dinner. Midway though eating we had a power cut, which is a fairly normal occurrence here and when candles come in handy. However we're also lucky that our building has a generator, which kicks in when the power goes off and allows us to use one light and one fan!

Was fun seeing Taylor create a play area in our normally child free apartment, we had an area dedicated to puzzles and books etc and for the first time switched on to the cartoon channel for him to watch. He's a really clever child who has picked up some of the local language Telagu, and speaks English and Spanish also. As they head back to the States his parents are aware that he will now have to adjust to life in the US, as his home has become Hyderabad.

Friday night we drove to the other side of the city for dinner at the home of our friends Rajiv and Renee, where an indoor BBQ was set up and very yummy. Gareth particularly appreciated the homemade red meat burgers. Then Sunday was church. We've started going to a new church called Pearl City, which we're excited about as they focus on community, the poor and have great music and teaching. The church, which is only nine weeks old already sees over 100 people coming and new people arrive each week. Has also got a lot of young people though the church is a mix of ages - next week I (Andi!) am attending a women's breakfast and we also hope to go to one of the 'life groups' held in a coffee shop across the city during the week.

After church we went onto Taylor's birthday party as he turned two. Held at Pizza Hut the Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh characters there to entertain the children, had most clearly seen better days. The outfits needed a good wash and brush and one child was so bemused by them he held off having a drink, which meant he would need the bathroom, which meant he would have to pass by these guys on the way to get there! Despite this it was a lot of fun and Taylor enjoyed himself. Watching the expat and Indian children dancing together to a mix of Hindi/Bollywood music, with their faces painted with either Spiderman or butterfly masks was really cute.

The monsoon is now moving towards Hyderabad and we have seen a marked difference in the weather as it has turned a bit cooler, with more rain. This is lovely as the other day working in my home office I had three power cuts, one of which lasted over an hour. When it's in the 100's and you're trying to work with no fan on or any air flow at all - a cold shower is the most pleasurable thing in the world!

Work continues to be busy for us both, but manageable with some good things being achieved and we're enjoying an extended time at home before Gareth heads to Australia and the States at the end of June.