The Summer of 2013 with VCD Nepal

After a long flight and a chaotic layover in Delhi we finally arrived, hungry and jet-lagged, in Kathmandu. We were met by a member of the VCD Nepal team and driven to our new home for the next few days. The streets of Kathmandu are dusty and hectic. Motorbikes, trucks, cyclists, cars and rickshaws bustle through the ancient streets and alleys, skilfully dodging people, dogs and the occasional sleepy grazing cow.
Image
The first two days of our trip was spent in Kathmandu where we had cultural orientation classes which included learning some basic Nepali phrases and most importantly learning about the cultural norms of the Budhist monks who we would be working with. In addition, the VCD team took us sightseeing around Kathmandu to the Boudhanath Stupa, Durbar Square (a UNESCO world heritage site), Swayambhunath also known as ‘the monkey temple’ and finally to the Pashupatinath Temple. All these sights left us mesmerised and fascinated by the vast culture of Nepal. Staying with the VCD family gave us a valuable insight into the Nepali way of life. We found the culture to be friendly and welcoming, the lighthouse had a quick turn over of volunteers who all used the lighthouse as a pit stop on their way to and from various placements around Nepal. This meant that we could get to know new people and hear plenty of exciting stories over our group meals.
ImageImage
The night before we were to take the bus to Pokhara where our project was to take place we were invited to the neighbor’s house to celebrate his birthday. As it turns out his birthday wasn’t for another few days but he wanted to have a party everyday in the week leading up to his birthday. The party consisted of plenty of laughs as well as multiple offers of rice wine, rice beer, Nepali whisky and a birthday feast consisting of potato and vegetable curry, tofu curry, buffalo chow mein and fried fish.

The journey to the Pema T’sal Monastic Institute where we would be working was as equal parts beautiful, exhausting and terrifying. Though we were on a ‘tourist bus’ which didn’t do any questionable overtakes or reach risky speeds, it was quickly clear that local buses were not as careful. The scenery along the road is dramatic. It follows a series of deep river valleys and passes through ancient stone villages and over precarious suspension bridges. It was a clear day and so for most of way we were blessed with spectacular views of Machhapuchre and the Annapurna massif. On arrival in Pokhara we took a taxi to the monastery, which would be our beautiful new home for the next two weeks

Image

The Monastery is stunning. Set along the beautiful backdrop of the Annapurna mountains and close to a nearby never, it is quiet and peaceful. While at the monastery we taught English to a class of seventeen adorable miniature Buddhist monks. Our class was aged between four and seven, allowing for a fun and interactive approach to teaching. Most of the students were from the region in the Himalayas called Mustang, an impoverished region of Nepal where Tibetian refuges scrape a minimal existence from the harsh lands the border china to the north. In our spare time we tutored older monks on a one-to-one basis in English and maths. This was, for me, the most enjoyable part of my teaching experience as it enabled me to get to know the students very well and so I could tailor my lesson plans to their distinct interests. When one of my students indicated an interest in photography I used my free day to head to Pokhara where I ambled through the various second hand book stores to find books about photography for him. He loved them and we spent the rest of our lessons reading them together and learning new vocabulary from it.

Image
The teaching experience is not the only thing one gains from such a trip. Aside from meeting a wonderfully wide range of international volunteers we also had the perfect opportunity to be immersed in the Tibetan Buddhism culture. From experiencing colourful and mystical rituals, to eating vegetarian Tibetan food, to speaking with senior monks about their lifestyle, it really was an incredible experience. Perhaps the highlight of our time in Nepal was when a ‘High Lama’, came to visit the monastery. We joined the monks in lining the road in the monastery with our heads bowed down in respect and holding white scarves as offerings to him as he was driven in. Some other monks donned traditional celebratory head wear and played instruments as well. We then followed him into the temple where were individually blessed by him. This process included lining up till you are called upon. Bowing and offering him the white scarf, then him taking the scarf form you, blessing you with words I couldn’t understanding then him presenting the scarf back to you. Though, I’m not hugely religious myself this experience is one I will treasure. I brought the scarf back with me; it is my favorite travel souvenir.

The two weeks flew by devastatingly quickly and soon we were on the bus back to Kathmandu. We spent one night catching up with the VCD family and a day in the tumultuous streets of Thamel haggling to the best of our abilities for cheap souvenirs to bring back for family and friends, before heading to the airport for our flight back to London. Saying goodbye was difficult, unlike being away on holiday and staying at a hotel, in Nepal we made friends and lived within a family. I have volunteered abroad three times before and found VCD to be by far the best organization to do it with. It is very affordable, includes all meals and comfortable accommodation and in house tour guides who are more than willing to take you around Kathmandu. The VCD family took great care of us, arranging for all our travel in country and calling us frequently while at the Monastery to ask how we were doing.. We miss them. We miss their delicious home cooking. We miss the sweet spiced tea. We will definitely be back. I have only one peace of advice for anyone who might consider volunteering with VCD Nepal – stay longer than two weeks!

New Year. New Start

I love this time of year. While summative essay deadlines and figuring out summer internship options seem to be weighing me down the optimism associated with the start of a new year is palpable. London is particularly enjoyable during this time of year. People are happier (maybe just drunker), families are together, Christmas lights still entertain and the sales are in full swing. All this and more contribute to make Londoners as a whole, I think, happier. You might even catch an accidental smile form a stranger on the tube.

When we were in Tanzania for NYE we used to have a barbeque with some family and friends. We’d eat ridiculous amounts of barbequed goodness and then line up along the pool and jump in, fully dressed, as the clock stuck 12. The sky above us would be brightly lit by fireworks from Sea Cliff, The Yacht Club and an assortment of neighbors. It was always a great start to the next year. When we moved to England we tended to spend our NYE in London at the Embankment for the London firework show. The music, the atmosphere and the group of friends we went with ensured that it is always a fun night out.

Still what I love most about the start of the New Year is the optimism in the air. I love coming up with New Year Resolutions for myself and see no reason to stop at just one or two resolutions. These are some of my resolutions for 2014:

  1. Convince my mum to take another holiday
  2. Visit 3 new countries
  3. Pay more attention to this blog (use  travel journals to write about the  Morocco, Paris and Nepal trips from the summer)
  4. Get better at healthy baking
  5. Bake for at least 3 charity bake sales on campus
  6. Come closer to figuring out what I want to do after university
  7. Donate blood
  8. Try harder to keep up with land law readings
  9. Take advantage of living in Exeter by going on more day hikes and taking a trip to the Cornish beaches
  10. 10. Bully my siblings into finally visiting me in Exeter
  11. 11. Pluck up the courage to go to the dentist on my own before my mum drags me kicking and screaming.

With love and best wishes for the New Year 🙂

Making Fortune Cookies with my Flatmates!

I’m always excited to try new recipes so when my flatmate Kate asked for help to make fortune cookies for a Polish Society event, I was more than happy to help. The recipe worked so well that Ejona and I then decided to make them for the BakeSoc Christmas Social as well!

So the Ingredients you’ll need are:

  • 3 egg whites
  • ¾ cups (168g) of white sugar
  • ½ cup (113g) of unsalted butter – melted and cooled
  • ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon of almond extract
  • 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of water

This recipe should be enough for around 36 cookies

You will also need:

  • A pencil to draw out circles on parchment paper
  • A muffin tin
  • A Mug
  • Fortunes printed out and cut into small strips of paper.

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C. Line baking trays with parchment paper. Prepare fortunes on small strips of paper.
  • In a large mixing ball, whisk the egg whites and sugar on a high speed with an electric mixer until frothy – about 2 minutes.
  • Reduce the speed to low and add in the melted butter, vanilla and almond extracts, water and flour one at a time. The consistency should resemble a thick American pancake batter.

IMG_2936

  • Use the bottom of a mug to trace out circles on the baking parchment that are about 3 inches in diameter. Leave room for spreading.
  • Spoon the batter into the circles and spread into a thin layer to fit the circle.

Untitled

  • Bake for 5-7 minutes in the preheated oven or until the edges begin to brown slightly.
  • Quickly remove one at a time, place a message in the centre, fold in half and use then use the edge of the mug to fold the ends together. Ensure that you do this quickly otherwise the cookies will harden and you won’t be able to mould them into the right shape.

Untitled.png 2Untitled345

  • Place cookies in a muffin tin to help keep the shape while they cool enough to set.

7

PS: these were some of my favourite fortunes that we put in our cookies:

  • Ignore previous fortunes
  • The fortune you seek is another cookie
  • About time I got out of that cookie!
  • Be yourself. Unless you can be batman. Always be batman.
  • Everyone lives two lives. The second begins when you realize you only have one.
  • You are not illiterate. Well done you.
  • Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be
  • Be dumb enough to be fearless and smart enough to be dangerous
  • All generalizations are false including this one.
  • Everyone wants happiness but no one wants pain. But you can’t make a rainbow without a little rain
  • Remember that very little is needed to make a happy life
  • Always do your best. What you plant now you will harvest later.
  • If not us, who? If not now, when?
  • Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.
  • The only way to have friends is to be one
  • Man is free at the instant he wants to be
  • Stop procrastinating – starting tomorrow
  • You expected wisdom in a cookie? Seriously?!
  • Every artist was first an amateur

Why Travel isn’t just a frivolous activity:

People often thing of travel as not having any serious purpose or actual value and that is probably why it is sometimes thought of as rich person’s frivolous hobby. Obviously i’m inclined to disagree and these are my top 10 reasons:

1)Travel doesn’t always have to be expensive.

It is no doubt true that traveling far away from home can be expensive – airline tickets are often stretching a student’s budget but there are multiple ways around this:

  • a. stay close and take a bus – the budget traveler and student’s favourite Megabus is always a good option
  • It isn’t about how long you stay, its just about going somewhere new to experience something different (try to arrive in the early morning and leave in the late evening to maximise on the amount you spend on accommodation)
  • save 3.50 every week (the amount I see students spend on a cocktail every friday night)  for a year and save over £150 – more than Waseem and I spent on bus fare and accommodation in Paris for 4 nights this summer (and we booked last minute – book earlier for a better deal)

2)  Travel to Volunteer – here is a great way to do some CV building while experiencing a new culture and benefiting from cheap accommodation. I can personally recommend:

  • Original Volunteers in Morocco to enjoy cheap easyjet air travel; or
  • VCD Nepal for cheap volunteering prices (include all meals, accommodation and transport in country!) but air fare starting at £480.

3) learning about different cultures – Well I can safely say that if I hadn’t spent 2 weeks at a  Buddhist monastery in Nepal where I attended free and optional Tibetan Buddhist philosophy class I wouldn’t have been able to tell you about Buddha’s teachings or the stages to enlightenment. And while I don’t follow Buddhism myself, it is certainly a good thing to know about.

4. build your confidence – This is a big one for me. I believe strongly that travel can help young people feel more confident about their abilities because you have to do things for yourself. Think about about where your next meal is coming from, keep track of your money and plan a budget that you have to stick to, learn to navigate through many different forms of public transport and pluck up the courage to ask for directions when you mess up.

5. step out of your comfort zone

  • being dragged up the Arc de Triomphe by a very energetic sister and friend, for example, was out of my comfort zone. I felt anxious, nauseated, even angry but I’m very glad that I did it because those views were spectacular.

6. Experience Ultimate Freedom

  • no mum, dad, aunt, brother, sister, roommate, friend, no one waiting to make sure you get home. If you thought you’ll be somewhere at a certain time then you (and your travel party) decide to do something else – nobody cares!

7. Feel fewer Inhibitions:

  •  If you are so inclined you can dance around that fire at the Sahara Desert because you’ll probably never see the rest of the tour group again.

8. Make New Friends:

  • I don’t care how shy and quiet you think you are, when you are somewhere where the number of people who speak English is limited you’ll quickly become desperate enough to talk to that other english speaking stranger. When you travel it is easy to start a conversation – “So what brought you to…?” “How have you found it here so far?” “where are you from originally?” – next thing you know you’ll be exchanging facebook accounts and promising to get in touch about that trip you’re planning to Tanzania (you should be planning a trip to Tanzania, if you aren’t already) because said stranger can give you a lot of tips about where to stay, what to do, which restaurants to eat at and which to stay at least 3 meters away from.

9. Learn a new Language/improve your language skills – fading IB french anyone?

  • Another excellent CV builder. You can even do this while you volunteer abroad. Or if your budget is too tight for that you can take a TEFL course (Groupon frequently has vouchers for it) that will allow you to teach abroad while making money and learning a new language.

10. Take in all the history

  • No better history lesson than a soul shaking walk through Auschwitz. Furthermore, planning a trip to pretty much anywhere in the world gives you the perhaps otherwise lacking motivation to read up on the history.

Bonus reason: Invest in your own happiness!

I’ve become sick and tiered of people saying “you’re so lucky to get to travel, I wish I could do that”. It is true that I am lucky to get to travel but often the only real thing stopping people from traveling is themselves. If it would really make you happy (and I think that it would) then you have to make it happen for yourself. My siblings and I have been saving for a trip to Venice for over a year now and we’re hoping to be able to go next summer. How do you save for a trip when you have so many other expenses? you make it a priority!  Soon enough you’ll forget about those amazing boots you saw in some store but you’ll never forget seeing the starts from a rural village in Zanzibar or ridding into the Sahara dessert on camel back or the bustling and chaotic streets of Thamel in Kathmandu.

So people – give in to that wonderlust and get planning! Where do you want to go? How much do you need to save to get there?

Make (Chocolate Chip) Cookies Not War

Well ladies and gentlemen, I don’t like to brag (often)…but I have been told (and not just by my mother) that I make a mean chocolate chip cookie. In fact in 2008 while attending Village Camps Summer Camp in York myself and a summer camp buddy named Paula won a chocolate chip cookie bake off. Hands down one of the best days of my life 😉

10437

Now, I must admit that the recipe in this post is not one that I came up with myself. The trouble is that I have had it memorised for so long that I can no longer remember its source. I feel less guilty about this shameless plagiarism because I’m openly not claiming credit for the making of this recipe!

So these are the ingredients you’ll need:

–          115g of unsalted butter at room temperature (so that it is easier to beat)

115g of Butter

115g of Butter

–          115g of light brown muscovado sugar  (yes it is important that you use muscovado sugar)

–          1 egg

–          1 tsp of vanilla extract

–          1 tsp of baking powder

–          150g of self-raising flour

–          75g of oats

–          100g of white chocolate chips

–          100g of milk chocolate chips

–          30g of dark chocolate chips (or 15g each added to milk and white chocolate chips)

And this is what you’ll need to do:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degree Celsius
  2. Use an electric cake mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until the batter is pale and fluffy
  3. Next beat in the egg and add the vanilla extract and baking powder.
  4. Sieve then fold in the flour.
  5. When the flour is nicely combined, add the oats and all the chocolate chips. Fold until evenly combined.

photo (3)

6. Line your baking trays with baking parchment or grease proof paper and drop one rounded spoonful of dough at a time and don’t flatten. Allow roughly 2 -3cm of space around each spoonful.

Rounded spoonfuls rouggly 3cm apart

7. Bake in the preheated oven for between 8-12 minutes

8. When the cookies look lightly gold on the outside and the bottom is firm but the top still a little soft, take them out of the oven. Leave on the tray for 2 minutes to harden before carefully transferring onto wired cooling racks to cool completely. This recipe should make roughly 20 cookies 🙂

Many many cookies! This recipe is my go-to for large family functions because its quick, fun and the cookies are easy to transport since they can be stacked!

Many many cookies! This recipe is my go-to for large family functions because its quick, fun and easy to transport since they can be stacked

Happy Cookie Baking!