Tag Archives: travel

Not His Destination

This morning I took a train from Thornton Heath station to London Victoria. Due to me being visually impaired, a member of station staff assisted me to board the train. However, before he could disembark, off went the locomotive with the railway company employee on board, and none to happy at having been conveyed, without his consent from Thornton Heath to the next station stop, Norbury!

A man
With a plan
To help me board a train.
Oh what a pain
For the doors closed
And there arose
From his lips a bad word,
The kind heard
On the docks.
The commuters where shocked
And the man from the station
Reached a destination
Not wished for.
No wonder he swore!

The End Of The Line

You have reached the end
of the line my friend.
You must descend
and fight your way through the crush.
Good luck as you rush
to your goal.
But mind the hole
between the train and the platform.
For the gap doth yawn!

Several days ago, I was travelling on the train from Gipsy Hill to London Victoria. On arrival at Victoria a fellow passenger asked whether the train had arrived at it’s destination. This inspired the above poem.

Kevin

Dedication To The Job!

“You look smart. Are you off somewhere nice?”, said the man operating the luggage gate at London Victoria’s mainline station. (Being blind this gentleman has assisted me onto trains on numerous occasions hence his familiarity in speaking to me in this manner).

“No, just work”, I replied.

“But its Sunday Kevin!”, he said with obvious surprise.

Suddenly everything clicked into place. The 4 coach train at my local station when, during the working week the train consists of 8-10 carriages should have screamed, “It’s the weekend you crazy man!”. Likewise the lack of people at the station together with their relative absence on my walk there should have registered with me as signifying that it was a Sunday.

I have never done anything like this before and can only conclude that my desire to be early for the meeting I was due to chair on Monday morning, coupled with the need to prepare for it so occupied me that I neglected to notice the trifling fact it was Sunday rather than Monday! Oh well at least my guide dog Trigger enjoyed an early morning trot albeit on a Sunday!

 

Kevin

Excuse me, Are you In The Queue?

I recently travelled with an acquaintance into London’s Victoria’s mainline station. On arrival I proceeded merrily and with some rapidity towards the ticket barriers.

“Trigger (my guide dog) is pushing in front of the queue” said my acquaintance. Oops!

Being a guide dog Trigger is taught to find a safe way through or around obstacles, including crowds. If my four-legged friend sees a gap, he goes for it with a will. I had no idea Trigger was skirting the queue and everyone queuing was too polite/embarrassed to say anything!

The above incident caused me to ponder on the advantages of being blind (other than the ability to jump queues without being lynched). After some consideration I came up with the below list:

 

  1. Having learned Braille from a young age I am able to read in the dark. This was particularly useful during my time at boarding school as I continued to read after the dormitory lights had been switched off and we children where supposed to be in the land of nod!
  2. Many tourist attractions and places of entertainment offer either a reduced fee or no payment to disabled people. This often extends to a person accompanying the disabled person. The result – I have lots of friends …!
  3. Any items designed for the blind (E.G. Braille books, magazines and talking books) are sent free of charge using articles for the blind labels meaning I save a fortune on postage!
  4. I get to take my wonderful guide dog, Trigger into places which do not permit other dogs to enter. So I can enjoy a nice hot curry while trigger snoozes at my feet or looks up at me appealingly hoping that a scrap of food will fall from my plate!
  5. The screen on my mobile phone recently developed a crack. As I rely on the phone’s talking software this does not bother me in the least although I am, as it happens probably in need of a new phone for reasons unrelated to the device’s broken screen.

I’m off now to queue jump, purely unintentionally you understand …

I Am Sailing

As those of you who follow this blog will know, my name is Kevin. Yesterday I received the following text from a friend who was, at that time on his way to France via cross channel ferry,

“Just leaving Harbour. Where told the captain’s name is Kevin. Should I be worried?”

My friend’s text made me smile as, being blind there is no way in which I could hold down the job of captain. However, giving the matter a little more thought I arrived at the following brilliant solution to how a blind man might captain a ship. My guide dog, Trigger is trained to avoid obstacles so why not teach him the following additional commands:

  1. Bark once for rocks dead ahead.
  2. Bark twice for another vessel dead ahead and
  3. Let out a continuous howl when the boat strikes submerged rocks or an iceberg.

Does anyone have the contact details for shipping companies please? I’m taking time out from my writing to apply for the position of ship’s captain. God save me and anyone else who sails with me!

 

Kevin

I had an adventure nun-the-less.

I had an adventure nun-the-less

Many thanks to Cupitonians for the following excellent post about her experiences in Tanzania. Like Cupitonians, I also attended a religious school, but that is, as they say, another story.

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So I landed in Tanzania, not knowing a soul. I was in touch with a contact of a contact. They had never met each other before but you know what they say about leaps of faith and trust. The only thing I did know was that I was meant to meet a nun from the Ursuline congregation. My dad, being the resourceful guy that he is, googled the habit(uniform) of the nun so that I wouldn’t be confused by the hordes of religious people that would haunt the airport. He had a point, any third world country is jam packed with missionaries (read priests and nuns) who are there to alleviate poverty and other religious phrases I’m too lazy to google.

I landed in a bathroom sized airport, grinned from ear to ear because I was finally in a country I had dreamed of being in since I was 7. I was apprehensive. What if my contact wouldn’t be there? I knew no one, knew nothing, had heard horror stories of tourists being taken for a ride and left for near dead. Dread started to fill me but I put my brave face on as I walked out the airport doors, backpack in tow. My fear quickly faded as I spotted the habit of the contact and I quickly walked to her. She hugged me and I was relieved to hear her speak English to me. Contrary to popular belief, English is NOT the first or official language of Tanzania. It’s Swahili.

Stella, that was her name, had lived in Canada for a while and so knew English and was confident and full of stories and questions that kept my mind off the fact that a few minutes after my arrival, I was shoved into a bus with too small seats and a goat under me that kept nipping at my feet. 4 hours later, we reached a beautiful area with a mountain right outside the window of the room they gave me. I watched the palm and banana trees and the sun set brilliantly behind that mountain and I smiled. I didn’t realize Africa could be so green. I already knew it would blow me away.

My dinner was a plate of spaghetti, another thing that took me by surprise. I had no idea that Tanzanians were into pasta. Later on in my trip though, I found out that the Ursuline congregation is an Italian one and no matter the poverty around, the nuns and priests of any congregation always ate well. This was further proved by my breakfast feast of fresh bread and butter and the most amazing cup of black coffee that was ever brewed.

The next day, Stella and her sister bought me a pair of Tanzanian styled clothes that were commonly worn in that area and we set off on another bus journey, this time a 12 hour one through all sorts of sceneries. We finally reached a deserted place that finally looked like the Africa you would see in documentaries. The land was parched and dry, little malnourished kids roamed the streets, caked in mud but in the middle of this, the nuns had created an oasis. Flowers were blooming and well watered, there were beautiful buildings with stained glass dotting the perimeter. The stained glass shadows on the dry earth made it look like we were walking on rainbow streets.

The nuns were all at the road and welcomed me with a song and dance number. This is one of the most shocking things I found in Tanzania. I studied in a convent school and so my idea of nuns was that they were poker faced and strict and that the idea of “fun” was indoctrinated out of them and yet in front of me, their voices came out together in harmony and they moved like their body was moulded to dance.

I spent a 4 -5 months with different religious communities across Tanzania and learnt a lot of things about the religious life.

  1. There are so many youngsters who join the church because the alternative is rape, hunger and poverty. The church provides you shelter, healthy meals, a job and respect.
  2. On account of them joining such closed communities, the maturity levels of most of the nuns remain the same as when they joined. Because they are sheltered and they grow up with just girls their age, I found that the nuns, no matter their age, acted more like shy preteen girls than anything else.
  3. The priests, on the other hand, get more opportunities to travel, see the world, interact with more people and enjoy more power in the society. Therefore, they have cars, big houses, even better food and a chance to be treated as royalty by the community. They enjoy rich and generous gifts.
  4. On account of this, priests believe they are God’s gift to women kind and so think it their duty to hit on any nun or any foreigner they see. I have been approached by more priests than I can count.
  5. Sex is such a natural instinct among Tanzanians that people struggle to come to terms with the restrictions religion has placed on them. I remember one nun saying in a matter of fact way that the church allows you to have one wife but you can also have one mistress. I’ve also heard many stories of women having hysterectomies so they don’t have to deal with pregnancies.
  6. The nuns are truly charitable. I have seen development and schools where you could never imagine there would be one. They have done more for the nation than the government has.
  7. That being said, they are still very orthodox in their ways of thinking. I was once part of a very interesting debate between a very well educated priest and nun when the nun said that she was the wife of Christ
  8. They are essentially good people,
  9. They care so much about the way they look. I have been on shopping trips across mountains where the nuns buy stockings and black stylish shoes. They are so stylish and well-kept that I often felt out of place during pass and other public events
  10. They pray 5 times a day and since I was lived for free with them, I was obliged to attend all five. Suffice to say, I haven’t seen the inside of a church since 2012.

A visit to Africa

Many thanks to Cupitonians: http://cupitonians.wordpress.com/  for allowing me to bully her into writing another excellent guest post!

Thank you A.!

‘For Africa to me… is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place 

Maya Angelou

I went to Africa on a whim. I woke up one day and realised that I just needed to be somewhere raw and real, doing some hands on work. I was tired of writing, tired of the city and just plain jaded. A twenty something year old should never be that way. In that state of despair, I suddenly remembered an old friend from when I had lived in France and got in touch with her. She had promised that whenever I gathered the guts to go to Africa, I should write to her and she would make it happen. She put me in touch with a nun who worked on several projects in the interiors of Tanzania. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know what I would do, where I would go and how long I would be there for but I just knew I had to go.

My trip was planned in less than 2 weeks – the tickets were booked, the injections taken and my mum loaded me with herbal anti malaria balls. I am a control freak and had decided that since I was taking this leap of faith, I might as well go all out and do no research. Instead, I decided to embrace whatever came my way, just as it was. Before I knew it, I was packed and suddenly found myself in a small bedroom sized airport that had a dilapidated old sign that read “Dar es Salaam”.

I was grinning from ear to ear, which made the visa officials really suspicious till they realised I was just plain crazy. I was shuffling about in a room packed with tourists. 50 dollars later, I had my passport stamped and I was free to wander about the great wilderness. I went out of the airport-room to find myself surrounded by highrise buildings, beautifully tarred wide roads, Mercedes Benz’s just cruising about like they just didn’t care.

Brilliant!

I had just taken off from one city to another. In fact, this city had a 3G phone connection, something even good old Bangalore, IT Capital of India, didn’t have. I was very dissappointed. The nun met me at the airport. I didn’t really know if anyone would come pick me up but I was glad she was there. We took a very luxurious taxi while I stewed inside myself. And then I suddenly found myself in a busy bus station, people everywhere trying to haul bags off you and load them into local buses. I managed to escape most of the crowd, dodged little kids pointing at me, saying “Mzungu, Mzungu!” (which is the Kiswahili word for “white person”) and got into the smallest bus in the history of the world.

I don’t mean small literally, it was a big enough bus on the outside. But when you got in, the seats were so cramped together that even a short person like me had to sit with her legs up on the seat so I don’t hurt my knees. I was stirred out of my thoughts by the nun putting her hands on my shoulder and saying “Are you okay?”. Apparently I was smiling too widely for a first time visitor. Shouldn’t I freak out?

“No, this is my childhood dream come true! Why would I be anything but ecstatic?”, I wanted to say. Instead, I tempered my reactions and was lulled into sleep by the moving motion of the bus.

I went to Tanzania, assuming I’d be there a month. I stayed a whole year. And in that time, I lived with the Maasai Tribe, lived on the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Worked at pre-schools, clincs, and orphanages that spanned the country. And while my experiences make for exciting stories to be told over a drink or to be written in a Lord of the Rings Saga, it is something I will never have words enough to explain.

I was lucky because I didn’t do the touristy things. I moved from project to project, living with real people, experiencing life as a local and instead of waxing ad nauseum, here are a few photos that will paint a better picture.’

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No filter sunrise

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Monduli Mountains and the Savannah

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Maasai Woman

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Local women campaigning for their local leaders

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Local Market

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An old forgotten Cave

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A typical Maasai House

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Zanzibar

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The View From my room at Kili

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The Sugar Mills at Kilombero

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The Stoves

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The Lion King

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The First Humanoid Excavated

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The Egyptian Cobra

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The Black Mamba

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Sunrise at Tanga

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Pink Lake – Ngorongoro Crater