_What a great city!
I did not know what to expect before arriving and I am pleasantly surprised with the beauty and history of this city of 20 million people.  We are in a hotel called the Hotel Hanedan, that is situated within walking distance of many Mosques, Churches and Museums. 
    The weather right now is cold, cloudy and wet - it feels like we are in Vancouver but instead of seeing the majestic mountians and ocean we see endless centuries old buildings and the sea.  Istanbul spans both continents, Europe and Asia.  We are on the European side and across the Sea of Marmara lies the eastern section of Istanbul in Asia only a thiry minute ferry ride away!   The city is . . .

Here is our guest house midway up a rather steep hill
_Every morning I wake up between 6:30 and 7:00am.  This is done without the aid of technology due to nature's alarm clock: the faithful rooster.  Many local villagers keep chickens and have a rooster.  So every morning, before the sun rises, we hear the loud and faithful "cock-a-doodle-doo" of the many roosters surrounding us. Carolyn has usually been awake for hours, listening to the chanting or the drum beats through the night. I lie in bed and soon enough the sun pops up. Yes, it literally pops up.  Being on the equator, the sunrises and sunsets happen quickly.  Within a half hour of first light the sun shines brightly. 
    Basically, all the guests at the guest house are up by 7:15am.  During our stay, there were 7 guests (our family of 4, Sabia, Anna and Tom) along with Barbara, the owner/manager/head Big Boss Lady.  The first one up . . .

_We will be spending the next five weeks helping out at a vocational school in a small village in the eastern part of Uganda near the Kenyan border.   This school, started in 2003, is run by a Canadian woman Barbara Wybar who is now living there full time.  Before arriving I had a vague idea about the work Barbara is doing.  The school that she runs is called Bududa Vocational Acadamy (BVA).  BVA was established to provide proper training in specific trades and make this training more accessible to the local population.
        Most of the students don't have any high school.  They also have no other trade training.  Lots of the girls have babies already, having had them starting at 15 years old.  We don't hear about which boys have kids, as often they don't claim fatherhood.  In a nutshell, if the students didn't have this school, they would probably endup on the streets with no job and no way to support themselves or their young families. That's why this school makes an important contribution.  It lets people help themselves.
Currently the school trains . . .

_We have landed in Uganda, Birch and Allegra and my first time on African soil, along with and Carolyn's third time!  We get through customs which takes longer than expected and when we finally pick up our bags and leave the passenger area we are met by Sabia, a wonderful American / Ethiopian woman that is working as a Peace Corps volunteer with Barbara in Bududa.  Sabia gives us all a warm welcome and immediately starts answering all our questions:  How long have you been waiting for us?  Where are we staying tonight?  How far is Bududa?  How long have you been working with Barbara at the school in Bududa? 
     We walk along to the parking lot where a Toyota van is waiting for us to take us to our overnight accommodation just 5km from the airport.  The driver is pleasant, we all load in along with all our backpacks and . . .



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_ All guests and devotees of the ashram are expected to do a minimum of 2 hours of seva or volunteer work while visiting or staying for extended periods.  Seva in Amma's words is "selfless service".  During our week long stay at the ashram, I did quite a variety of 2 hour services for the community.  It is very organized which is necessary because we are told there are about 5,000 permanent residents or renounciates as they are called.  This number can almost double with visitors during busy times of the year.  Providing and running such a large community requires a very efficient system of organizing and scheduling. 
     The next morning after arriving we all go to the "Seva" desk.  Here a person gives you a list of various jobs that are needed to be filled for the days ahead which are accessed through the ashrams computer network.   As guests we can then choose which jobs we arinterested in and are capable of doing.  Most jobs are menial, grunt jobs that are necessary to keep the ashram functioning.  For example . . .

_We have spent an enjoyable three days at Green Palm Homes and now we are travelling south again to a tiny fishing village along the coast of the Backwaters where a modern day guru has estabilshed an ashram with a huge following.  A few weeks earlier, while we were in Auroville, Carolyn met a woman who asked if we knew "Amma" the hugging Guru.  We had never heard about her and the woman said Amma had changed her life and if we had the opportunity we should go and visit her ashram in Kerala.  We discovered that we were not far from the ashram and a daily boat plys the waters of the region which stops at the Ashram, so we . . .

This is a view of the rice fields from our cottage during our stay at Green Palm Homes
    We arrived at Green Palms Homestay on New Year's Eve.  It had been quite a journey to get here which seems to be the case when travelling by bus in India.  We arrived in Allepey which is the gateway town to the backwaters of Kerala.  Upon arriving we walked from the bus station about a kilometer to a boat ferry stop that would take us to the homestay.  This was very exciting!  We hopped on the ferry and rode for about one hour along the waterways.    Riding along in the ferry was a real treat even after being on a bus for four hours, as the air is clean and the waters were tranquil. When we were dropped off, we walked along . . .

_    Today we got up early because it was a travel day.  During travel days we also have a fast day because the public toilets are either non-existent or disgusting dirty holes in the ground that might have feces in unwanted places (use your imaginations!!!).  Off we go on empty stomachs.  We leave our guest house by 8:00am and take the public transit bus to the city bus station.  We get on the bus with our huge packs and stand in the back.  We bump along for about an hour heading towards the Trivandrum city bus station and everything seems quite normal, the usual cars honking and the bus weaving through erratic traffic.  At one point a small section of the road is flooded, nothing major just ankle deep for a small stretch of road.  The bus keeps on going and as we enter the city of Trivandrum we hit some major traffic and come to a standstill.  The bus slowly crawls along and then . . .

  We had a very special Christmas in Auroville.  Birch and Allegra decided to decorate our room to give it a Christmas feel.  They found a large palm leaf that fanned out in all directions and Birch made a base by duct-taping three pieces of bamboo together to form a tripod, then inserted the palm leaf in the centre, Ta Da, we had a Christmas Tree! Then they decorated it by making snowflakes out of paper, stringing a banana leaf chain around the tree and hanging our headlamps (four in all) covered in multi-coloured plastic bags.  When the headlamps were turned on, our tree was lit up in shades of pink, blue and green.  We wrapped our presents in banana leaves and placed them under the tree.  It was wonderful! Birch and Allegra were very proud of their Indian Christmas tree and we all excitedly went to bed.
     Early the next morning . . .

More pictures to come -- we presently have a slow connection