The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

 

 ‘If fear is holding you back just remember that in general, places are safer and people are kinder than you may expect. Discovering this is one of the beautiful benefits of travelling’ – Justin Alexander

“Be careful. Mind yourself. Take care. Be safe.”
Anyone who’s embarked on a journey further than the corner shop or into town for the day has heard the warnings.
What if you get robbed? Knocked down? Attacked? What if you don’t understand what they’re saying?

Travelling places you directly in the firing line to be stifled and stagnated by these often irrational fears – yet also to conquer them. To experience humanity in all it’s confusing and miscommunicative glory, and for once, to let go and trust it.

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Finding and attending sunrise yoga sessions overlooking the Himalayas, meditating on the mountaintop at Tushita, jamming with local and Israeli musicians at Jolly’s and in tiny cafés and bars hidden away down windy paths in the mountains, and some of the best and cheapest monk-made vegetarian food at Tibetan and Indian restaurants where nobody actually speaks any English….2 years ago these things would have seemed impossible and terrifying for me.

I’ve experienced the anxieties, and I’ve now learned to surrender to the language barriers and embrace my fellow humans as the kindred souls they are. As a solo female traveller in particular, the warnings I received about India were enough to make me doubt my decision the entire flight over here. While an element of common sense is required in navigating unfamiliar soil and encountering cultures and people unaccustomed to communicating with pale-skinned, ginger women, in general, my experience here has been altogether more comfortable than the warnings had led me to expect – something which has left me ashamed of my paranoid actions (or lack thereof) on more than one occasion.

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Building bridges

Having become so used to this typically Irish paranoia, self-consciousness, and disinclination to trust ourselves or others we have come to adopt as the norm, I only realise now how much I was limiting myself in denying the natural inclination and need all humans possess to communicate and be open with one another. Given that communication leads to understanding, and understanding lies at the root of any harmonious relationship – be it mind and body, our relationship with ourselves, with friends, family, food – every aspect of our lives, it follows that the initial first step to reach out and interact with another human is often the most daunting, yet rewarding action we can take.
In the travelling/backpacking scene (in Asia, anyway) it may seem easier to speak to and make new acquaintances as everyone seems in the same boat – all secretly sipping beers or coffees in the underlying hope that the attractive guy across the bar will make the first move and ask you to accompany him to see the temple tomorrow (*swoon*).
We need to stop assuming.
We need to take action for ourselves, be more assertive and attentive to our own needs in the moment, and trust whatever natural direction we receive, be it from the kind stranger who just returned a 10 rupee note you dropped by accident, or the vague gestures of locals towards a forest path with not a word of English to accompany their directions. 9 times out of ten you will find their intentions to be genuine and heartfelt, even if their initial scowls or frowny faces may suggest otherwise. Some cultural differences will never change. It’s a shame that I still sometimes feel the apprehension before trusting the directions or unprovoked aid of a local on the street, but I’ve learned finally to open up and trust their lack of agenda for what it is – honesty.

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New friends and good food…

Travelling has helped me see that people aren’t so bad, really.
Discovering the kindness and hospitality of the Indian and Tibetan people I’ve encountered during my short time here has been fulfilling and heartwarming, and part of the reason I’m so reluctant to leave. While I have been careful not to walk too far alone at night or to concern myself with any ‘dodgy’ looking characters, I’ve found it’s the times when I’ve opened my mouth and made the first greeting, comment, or question to a fellow traveller or local that I have been rewarded with a flicker or flame or warmth and friendship – sometimes lasting no longer than a cup of chai, sometimes a whole week of meeting up for yoga classes, activities, or meals. Climbing mountains with new acquaintances and not being afraid to show your true self or embrace your lack of umbrella in a downpour at the Taj Mahal during monsoon season is about as freeing and grounding an experience as any I can hope to ever have again.

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An Irish & an Indian climb a mountain…

After all, aren’t we all just doing our best to keep going? Keep meeting, discovering, and moving onwards to the next destination, even if it’s just down the road? In my experience you are 10 times more likely to encounter kindness than nasty or dangerous behaviour whilst on the road, and discovering the importance of trust and my capacity to remain calm in these situations has already led me to several places and friendships with people and places I never would have experienced had I remained in my ‘safe’ bubble of a hostel room. While an element of self-awareness and common sense is also necessary, the key is to find a balance between overly-analysing the outcome of potential interactions and ultimately ruining them for yourself before they ever happen, and just going with them without thinking. I’ve come to a peaceful middleground where both sides are now available to me, and now just appreciate that I have the opportunity to experience it all.

 

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Bhagsu Waterfall, Dharamsala

 

 

 

6 Reasons to Visit the West of Ireland

How the West was is Fun – 6 Reasons to Visit the West of Ireland

1. Shop Street, Galway City

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Romantic images of ‘The Magical Ireland’ aside, Shop Street in Galway really is the Diagon Alley of Irish muggledom (yes I did just use a fictional place as a means of comparison- what of it). This narrow, winding, and densely populated street is lined with everything from high street brand names to Eastern European market stalls (on a Saturday), buskers of every kind imaginable, and even several pubs where anything less than a 24-hour live-music céilí is classed as a ‘quiet day’. (Taaffe’s and Tigh Cóilí). The cobblestones have been known to cause several tipsy topples and are best navigated in comfortable, non-heeled shoes!

2. Cliffs of Moher

 I couldn’t have made this list without featuring probably the most recognisable chunk of land in the country down in the chinstrap of Ireland. The Cliffs of Moher are eerily parallel to sea-level and rise up out of the waves as steady and firm as a perfectly layered cake – green icing and all. On a good day, it’s windy. On a bad day, it’s downright perilous…But still very very pretty. Multiple outer layers recommended, and no filters necessary! #OneForInstagram

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3. The Aran Islands

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Ireland’s answer to the island-hopping backpacking jaunts of Thailand and SouthEast Asia, pack your kit bag and a couple of cans and catch the ferry out to Aran, for as satisfying a retreat as any pristine, sandy, ‘untouched’ beach in Indonesia could provide. You won’t find any coconuts, but rumour has it there’s a rock somewhere on Inis Meáin in the shape of Leonardo Di Caprio’s head….

           More on the Aran Islands here

4. Connemara

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From Spiddal, to Ros a Mhíl, to ‘lock-ins’ and incomprehensible local dialects (even some English speakers), Connemara really is an experience that most Irish people fail to appreciate completely. Stunningly barren landscapes roll into sudden clusters of habitation, the local pub the central hub of communication and shop attendants so charmingly Irish that they marvel at the foreign intrusion of ‘a mango, no less!’ onto the fruit shelves of the local grocers. Gaeilge is actively spoken here and resides as harmoniously alongside Bean an Tí (woman of the house) as the delicious home-baked goods in our tums after a windswept walk on the coral beach in Carraroe.

5. Lahinch

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Although we’re a far cry from Bali’s Batu Balong beach or the warm, attractive swells of more tropical climates, the West Coast of Ireland has been dubbed a surfer’s paradise and boasts several ideal spots such as Lahinch for a days’ floundering in the Wild Atlantic Sea. If you’re like me and fail fantastically at being tied to a large piece of polystyrene and fiberglass, numerous schools and lessons are available, Lahinch Surf Experience being among the most noted. Further up the West Coast, Mullaghmore in Sligo has even been featured in Lonely Planet’s ‘Best Spots to Catch a Big Wave’. No fear of the waves stealing your swimsuit here, as inch-thick wetsuits are a necessity, yet still might not protect from teeth-and bone-shattering temperatures – it’s gonna be COLD.

6. Regular Direct Buses to/from Dublin

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This is the clincher for many tourists to Dublin who may be interested in taking a trip West. Both Citylink and GoBus operate a non-stop hourly service leaving from Dublin Airport and the city, at extremely affordable prices. Comfy, efficient, and guaranteed to get you there within the 2 1/2 hours’ promised time.If you’re lucky you might even get a plug socket!

If that’s not enough to get you itching to explore the West of Ireland, check out these top budget Air B’n’B listings available now! 

Useful Links

Lahinch Surf Experience
Tig Cóilí
Taaffe’s Bar
The Cliffs of Moher
Aran Island Ferries
Trá an Dóilín Carraroe
Wild Atlantic Way
Citylink
Gobus

Ikigai – What Do You Really Want?

Ikigai 

 No, it’s not the contact details of that oddly-smelling dude from the bar last weekend who you assured you’d text after one too many cocktails. (iki-guy, get it? Sorry. I’ll stop now..)

I recently stumbled upon this picture of a venn diagram online in an article on elephantjournal.com, and through a bit more research, was truly uplifted by what I read.

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‘Ikigai’ is a Japanese word which translates to ‘the reason for being’ or a ‘reason to wake up each morning’. Aside from the obvious excitement at the prospect of that first cup of coffee or tiny ray of premature sunshine on the way to work in the morning, ‘ikigai’ is used in Japan to represent a healthy passion for that which allows us to feel fulfilled, satisfied, and valued.

 Through assessing the connections between existing aspects of our own lives and those which we wish could be included, it allows us to access a sense of accomplishment by helping to lay out a simpler path to put into practice the talents and potential we all hold.

It has been described as the outcome of “allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom’, – essentially what happens when we weed out the unhelpful and hindering thoughts, practices, and day-to-day negative activities which may have embedded themselves amongst the delicate bulbs of potential planted within us, making them difficult to access and clouding both our vision and judgement with alternate motives. It might just mean you get easily distracted from your long-term goals, a passing sparkly thing proving just too tempting and ‘full of potential potential’ to let slide (that’s right, not even actual potential – just the potential to develop this potential…*facepalm*).
#Notions

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By breaking down the reality of each important element in our lives, the concept of ‘ikigai’ allows us to accurately consider exactly how and where our passions, talents, and desires are or are not of benefit to us, and thus motivate us down a path directed towards correcting this.

The path itself will not have any one definite end – ‘ikigai’ supports the yogic concept of ‘enjoying the journey’; allowing the focus to shift from the end goal to the current process and current moment of simply getting there.

The passions and potential we acknowledge through finding our ‘ikigai’ is just the first necessary step on the long road to achieving a sense of contentment, and one which takes some self-reflection and meditation to acknowledge.

 It’s important also to remember that sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is to actually sit down and admit to ourselves what it is we really want. Once you’ve recognised and accepted these natural instincts and talents, and truly devote the energy and attention required to help them manifest as reality, they become surprisingly easier and easier to access, and therefore easier to maintain this connection.

 ‘Ikigai’ is not an end goal, target number, weight, destination, or job title. It is not a world phenomenon or cure for disease, platinum selling-single, or award-winning movie.

‘Ikigai’ is something you can access anywhere, anytime, to bring you back to your current situation and accept yourself as you are. Although you might not be exactly where you’d like to be right now, the brilliance of ‘ikigai’ lies in the awareness that every moment you live now is contributing to a future sense of contentment that you will ultimately find if you continue living in the moment.

It is a way to recognise that which defines us and all positive aspects of our lives, in order for us to begin incorporating them into our days to orchestrate a more enjoyable experience of our time here. If nothing else, it’s a way to motivate ourselves and encourage growth.

That’s it’s, really. The simplicity of the Japanese way of life is enchanting.

Art, Language, and Yoga as Forms of Personal Expression

 

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They say that art calms the mind, and soothes the senses.

As someone who is regularly plagued by bouts of extreme and intense anxiety, coupled with irrational responses to everyday occurrences, I have truly found solace in writing; in expressing my thoughts and worries elsewhere before they get the opportunity to take over my life.

Writing especially I have found to benefit me extremely in this sense, yet also other art forms too – singing, practicing yoga, translating, doodling, creating anything…aside from the obvious enjoyment and productivity associated with these acts themselves, it’s comforting to realise that regular practice and engagement with them have massive health benefits too.

The calmness and ease I feel after writing or praciticing yoga for a short time, or expressing myself in some other way is what I imagine most people (and by most, I mean people who aren’t prone to anxiety or extremes of thought patterns) feel on a ‘good day’. A ‘good day’ being a day where they awake feeling relatively content with their lives; their job; the balance on their latest bank statement; an upcoming night out or short holiday planned to keep them ploughing on through the next workday. A good day is all I want. A mediocre day without stressing over what to eat for breakfast, how I should break up the day ahead, whether or not I’ve had a response from the latest job application I’ve submitted…

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When I was travelling I had many, many of these ‘good days’. So many in fact, that I’ve come to associate the very act of travelling with these feelings of contentment, understanding, and acceptance of the world around me. When I’m travelling, it’s not only MY world I’m accepting – the things and people I see on a day-to-day basis – it’s the ENTIRE world. It’s a level of acceptance and bliss it’s difficult to recall now as I sit alone in my parents’ house, the grey clouds of an Irish ‘Springtime’ taunting the pale skin that has only just begun to lose the thick spatter of freckles Asia provided as a thoughtful departing gift to remember her by.

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Language and Writing

People are quick to comment on SouthEast Asians’ calmness and politeness of character, something I have experienced first-hand and now seek to put into practice myself. Even the various languages and alphabets as they are written- the delegation of equal importance and respect to each line, component, and meaning of each letter in each and every word they speak and write is absolutely fascinating, and humbling in comparison to the almost careless way we seem to throw our words and thoughts around a lot of the time.

In taking the time to sit and write them out, we are treating our own minds with respect, our own thoughts, however frivolous they may be, are being given the time of day they deserve and not hushed away in the back of a wardrobe or the ‘junk drawer’. This can be achieved no matter what language we are writing in.

Yoga For Self-Awareness

 Sitting with a new language and attempting to fully understand new structures, words, functions, and patterns is similar to sitting with our own bodies and listening to our needs. We slowly become more and more in tune with them; understanding the unique functions, strengths, cycles, abilities and limitations, the positive and negative reactions to outside stimuli, the huge spectrum of potential and possibility for this ever-evolving life-form that we’ve been given to power through a ‘lifetime’ here.

I don’t pretend to claim a clear understanding of all things body and mind and language-related and the vague sort of tenacious connection that I am now more certain than ever is in existence between us all – I’m merely enjoying the process of exploring it. I’m not expecting to ever understand it all, because that would defeat the purpose of the journey and of the creative exploration of what we’ve been given to work with. I can only hope to maintain an enjoyment of this journey, to sit with it, associating words and symbols and ideologies with different concepts and ways of life and language; with physical movement and accepting my body through yoga being a medium through which this change can work – a way for me to continue exploring it.

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‘Hati Hati’ – Be Careful, But Be Brave – Bali

 Don’t go breaking my Bahasa!!

There is a phrase in Bahasa which can be seen written along roadsides, in bars, on billboards, on warning signs and outside shop entrances, at the foot of steep steps or hills, at the entrance to yoga studios and motorbike rental stores…basically in a hell of a lot of both public and private places, all over Bali. Not only is it written, but it’s used as an almost generic form of salutation when saying goodbye.

‘Hati-Hati’, quickly became one of my favourite things to say when I was travelling around the island, purely because it encompassed so many different meanings all at once, and still allowed me to feel as if I was speaking the local language and assimilating myself into the culture.

The phrase is used to exercise caution; to warn of imminent or potential danger; aiming to prevent difficulty or hardship, and to ultimately bring a person back to the reality of where they are and what they are doing as they hear it said.

 ‘Hati’, is the Bahasa or Indonesian word for ‘heart’. Literally translated, ‘Hati-Hati’ means ‘Watch your heart”, and can also be understood in terms of the spiritual and emotional translation as well as the physical organ – warning a person to take care where they invest their emotions, where they place allegiances and spend emotional energy.

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The use of ‘Hati-Hati’ as an everyday phrase in Bali and the surrounding areas to warn against potential physical danger or accident is where the beauty of it lies – by telling another to ‘take care’, they are not only wishing them well on their travels, but wishing a sense of emotional stability and contentment upon them too.

‘Hati-Hati’ warns to exercise caution, but to be proactive about it – not to let the fear of a potential outcome overcome the desire or ability to carry it out or achieve a desire. It encourages merely an awareness of one’s current situation, location, emotional, physical, and mental state, and really succeeds in bringing us back to the important factors of these instead of losing ourselves in the heat of the moment or anxiety about what it may potentially lead to.
Taking care, but continuing as we are. Watching our hearts, but not closing them. Just being aware.

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Potato Head Beach Club, Seminyak, Bali (FB)

Ar Thóraíocht Taistil – Ó Chonamara go Cambodia…go Vítneam

Ar Thóraíocht Taistil – Ó Chonamara go Cambodia…go Vítneam

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Níor cheap mé riamh go n-aireodh an baile uaim comh mór seo. Go háirithe toisc go bhfuil sé ráite agam cheana nach dtarlaíonn sé sin dom. De réir dealraimh, ní tharlaíonn sé sin do daoine is iad ag taistil na cruinne, pictiúirí ar Instagram agus Facebook ag léiriú na híomhanna is fearr, na buacphointí nach mhaireann ach ar luas lasrach le cúpla soicind agus iad glactha. Ní raibh tinneas baile orm ariamh is mé ar saoire nó in aon áit ar bith ar domhan, agus mar sin níor aithin mé an mothúcháin go dtí gur bhuail sé sa chluas mé – é sin ráite, ní raibh mé riamh as baile comh fada seo ach oiread.

Ní bualadh sa chluas a bhí ann go fisiciúil, dar ndóigh.

Is mé ag athrú busanna ó mhionbhus go bus codlata le taistil ó Hue go Hanoi ar chósta thoir Vítneam inné, chas fear liom agus dúirt sé comh giorraisc Gaelach is a thagann siad; ‘you’re not Irish, are you?’
Ar chúis éigin mhuscail rud eicínt i mo chroí an canúint so-aitheanta sin a chloisteáil, glór aithnidiúil agus an ghreann ghearrchúiseach céanna is atá ionam fhéin ag casadh le chéile faoi dheireadh, i dtír nach bhfeiceann ionann ach turasóirí ó Theas tagtha le hairgead a chaitheamh agus pictiúrí a glacadh. Seans mhaith go bhfuil beagan áibhéil i gceist agam leis an abairt sin, ach ag an bpointe seo bhí mé comh sásta casadh le duine muinteartha nár thug mé faoi dheireadh go raibh muid tar éis moill ollmhór a chuir ar an scuaine, agus go raibh an tiománaí ag béiceadh orainn deifir a dhéanamh (ar a laghad, sin a tháinig trasna leis na gothaí móra agus tuin glórach cainte a bhí aige).
Shocraigh muid fhéin inár suíocháin (nó ‘leapacha’, sa chás seo), agus dúirt muid go labhródh muid arís ar ball, ach ní sular bhain mé amach gur Ciarraíoch a bhí ann ar saoire lena chailín ar feadh míosa, agus gur mise an chéad Éireannach a bhí casta acu go dtí seo.
‘Cén chaoi a raibh a fhios agaibh?’
‘Do ghruaig, dar ndóigh.’
‘Ah’.
D’úirt mo mham i gcónaí liom gan dath nó díriúcháin buan a chuir i mo ghruaig, agus anois gabhaim bhuíochas leí agus le chuile rud a d’iarr sí. Comh buíoch lena raibh mé nuair a tháinig mé ar an leabhar sin ó Ross O’Carroll Kelly i mbrú sa Chambóid an mhí seo caite – an cineál greann sin a d’airigh mé uaim agus a bhí orm a mhíniú don chomhluadar Sasanach a bhí timpeall orm ag an am – ‘loike, Ó mo Dhia bhí sé focking thar barr!’

Bhí turas fada romhainn, 12 uair a chloig ar a laghad, agus na buncleapacha míchompordacha ag freastal ar riachtanaisí na ndaoine nach bhfuil cosa comh fada píleata is atá agam. Tháinig mé ar sheasamh sealadach a rinne chúis dom codladh eadrom a fháil ar feadh 20 nóimead ag an am, sular éalaigh an mothúcháin uilig ar thaobh mo láimhe deise, agus bhí orm malartú a dhéanamh chun go ndéanfar cothromaíocht ar an easpa mothúcháin a bhí ag leathnú amach ionam. Ní dúirt éinne riamh go mbeadh busanna codlata galánta!
B’fhéidir gurb iad na hÉireannaigh eile a chuir cumha don bhaile orm, nó seans gur an aimsir a bhí ann – b’iontach an rogha a bhí againn an lá áirithe seo a chaitheamh ag taistil, toisc nár stop an báisteach ón uair a d’éirigh muid ar maidin. Cíbe rud é, thit coladh aisteach orm leathbhealach tríd an turais, agus ar feadh tréimhse ní raibh mé cinnte an fíor-eachtraí nó brionglóidí a bhí ag tarlúint timpeall orm, mo chairde ón bhaile do mo leanúint trí ghoirt ríse glasa ar rothair agus muid uilig ag caitheamh hataí triontánacha déanta le tuí.
Ba dlisteanach na radharcanna a bhí ag imeacht timpeall orm nuair a dhúisigh mé, ach ní raibh tásc nó tuairisc ar mo chomhghleacaí ón mbrionglóid in éineacht liom. Bhí mé liom fhéin arís, na ‘Paddy Fields’ mar a cuirtear orthu ag imeacht timpeall orm do mo chrá lena n-ainm Gaelach agus dath uaine álainn taobh amuigh – sílfeá gur ar Citylink nó GoBus go Gaillimh a bhí mé ag pointe amháin, na scamaill agus páirceanna ag déanamh comhbhrón le mo chuimhní ón tsamhradh i gConamara de réir mar a d’imigh an ghrian ón spéir is dorchadas anabhaí na hÁise ag titim.

Chaill mé uair a chloig nó mar sin ag cuimhneamh siar ar an cúpla seachtain deireanach a bhí caite agam le daoine nár chas mé le riamh roimhe sin, daoine eile ar fánaíocht ón Astráil, ó Shasana, Meiriceá, an Ghearmáin, an Bheilg….lean an liosta ar aghaidh. Bhí cairde iontacha déanta agam, rudaí feicthe agam agus déanta agam nár smaoinigh mé riamh a bhí mar fhéidireachtaí dom; cén fáth mar sin go raibh cumha comh mór sin don bhaile tagtha gan choinne orm? An Ghaeilge i mo chloigeann a bhí curtha ar leathaobh le cúpla seachtain anuas ach amháin le sampla a thabhairt do ghrúpa ón Ísltír nár chreid go raibh a teanga féin ag Éireann ag pléascadh uaim anois gan smacht, is mé ag streachailt teacht ar leabhar nótaí nó laptop le mo chuid smaointe a scríobh síos agus cuid de mo theanga dhúchas a chloisteáil arís go scioptha– fiú má’s i mo chloigeann amháin a bhí sí.

Tugann an cineál seo taistil meas agus grá difriuil agat do do bhaile féin. Domsa, tá os cionn mí go leith caite agam anois amuigh ón bhaile agus cé go bhfuil mé anois i dtaithí ar an tslí beatha seo, an ‘backpacker culture’ mar a deirtear i measc na taistealaí óga eile anseo, tá rudaí ionam agus mar chuid de mo phearsa nach n-athróidh comh héasca sin. I measc cultúir comh éagsúil ó mo cheann fhéin tá sé éasca dearmad a dhéanamh ar na rudaí a cheanglaíonn mo chroí go hÉireann nuair nach bhfuil siad díreach os mo chomhair, na nithe beaga a tharlaíonns ó lá go lá nach féidir cuir síos nó cur amach ceart a dhéanamh orthu do daoine iasachta eile. Tá an ‘Late Late Toy Show’ ar siúl anocht, mar shampla. Déan iarracht an ceann sin a mhiniú don ghrúpa taistealaí óga ón Nua-Shéalainn a roinn mé seomra leo aréir. Go figure.
Nílim ag rá nach bhfuilim buíoch as an deis seo a fháil – cinnte, ‘sé ceann de na rudaí is fearr a tharla dom agus a rinne mé dom fhéin i mo shaol, agus molfainn d’éinne é, ach tagann chuile rud go pointe ina bhfuil ort céim siar a thógáil agus amharc a thógáil ar na rudaí a d’fhág tú i do dhiaidh. Tharla an nóiméad sin dom le linn an turas sin inné, agus sílim go bhfógraíonn sé an cineál rian leathbhealaigh atá buailte agam anois. Tá neart foghlamtha agam, neart feicthe. Ach tá fós bóthar fada le dhul agam go dtí go mbeidh mé ar an bhfód dúchais arís.

Is an bus ag leanacht ar aghaidh tríd na hoíche, is dóigh gur thit codladh orm arís ag pointe nó dhó, in ainneoin na bóithre baolacha agus síorghleo na caranna ag bualadh bonnáin ar a chéile gan chúis agus gan éifeacht seachas paisinéirí traochta agus uaigneach ón Iarthar a choinneál ina suí. Cé go raibh mé ag súil leis na radharcanna a fheiceáil ag an gceannscríbe, is an chéad chéim eile ar an tóraíocht taisce seo a bhaint amach, líon íomhanna ón bhaile agus ón Nollaig ach go háirithe mo chloigeann, agus ghlac mé le suaimhneas go bhfuil sé sin fós ag fanacht orm tar éis dom filleadh abhaile. Don nóiméad seo, a bheartaigh mé, níl ann ach cúpla seachtain fágtha, agus tá sé ar intinn agam an oiread is mó a bhaint astu siúd agus gur féidir liom.

Home Is Where The Hostel Is – From Connemara to Cambodia

‘To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure” – Freya Stark

It’s funny sometimes how it takes longer than anticipated to truly feel at ease in a new place. I’ve come to the conclusion that some places simply may never feel like home – the school floor upon which we slept in Uganda, for example, or the layover area of Helsinki airport.
But really, when it comes down to it, what even is home? We adapt to our present situations, and continue to beat onwards regardless of what came before or what is coming next. Right now I am here, and I have finally begun to adjust to the fact that Cambodia is currently my temporary home, and boy is life here more difficult than I had expected!

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Local children wave as they see us pass..

It may sound extreme, but I honestly believe that the past two weeks have been some of the most testing of my life, with as many ups and downs as there are staircases to climb to each lesson and each floor within our new schools and homes (that’s a lot!). At first, I didn’t know whether or not I’d stick it. Hell, I still change my mind every couple of hours, and from what I’ve heard from the other interns, many of their stories are similar. In general though, things have finally, finally reached a kind of level enough field where we can live within our means and support ourselves to some extent within this crazy country. For me anyway I think it took longer than I expected for the initial buzz of travelling and being in a new place, with new people, completely alone and self-sufficient to wear off, and I hadn’t honestly taken much of the teaching element of things into consideration.

 Luckily I have a bit of teaching experience to stand behind me, and so I wasn’t relying too much on things to be organised for me – I work well on my feet, ‘winging it’ and adapting to unpredictable situations having been a large part of my previous work (grá mo chroí Coláiste Lurgan!!). This is where the main problem lies in Cambodia and with the LoveTEFL programme in particular – the teachers and schools here really had no idea what to expect from us, nor us them. This combination led to several extremely frustrating days of half-teaching, half-observing, being thrown into teacherless classes with no prior knowledge of what had been taught, nor what level of understanding the kids had of English – trial and error was literally the only method we could have used, the mistakes we made seeming even more humiliating due to our total ignorance to even the way the schooldays were laid out, and what the children see when they looked to us – we are only the second pair of Western interns to ever work at this particular branch of NYIS (New York International School).

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Our humble Cambodian kitchenette

Our school accomodation and wifi situation has (thankfully) finally been remedied somewhat, and we’ve rearranged our limited kitchen appliances to form a kind of kitchenette area, using some of the tables and chairs from the classrooms as a base. This now means that we can at least stock up our own fridge and prepare some meals at home, although these are still limited to foods that are either microwavable or toastable. Eating out was acceptable for the first week or so, but I feel if we are to truly adapt to living in this city instead of being tourists and properly settle in, it’s simply not sustainable! (Not to mention it being expensive). I don’t think the LoveTEFL organisation took into consideration that some of us are on quite tight travel budgets, and cannot afford to be eating out as regularly as seems to be required – the lack of basic appliances for cooking is testament to this. Also, the fact that there was minimal access to internet until this week was extremely frustrating, especially given the fact we are expected to be planning lessons during the evenings – it just didn’t make sense!

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Chandelier in a tuk tuk

All things aside, overall it seems to have finally taken a turn for the better, or at least levelled out somewhat, the actual teaching element of the programme for me proving actually kind of enjoyable and rewarding when the kids respond and succeed in class. I’ve taught one class the same story in three different accents, and both they and their teachers seem hugely appreciative of the exposure to different pronunciations and intonations of words! Sometimes I think we forget that even our presence here in the schools for the Khmer children is effective in their learning. For them to be exposed to other cultures, languages, and identities is as important as it is for them to be attending school in the first place. It opens their eyes to the world and presents them with knowledge they might use to help themselves in the future, language being the key to any sort of communication, be it on an academic, emotional, or spiritual level.

What it was for us as kids to walk down the street – our countries being far more multicultural and multi-denominational in population, is similar now to what we are providing by our presence in the schools, many of them functioning on extremely limited resources and funding.
I don’t want to speak too soon or jinx things, but I am finally feeling somewhat more at ease here, and useful during the schoolday!

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Lovely Jubbly Villa Hostel

 Our weekend was spent in the Lovely Jubbly Villa hostel in Phnom Penh, a quieter and more relaxed spot than the Mad Monkey of last weekend, although we did go out anyway for Halloween and watch the Rugby World Cup final in the Aussie XL bar not too far away. On Saturday myself and one of the other interns booked a tour with Nature Cambodia to visit The Killing Fields Tuol Sleng Genocide museum, and see the surrounding villages via quad bike – something I’ll admit I was really excited to try!

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Quad Biking with Nature Cambodia
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Orange, Green and Blue

It was a good mix of a serious versus fun afternoon, as the sombre content of The Killing Fields was made up for by the exhilaration of the orange dirt tracks our guide Johnny took us around on the quad bikes. At one point it felt like freedom was the orange, blue and green hues that surrounded us on all angles, and we returned to our tuk-tuks feeling like we’d gotten our money’s worth. It’s worth mentioning here that this tour was extremely well organised, and from each pickup, drop off and switch over to another element of the tour it flowed seamlessly – one of the first times since arriving to Cambodia that something has actually seemed to work out without a hitch!

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Main Memorial Building at The Killing Fields in Choeung Ek museum – over 8,000 people lost their lives in this small area

It was sobering to think of the tragedies which occurred at Choeung Ek, but I feel it was a necessary insight into the country’s history which left us more aware and appreciative of the successes of the country today, and how far it has come to escape the Khmer Rouge regime.

We made our way back to the hostel, ready to leave the haunting images of the fields behind and sample the yummy food and drinks menus that really added to the Lovely Jubbly experience, along with the pool, with the prices proving a lot more affordable than those at the Mad Monkey. We even started to find our way around the city a bit as we made our way on foot to and from several places – something that I myself had been hesitant to try until then. Next weekend we’ve booked a stay at the sister branch of the Mad Monkey in Kampot which is a couple of hours outside the city –a break from Phnom Penh that I personally am really looking forward to!

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This is so unlike me

Til’ then….keep on tuk-tuk’in!

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View of the sun setting over Phnom Penh from the roof of our school

Useful links

Lovely Jubbly Hostel Website / Facebook / Trip Advisor
Nature Cambodia Website
Tso Sleung Museum on Trip Advisor
Aussie XL Bar Website / Facebook / Twitter
The Mad Monkey Hostel / Facebook / Twitter / Trip Advisor
LoveTEFL Internships 

How to…. Become a Pro At Awkward Silences! – From Connemara to Cambodia

….Come to Cambodia!

One thing I had not taken into consideration much in my decision to come to Cambodia, was just how alien the writing and text of Khmer language is in comparison to English. While it may seem an obvious issue to many seasoned travellers, I had neglected to consider how basic some of the locals’ English skills really are – especially because we are based largely away from the main tourist-areas of the city which, when you think about it, are generally the areas regularly encountered by backpackers. It has rarely occurred before that I have met with such a complete and utter blank barrier of misunderstanding, with little or no way to break through it – I would wager that 80% of every interaction here consists of a sort of ‘yes?-no?–maybe?-’ kind of awkward silence. Worse even than the most extreme cases I’ve encountered teaching in the Gaeltacht – at least with the Irish language, the alphabet is the same!

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It’s like a plate of spaghetti

The symbols of gobbledeegook here that look pretty and oriental to a certain extent but that make no sense whatsoever to any of us leave me feeling displaced and uncomfortable – this is what it’s like trying to understand the street signs and local language (Khmer). Think Arabic, with slightly more twirly loops and a tighter formation, which we were informed only pauses for spaces between words in order for a breath to be taken as it’s being spoken.
It reminds me of learning to read English for the first time – trying to make sense of an alphabet so alien that it seems impossible it could make any kind of sense to anyone ever! It’s a feeling of frustration that I haven’t had to experience since I was 4 years old!

 The printed type on signposts and shop signs is tough enough, but spending time teaching in a local school has exposed us to handwriting of the same lettering, so complicated it makes even the most intricate of calligraphy seem dull in comparison. (I say this having no idea what the words in these pictures actually say – I could easily be posting pictures of anything from it being Monday the 26th of October to what Class E3A had for dinner last week!).

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I agree wholeheartedly.

 It’s this lack of comprehension and understanding which greets you like a slap from a still struggling wet fish at the market that makes many day-to-day interactions here so uncomfortable. It’s not only in the physical environment around us, but in every form of communication that exists. Things that we take for granted and think of as ‘normal’ or even ‘polite’ at home are things that would not even be considered by Khmer people. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve specifically explained to a tuk-tuk driver where we wanted to go, had him nod his head in mock understanding with a toothless grin, and proceeded to be carted off into the playstation-game maze of windy, filthy, and downright dangerous streets for half an hour or more as he stops to enquire from other drivers if they know the directions to where he’s going. I understand that they need the money and probably work ridiculous, non-stop and high-risk hours, but it’s kind of in the job description of a taxi-driver to be able to find your way around!

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Crazy tuk-tuk traffic at night

 Another thing I’ve struggled to comprehend the logic of here is the structuring of some of the lessons. Because of the extremely varying English levels of students in each school, the conclusion that has been reached and put into practise across the country is to stream the classes according to ability. This by all means works at home in our systems where students attend school from an early age and cover a variety of subjects, therefore providing them with basic language skills and a certain level of education by the time they reach a particular age, making it easy to form classgroups and ensure a similar age range is maintained.

 In Cambodia, however, this is not the case. A lack of funding and general low standard of education means that the schools will teach anyone who is willing to pay the fee, regardless of demand, class size, age, or previous education, be it in English, Khmer, Chinese, or other subjects. This unfortunately necessary logic is how I found myself standing in front of a class of eighteen students yesterday, the youngest girl of five years old scribbling all over her book and wiping apple juice from sticky fingers while a deep-voiced, burly young boy of fifteen cowered next to her in embarassment as I rountinely asked each student to tell me their name and age. While their levels of understanding of the English language may have been of similar strength (very poor), it was clear from the written work I set and the exercises during class that this particular instance of streamlined classgroups had failed massively. The boy was clearly ashamed of his assumed position as ‘oldest student in the class’, and the younger kids’ natural clamour and sing-songy way of pottering through a days’ schoolwork simply was not the correct environment for him to be attempting to improve his language skills within. I’ve heard from speaking to other interns and teachers alike that they’ve come across many such examples of extremely mixed classes and unfortunately streamlined standards of learning, and it really does not add to the general difficulty here of teaching classes whose regular teachers struggle to pronounce even basic English words correctly – the downfall of an education provided by those with only mediocre levels of English themselves. This, again, is an unfortunate necessity for the schools in Cambodia, and a large reason why our presence here has generally been so well-received.

Because birds are good for heat.....?!?
Because birds are good for heat…..?!?

Along with this, I’ve found being thrown in to teach a very weak class for 4 hours straight with no prior warning or even information as to what they have previously covered to be one of the most humiliating experiences I’ve ever had. The students were so weak that they couldn’t even comprehend being asked had they covered a particular page in the workbook, and failed to recognise simple questions and vocabulary that may have enabled me to further their understanding of it. It was as if a literal language barrier existed between the top of the classroom and the bottom, and no matter how we tried it simply could not be scaled. We ended up using the wordless talents of Mr. Bean on Youtube to entertain them for the last half hour of the day, the silent images of England punctuated by laughter (something they can actually understand!) giving them at the very least a visual image of Western culture, and me an exhausted and ashamed break after a particularly painful afternoon.

Teaching is haaaard.

My Humble Cambodia – 6 Weeks To Go

My Humble Cambodia – 6 Weeks To Go

In 6 weeks time I will jet off to Cambodia to spend 7 weeks teaching as a LoveTEFL volunteer. While it’s not the most excotic, revolutionary or innovative and original way to travel, it suits my current situation so well in that I have such a yearn to move and see and learn about the world and places and people I have not yet seen, but lack severly in available funding (I SUCK at saving!).
As I began considering a long-haul trip and went about researching possible destinations and routes, the realistic length of the time I could afford to have spent travelling alone gradually began to reflect the ever-depleting balance in my bank account, and I was forced to reconsider. Wanting to spend a lengthy period of time abroad was going to cost me, and I was more than likely looking at returning home to an empty bank account with my head hung low and another few months living back at home and being bailed out by my parents. This way, I get the best of bost worlds – 8 weeks solo travel, living in South East Asia and really getting to experience a taste of what life is like there, with weekends free to do as I please, and a structured routine for the weekdays which is sure to keep me (I hope!) from celebrating too hard at the extent of the freedom I’m sure I will feel at taking this step. At the end of this 9 weeks (I have a week longer after the course to myself in Myanmar) I will be returning home, not only with a certified TEFL qualification, but with genuine firsthand experience of teaching English to foreign students in their home setting – something which will undoubtedly lead to further job prospects for me both at home and abroad in the aftermath of my travels (post-travelling-blues are more definitely a real thing!)
This way I don’t feel so bad by blowing what little savings I have on this trip. Does ‘blowing’ really factor into this situation? I feel like I’m making a genuine extremely valuable investment into my life here!!

 There are certain things I’m nervous about, certain things I’m excited about, and other things that I can’t even begin to imagine how I’ll feel about. For one, I’ve never travelled very far alone, something which has only fueled my scatterbrained tendencies and given me excuses to depend on other people to get around and navigate for me. I know for a fact that this solo trip will be good for me, and it will only build on all the work I’ve done in past months to better myself and strengthen my presence here.
I’m excited to experience the culture and people of Southeast Asia – from what I’ve heard they are some of the friendliest and most easygoing people in the world. I don’t want to be getting too far ahead of myself in all these musings, but it’s difficult not to get excited at the prospects of a trip like this! The fact that I’ll be teaching young children language skills which will aid them in their communicative and social skills, help them be stronger and have more to give as they move forwards in their lives really appeals to me and makes me feel that I will finally be contributing to something worthwhile by helping other human beings advance in their lives. In my teaching experience up until now I have definitely found this to be true, however such diversity of cultural boundaries and opportunities to discover more about myself and the world have never before presented themselves to me or seemed so huge and exciting.
In the weeks leading up to this trip I will be concentrating on completing the online section of the TEFL course, whilst also preparing and strengthening myself both physically and mentally to undertake this trip. Today I’m focusing on securing myself an international police-check which is necessary for all LoveTEFL interns in order for them to be eligible to teach abroad. This is basically just a garda-vetting form which has to be signed by the Garda Superintendent at my local station (or ‘Supernintendo’, as we used to call them!). I’ve already checked out the vaccinations necessary to travel in Cambodia, but it seems I’m covered for them all since my trip to Uganda this time two years ago! Hard to believe it’s that long since we were there, I still remember it so clearly!

 While I plan on trying to keep this blog updated on my preparations and plans for the upcoming trip, I also understand that too much pre-meditation and pre-planning for something so large as a trip of this extent can not only get boring to read, but may ultimately result in an anti-climactic experience when I actually arrive! Hopefully I’ll be able to write regularly while I’m there, if I have no internet access then I’ll be sure to write it anyway and post it at a later date.

 For now, Lia suhn hao-y!! (That means goodbye in Kmer!!)

Mumford ar mo Shon

Mumford ar mo Shon
-An t-aireachas (mindfulness) sa saol linn inniu

Ní rún atá ann go bhfuil bá faoi leith agam don ghrúpa ceoil Mumford and Sons. Is le linn an tsamhraidh i 2013 a cheannaigh mé ticéad ar DoneDeal.com do cheolchoirm dá gcuid a bhí ar siúl i bPáirc an Fhionnuisce ar an turas ‘Gentlemen of the Road’ in éineacht le Ben Howard, Ham Sandwich, agus Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, agus níl mórán nach raibh ar an eolas ag an am go raibh mé ar bís faoi.

Faraor, buíochas le hansmacht uilíoch an idirlíon, agus easpa taithí ar mo shonsa i dtaobh úsáid leithéid shuíomhanna, diúltaíodh isteach mé ag na ngeataí bonnoibrithe toisc nár thicéad cuí a bhí agam. Ag siúl ar ais in aghaidh an easa, na mílte daoine ar a mbealach isteach don cheolchoirm is mé liom fhéin ina gcoinne, bheartaigh mé gan mhuinín a chuir in aon suíomh idirlíne nó grúpa taobh amuigh den chóras oifigiúla ariamh arís. Ag mallachtú an saol agus an fear slítheanta ar cheannaigh mé an ticéad uaidh, d’éist mé leis an gceol ag taiscéal tríd an aer do m’chluasa is mé ag fanacht ar bhus abhaile.

Ó shin, níl rud ar bith ceannaithe agam ar líne a bhain le tríú páirtí nó ‘fear sa lár’, mar a deirtear. Scaití is in ionad na táillí breise a íocadh a gceannaítear na ticéadaí seo, nó chun brábus a dhéanamh nuair atá ceolchoirmeacha díolta amach, ach i ndáiríre is minic a bhíonn costas níos mó ag baint leis an sealbhú a dhéanamh thar cheann de na suíomhanna seo chun go ndéanfar brábús ar an táirge. Ní ar an tomhaltóir atá na mangairí seo ag díriú, ach orthu féin agus ar na féidireachtaí atá ann dóibh – an t-airgead atá le baint ó lucht leanúna na ngrúpaí ceoil seo ag iarraidh ticéad a fháil ar aon chostas. Go pointe, is dúshaothrú ar an ngnáthduine atá ar siúl acu, agus dar ndóigh ní ceart go mbeadh an féidirtheacht sin ann dóibh. Dom fhéin, tuigim nár cheart dom dul sa tseans mar sin arís agus muinín a chur le rud nach bhfuil aon bharántas nó chinnteacht ag baint leis, ach ag an am níor éist mé le m’instinn agus réasún, comh fíanta sin a bhí an fonn ionam an grúpa a fheicéail.

An uair sin bhí an locht orm nár fhiosraigh mé tuilleadh eolais ón bhfear a bhí á dhíol. Chas mé leis i Leamhcán, thug mé an t-airgead dó, thug sé an píosa páipéir dom (droch-chomhartha dá bhfeicfeá ceann riamh) agus as go brách leis ina Fiat Punto beag glas. Bhí mé comh sásta liom fhéin gur éirigh liom ticéad a fháil nár lig mé liom fhéin smaoineamh a dhéanamh ar na laigí atá soléir dom anois ag cuimhneadh siar. Ach mairimid uilig ó ard go haird, agus ba chúis sealadach an ticéad sin dom a bheith ar bís agus ag súil le rud eicínt faoi leith – cé gur ceannaíodh é gan mhórán pleanála a dhéanamh ar.
Ní dhearna na ‘Gentleman of the Road’ turas an bhliain seo chaite, agus i mbliana níl siad ag síneadh comh fada le hÉireann leis an bhfiontar. Ach ón méid atá cloiste agam d’albam nua Mumford and Sons go dtí seo, is cosúil go bhfuil draíocht d’shaghas eicínt eile ag druidim linn, agus má’s fíor sin táim go breá le bheith ag feitheamh ar an gcéad ghig eile. In amhrán amháin nua, ‘Snake Eyes’ s’acu, tá líne amháin a mhíníonn go mbeidh baol i gcónaí ag baint le rudaí den tsórt seo – ‘I can tell, you will always be danger’. Is orainn atá an brú a bheith ar an airdeall maidir leis na nithe beaga ag baint leo, agus gan dul amú is muid sa tóir orthu.

An t-aireachas atá tábhachtach sa chás seo – a bheith aireach ar an saol agus ar ár n-aigne agus inchinn féin, ár gcosa ar an talamh fúinn agus ár n-aird dírithe ar an nóiméad atá ann i láthair na huaire. B’fhéidir dá mbeadh an meon seo agam is mé ag dul leis an ticéad a bhailiú an lá sin, dá mbéinn ar an airdeall maidir leis an nóiméad sin ar thug mé an t-airgead dó, seans ann nach mbeadh gá leis an tubáiste ag na geataí iontrála. B’fhéidir. Scaití bíonn orainn botúin a dhéanamh agus ceachtanna a fhoghlaim ar an gcaoi seo ionas nach ndéanfar arís iad, agus le fírinne glacaim anois go raibh orm an botún sin a dhéanamh. Níor éirigh liom dul isteach sa cheolchoirm, ach bualadh go láidir mé le ciall agus soléireacht maidir leis an méid a bhí tárlaithe is mé ar an tsiúlóid sin amach ó na geataí. Bhí mé ann ag siúl, seachas a bheith ag smaoineamh ró-fhada romham nó i mo dhiaidh, agus cé go raibh brón orm ag cailliúnt amach ar an gceolchoirm, bhí mé lonnaithe sa nóiméad sin ag smaoineamh faoi, agus bheartaigh mé gan dul chomh fada sin ó m’inchinn fhéin leis an idéalachas riamh arís.

‘Cíbe áit ina bhfuil tú, is ann atá tú”.