Volunteering at Mision Mexico - Bringing love, life and hope to our children

Mision Mexico’s Magic

A day in the life of a volunteer

One of the aims as a volunteer is to spread positivity and inspiration. I walk through doors in hope that at the most, I’ll change or improve somebody’s life, and at the very least, make their day a tiny bit brighter and their smile a tiny bit bigger. What you can never plan for is the impact that someone might make on you and the mark they may leave in your life. One of my biggest inspo’s from Mision Mexico is my girl, M. This is to you gal.

 

Like most of our children at Mision Mexico, M’s journey has a been a tough one. M was found at the age of 4, wandering the streets of Tapachula buying alcohol for her alcoholic parents. At 4 years-old, M was classed as a victim of abuse and neglect. She was bought to Mision Mexico by local social services and police, and has spent most of her life with Pam and Alan Skuse and the family they’ve created at the refuge. Through pictures and videos, you can see how far she’s come. From a sweet little girl to a confident, strong young woman, M is now 17 years old.

As one of the eldest in the house, it’s clear to see who’s boss when M is around, and she can definitely play up to the role when needed! She’s a leader who knows what she wants. And that’s one thing that I love about her. That throughout everything, through all the sadness and hardship, she’s a fearless go-getter who loves life. Plus, she’s completely lovable and has the most infectious and charming personality.

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Like most teens, M has discovered make up, boys and a hate for chores. Actually, I think she reminds me a lot of myself when I was her age! Sometimes loving and happy, sometimes stubborn and testing, and sometimes just misunderstood.

 

As a volunteer at Mision Mexico, it’s not always so easy to find one-on-one time, mainly because there’s 22 children all needing their own various kinds of attention and love! But when you find that time, you break down that barrier and you make that little bond, it can be magic.

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My first magic moment with M came on a trip into town one day. We walked and talked about school and bullying and she held my hand for the whole way home. Then our funniest moment was when she took me to get tortillas in the torrential rain. We were running (which is rare for me!) and as we were attempting to walk through a small river in the street, my flip-flop came off and I almost lost it…! She thought it was hilarious.

But my proudest moment and biggest wave of inspiration came when I took her to her first boxing class. As we walked together hand in hand, M told me stories about school and the girl who she didn’t get on well with. As we got closer to central, we had incidents with two separate cars of men stopping by us and cat-calling. Funnily enough, being one of the only few tourists in Tapachula, the attention wasn’t aimed at me, but instead, aimed at a 17-year old M. Feminist me, and human me was mortified and I was quick to wave them along in anger and hand gestures. Unfortunately, incidents like this are common in areas like this.

We turned up at the boxing class and M had a huge smile of excitement on her face. She got straight into it and barely stopped for the whole hour. While she was punching away at the boxing bag with a face full of determination, I couldn’t help but think about 4-year-old M being taken away from her sad family situation, and 7-year-old M growing up with her new family at Mision Mexico, and 12-year-old M getting cat called on the street, and 14-year-old M getting hit by the girl at school, and now 17-year-old M, strong, smart and beautiful and right by my side.

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It’s an amazing feeling to watch someone who is so remarkable in your eyes, keep looking over and checking to make sure you’re watching her in her newest passion, to  wanting to hold your hand whilst walking around the streets and asking advice about her problems in life.

And, although volunteering is all about giving out love and lifting others, you’re always left with that exceptional feeling that along with changing their lives, they’re also changing yours. Magic. Saying goodbye to M as I left Mision Mexico was one of the most difficult for sure. Kidnapping is not always the best idea but she’s amongst the bunch that I would have loved to have with me forever.

 

Unfortunately, life sometimes catches up with the children and M is currently going through some difficult life decisions. We all hope that she chooses the path that will bring her the most happiness and allows her to be the best version of herself. We love you M, and thank you for being such a big part of my life in Tapachula.

For all those interested in volunteering, please don’t hesitate to ask further. You can apply at volunteers@lovelifehope.com! We’re in need of volunteers especially for October-December 2017. Must be over 21 and willing to commit for 6 weeks minimum.

Thanks for reading!
Vanisha
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Instagram: @vanishamay and @misionmexicovolunteers
Twitter: @misionmexico
Follow us on Facebook too! @misionmexico
http://www.lovelifehope.com

https://www.facebook.com/MisionMexicoChildren/

Photograph credits to previous volunteers at Mision Mexico**

A day in the life of a volunteer in Mexico

Life’s a beach!

A day in the life of a volunteer

Thinking of volunteering? Want to know more about life in Mexico? Although it’s not this easy everyday, Sunday family days at Mision Mexico are truly the best, and here’s why….!

Australian founders, Pam and Alan Skuse spent many years building Mision Mexico and creating a home filled with love, life and hope. Together they’ve seen hundreds of children from Tapachula and the surrounding areas walk through their doors, even creating a youth transition programme that provides children with a more mature environment with the resources to help with their next stage in life. Combining their love of surf, Pam and Alan regularly took the children to the beach for special family time and fun for everybody. Along with the help of generous donations of surf boards and volunteers giving surf lessons, the children were able to practice riding on the big waves and test out their skills as the first surfers in Tapachula!


Following from this is Pam and Alan’s next great project, Mision Surf. Over the last few years and with the help of many donations, Pam and Alan have built an incredible beach house in the poorer community nearby. The ideas behind the use of the house are endless and inspiring. The house has already served as a place for the local children to come and enjoy free swimming lessons, and our children have also completed an art project that saw them venturing out into the community to paint and create beautiful and bright mural’s. The house also has space for various workshops for the children, guests and the community which will include art, craftsmanship and many more activities. Alongside this, Mision Surf will be a hotel complete with a small restaurant which will provide our children and the people from the community with jobs and training in tourism.

So, they’re the basics and the background of Mision Surf, and that’s where we get to spend every other Sunday together as a family! It’s my favourite day for sure, and my most favourite day during my whole time there was a Sunday beach day.

Mision Mexico has a bonus like no other refuge that I know of. During my time in their home in Tapachula, the family and I would spend every other weekend down at their beach house on the coast Mision Surf. Though it’s no holiday home for the kids, and luckily the beach is only a 30 minute drive, beach Sunday’s definitely feel like a mini-break!


The morning shift starts off with a rush because we need to get 22 kids fed, dressed, ready for the beach and sitting in the cars! The 30-minute journey consists of everyone in the van singing along to whatever’s on the radio! It’s funny, and every child knows most of the words to the Latino music AND the western music that plays. Pure talent. 


My favourite beach day was slightly different to the usual. Usually we spend a few hours at Mision Surf then head home for a family BBQ, the normal chores, TV etc. But on this day, we spent literally all day at the beach house, listening to music, playing in the pool, surfing at the beach and eating almost non-stop whilst drinking Jamaica. It was so much fun, and not once did I hear “I’m bored” or “when are we going home?”. The older boys with the help of Jonathan managed to make sure that everyone got into the pool, by choice or with force! And the sun also shined all day which topped everything (and meant that half of us left looking like lobsters!).

Days at the beach are not just filled with fun but are also incredibly important as a family and for the children. It’s the one day in the week where worries go out of the window and everyone laughs and plays heaps more than usual. The children are given the space to be just children and the day is full of normalcy which is usually natural for most families but with 22 children, days like this take a lot more planning and hard work! All the moments shared on that day, all the love and laughter makes all the effort worth it. It’s days like these where you think you’ve gotta be the luckiest volunteer going! BBQ, beach, surf, swimming pools, fun and sun. What more could you possibly need?!

For all those interested in volunteering or teaching skills through workshops and projects, please don’t hesitate to ask further. You can apply at volunteers@lovelifehope.com! We’re in need of volunteers especially for the holidays throughout the year with the first being this Easter 2018. Must be over 21 and willing to commit for 6 weeks minimum.

Thanks for reading!
Vanisha
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Instagram: @vanishamay and @misionmexicovolunteers
Twitter: @misionmexico
Follow us on Facebook too! @misionmexico
http://www.lovelifehope.com

https://www.facebook.com/MisionMexicoChildren/

Photograph credits to previous volunteers at Mision Mexico**

International day of the girl child - J at Mision Mexico, Tapachula, Mexico

Dear girls of Mexico, 

I’d like to dedicate this International Day of the Girl Child to the refuge of Mision Mexico and its 13 inspiring girls, and to the girls throughout this beautiful but progressive country. Although the girls in this refuge are lucky today, this wasn’t always the case, and unfortunately there are many other girls just like them. My dear girls, today is for you.

 

My main interest and area of research has been on inequalities and crimes against girls but mainly of those in Asia. Before coming to Mexico, I had very little knowledge of the gender injustices and inequalities felt throughout the country. Actually, statistics suggest that crimes against girls are extremely common in Mexico and run deep alongside the culture, drugs, tradition and machismo attitudes which are putting thousands of girls at risk every single day. These statistics include our girls at Mision Mexico.

Similar to much of Asia, Latin America portrays correlations between low levels of education and high levels of poverty with high level of crime. But the differences lie in the research, statistics, media coverage and report-making which when compared, seems almost non-existent in Latin America and especially Mexico. It’s no surprise that I knew so little about what it means to be a girl in Mexico, because there’s nothing to know about. No one’s writing about it. No one’s talking about it. Which means that no one’s stopping these injustices or supporting the girls who face difficulties that we can’t even begin to imagine. And for those that have tried in the past, their lives have been in grave danger and they’ve faced horrific consequences. Here are some statistics that I could find:

 

  • In Chihuahua, Mexico, 66% of murdered women are killed by their husbands, boyfriends and family members.
  • It’s estimated that 14,000 women are raped every year in Mexico. That’s 38 women and girls every day.
  • Statistics also suggest that 44% of women in Mexico will face some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. 91% of these cases will go unreported. And of the cases that are reported, not even 8% will end in conviction.
  • Sexual violence and torture remain as routine practice used by security forces like the Navy and the Army as well as the Mexican police. Reports by Amnesty International suggest horrific statistics and confessions by women who have been unlawfully arrested, raped, electrocuted and abused by officials in uniform. What hope do these women have?
  • Studies also suggest that Latin America is the worst place in the world to be a woman.

 

Femicide is a fairly new sociolegal term which I used almost every day in my last year at university, and its a term that can be best described for the 40,000 murdered Mexican women that occurred between 2000 and 2014. Femicide is the deliberate gender-based killing of a female. Put more simply, it’s where girls are killed for being girls.

Alongside this, there’s the harassment. The widespread and systematic act of sexual harassment is something that even I have felt during my time in Latin America, and its incomparable to anywhere else I’ve been in the world. It’s on the streets, it’s in the clubs, in public places, in shopping centres, it’s in Peru, in Colombia, in Brazil and in Mexico.

If the discrimination and lack of humanity is this obvious and common whether it be a too-close-for-comfort encounter on a bus or the murder and rape of feminist activists in their homes, then why is there not more data, research, policy plans, and solutions for our girls? This chart complied by the UN women shows the lack and missing amount of data for women in Mexico. The data doesn’t even exist.

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http://www.endvawnow.org/uploads/browser/files/vaw_prevalence_matrix_15april_2011.pdf International day of the girl child – Mexico

The 2017 International Day of the Girl Child’s focus is on data collection and analysis, and using this data to “adequately measure and understand the opportunities and challenges girls face, and identify and track progress towards solutions to their most pressing problems.” (http://www.un.org/en/events/girlchild/)

 

Human trafficking, sexual slavery, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect and gender based stereotyping like how a girl should behave, are all experiences, knowledge and some of the backgrounds shared by our girls at Mision Mexico and in the city of Tapachula. The reality of a statistic actually having a face is one of the toughest things to come to terms with whilst volunteering here, but our girls now have lives filled with hope, love, choice and opportunity. Let’s make this a reality for all girls. 

Today you can make a difference. Equality, safety and crime-free lives are not impossible goals for our girls. You can help raise awareness by sharing this post or by checking out the links below. You can also donate, follow and volunteer with the girls and boys at Mision Mexico.

 

Thank you for your time!

Happy International Day of the Girl Child!

Vanisha

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Instagram: @vanishamay

 

Mision Mexico

http://www.lovelifehope.com

https://www.facebook.com/MisionMexicoChildren/

Photograph credits to previous volunteers at Mision Mexico**

The troubles of travel. Do you have what it takes?

Thanks to social media and mobile phones, it’s easy to see the glam side of travel. But what you don’t usually see or hear about are the downsides. And although there are many beautiful positives, there are of course many downsides to choosing a life out of a backpack! 


So in my 32nd country and new home of Mexico, I present to you my 3 main pros and cons of travel:

Lack of connection to life back home vs a connection to the world 

Although it’s easier than ever before to sit down in front of your laptop and see your mum from the other side of the world, the connection and life from back home is definitely lost and missed whilst travelling. Being around your friends and family is completely different to constantly being surrounded by strangers and new people. While you’re planning your next trip around the world alone and what backpack to live from, your friends are growing up, settling down with partners, children and in homes for life. Life doesn’t stop back at home and the daily conversation and closeness to the people that I love is one of the only things I miss while I’m away. 

However, you do gain a whole new connection to the world and countries you travel to and people you meet along the way. People change your life and ways of thinking on a daily basis (as well as the few the completely test you!) which is amazing, and inspiring and so worth missing a Sunday dinner or drink down the pub for a while!


The constant need for adventure vs the absence of normality

My last three years in London was the most settled I’d been in a long time and it still wasn’t very settled with a summer in Asia and three house moves! But I loved my routine of work, uni and social life. And it was something I really took for granted before I travelled. It’s a lovely feeling being settled and having a routine, knowing what you’ll be doing next week and having an unpacked room with all your belongings in it. It’s normality that you miss whilst travelling. The ease of being able to pop down to costa for a coffee or doing a food shop in Morrisons, and the little things like a proper duvet and going to the fridge for food! (Lol that my main normalities revolve around bed and food). And then the big things like a monthly pay and regular income…!

But during these days I’d find myself longing to get on a plane again. I loved my life in London but the need to see a new city or two, to be around more exciting and inspiring people, the need to try something new always takes over my need for normality. And so again, I venture across unknown streets and into new shops for cups of coffee. I walk the streets listening to people speaking unknown words and wonder what will happen today. Whether it’s excitingly life-changing   or completely bad luck, every day brings something and someone new which is worth the risk surely?


Wanting to go home VS never giving up

We all have bad days but it’s the home comforts and people around you that always seem to make things better. So, when you’re travelling, all these bad things are quite literally more complicated and harder (because you’re a million miles away!) and always feel 10x worse. Losing my debit cards and camera was tough, inconvenient and gutting, and being ill whilst away is incredibly testing too. Honestly, some days, all you want to do is give up, book that flight home and run into the arms of mum and dad. But at the end of the day, all that’s really lost is a few objects and a few days in bed which could happen back at home too. The experiences and memories that I’ve gained trump my GoPro pictures any day. And alongside that, it makes you realise what’s important, makes you 10x stronger and so much more independent. So, if you can get through these times with a smile on your face and the determination to keep going then guys, you’re smashing it! 

People rarely tell you that loss is a fundamental part of travelling. You’ll experience feelings of loss of normality, chances of love and settling down, opportunities of a normal 9-5 paid career. You’ll feel lost, alone and question what on earth you’re doing. But you’ll find new ways of living, loving and working. You’ll never get the experiences of travel by never leaving your doorstep. And so far, through all the tests and difficulties that I’ve faced, I’ve learned that it’s always worth the risk. 



Catch up with my adventures here on instagram @vanishamay

Thanks for reading guys!

Vanisha

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Here’s what’s wrong with volunteering…

As my life is about to take a huge turn in the right direction with the start of my career and voluntary work beginning this month, I can’t help but think, in a world that is desperate for volunteers why voluntary work seems to be only for the few and not for everybody? What’s the problem with volunteering? Why me? And why not you?

Luckily, a few years ago I finally realised my passion and the main things that I want to do with my life. My purpose in life is to help people, to help improve lives and to fight for justice, human rights and alongside those with no voices. So, obviously, I love talking about it, about aid, crisis, the news, and the world and all of the people in it. And naturally people tend to give pretty positive responses but among the questions and shock some say..

“That’s so amazing! I can’t believe you’re doing it unpaid!”

“Wow I don’t know how you do it!”

“Is that safe? Should you be doing that?”

“Ooh I could never do that. Only few people like you can!”

“How do you have the time? Shouldn’t you be actually working?”

Err well, you could do it! I don’t have the money! I make the time! Is crossing the road always safe? Which got me more thinking about the bigger question; why aren’t more people volunteering? What is the big issue surrounding helping those in need? People back at home (from my experiences in England) have all these excuses as to why they can’t volunteer. And some are fair enough, people work long days, have families, busy schedules. But if you can find the time for the gym every day, a cinema date once a month or even a night out every weekend, then guess what? You already have time to volunteer. 

Volunteering is like a taboo word that makes people run away and shut their doors. But why? Volunteering can be literally anything for as many hours in the year as you want it to be. It’s fully flexible with tons of options! And you’re helping the world! Bonus.

You could volunteer by helping the homeless for the day, by helping conservation and caring for turtles in the Caribbean for two weeks, you can work some hours at the local animal sanctuary, spend 30 minutes on the phone at the Good Samaritans or even protect women from violence in India for months on end. There’s literally something for everybody! So now what’s the excuse?

For an hour in your day or a week in your year, forget safety, forget time and forget money. Being human is being selfless. If everybody gave a little something back and spent time with those more in need, then already the world would be a better place. And of course we can all take time out of our days to spare some kindness, love and humanity. 

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote everyday about the kind of community that you want to live in.”

So what kind of world do you want to live in? Choose to help, choose to change the world and choose to volunteer! 


Here are some websites and a list of voluntary options: 

Redcross – http://www.redcross.org.uk/Get-involved/Volunteer

 • Shelter – https://england.shelter.org.uk/support_us/volunteer

 • Food bank – https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-involved/volunteer/ 

 • Good Samaritans – https://www.samaritans.org/volunteer-us

 • Original volunteers – http://www.originalvolunteers.co.uk/

 • GVI – https://www.gvi.co.uk/

 • HelpX – https://www.helpx.net/

 • Workaway – https://www.workaway.info/

 • Mision Mexico – http://lovelifehope.com/

Thanks again for reading guys!

Remember to follow me and my travel adventures here on instagram @vanishamay

Vanisha 

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Machu Picchu and the wonders of Peru

One of my favourite countries in South America so far is Peru and definitely a top place to visit!
We headed straight to Cusco by a long bus ride from La Paz, Bolivia and we spent a lot longer than planned in the historic city of the Incas. We loved it so much! The city itself is pretty and quaint, full of friendly happy people and we finally had hot weather and blue skies every day! We were happy gals! So what did we do? How did we do it? And what makes Peru so special?


How to do Machu Picchu…

So there’s tonnes of different ways to visit the incredible wonder of the world from day trips to four day treks along the inca trail. We booked last minute and committed ourselves to a 3 day adventure trek called the Inca Jungle Trek. It was so much fun and a completely different way to work your way up to Machu Picchu. By bus we passed through villages in the sacred valley and the Andes mountains, we walked, mountain biked, zip-lined, white water rafted and hiked up to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain. Whilst mountain biking we passed through clouds, we zip-lined across rivers and on top of the mountain we saw Machu Picchu city in all its glory surrounded by the valleys and mountains. It was amazing and all at a pretty good price of around £200 which was a huge relief as average tours to Machu Picchu cost around £500-£600.It was all incredible and was made better by staying in hotels rather than camping. Aguas Calientes is the main starting point when visiting Machu Picchu and even that little town is full of wonder with a train track running through it and the mountains surrounding it. 


We only stayed in Lima, Aguas Calientes and Cusco but Peru was one of our favourite countries for so many reasons. And there’s so much more to do! I’ll definitely be visiting again in the future to conquer rainbow mountain, sand board down the famous dunes and to visit pretty little Arequipa. But thanks to the people that we met there, the hostels we stayed in, the yummy food we ate, the amazing sights and finally the sunny weather, Peru definitely left it’s mark on us. 


Here’s a little list of places to visit in and around Cusco:

 • Visit Machu Picchu, obviously.

 • See the llama’s! They so funny. They so cute. 

 • Go shopping for the colourful clothing, alpaca jumpers and accessories in the cute markets with the cholitas.

 • Check out Cusco’s chocolate museum where you can get classes, freebies and chocolate liquers!

 • Stay at Inka Wild Hostel in Cusco! Good location, good vibes and good backpacker prices!

 • Visit the sacred valley, and pretty Aguas Calientes but avoid day tours and make your own way around. Our day tour around the valley was ridiculous and rushed all day with the guides shouting ‘vamos’ every five seconds… Lol.

 • Party at Chango’s and dance the night away to the amazing Latino music! 


You can use this code to get £10 off when booking through booking.com 🙂 http://booking.com/s/vanish15
Follow my adventure here on instagram @vanishamay 

Thanks for reading guys! 

Vanisha  

Travelling Argentina

How Not To Travel Argentina

Reading time: 5-10 minutes

Country #27

 

When did I go? 16th – 23rd June 2017

Where did I visit ? Buenos Aires and Mendoza

How much money was spent? Between £200-£300

Highlights: Thermas Cacheuta, Wine Tasting in Mendoza, bus trips through the snowy Andes Mountains and La Recolecta Cemetery.

 

So I’ve been pretty lazy with blogging since I’ve been away. Finding it hard to take time to sit at my laptop and write, plus so much is always happening! It’s rare to have even half a day where no plans have been made. It’s been pretty go-go-go. But here’s my thoughts and a bit about my time in Argentina. The first country that I’ve actually kind of disliked. Possibly down to bad timing, possibly down to preference, but have a read about why I disliked it and the things I did like!

 

Avoid Going In The Winter!

So it’s officially winter in South America right now and although we were fully aware of this, we didn’t realise just how cold it would get! Prepped for a summer trip, our warm clothes literally consisted of ankle socks, a jumper, leggings and Becca bought a hat and gloves. Minus the pretty snow-topped Andes mountains, it was pretty grey and miserable while we were in Argentina which automatically put a dampener on things.

 

Coming from sunny Brazil, the huge differences between the countries were pretty obvious. Walking around Mendoza and Buenos Aires especially, we could have been in Europe again. The colours of South America disappeared and the city streets felt far from vibrant, happy Brazil.

 

Along with a European feel, the places we visited also had a European price! With an abundance of pizza restaurants, the food choice was pretty pants and similar to prices back home (Brazil we could have dinner for around £5 but prices almost doubled in Argentina).

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Things Not To Miss…

Don’t get me wrong, we had some really good days out. La Recolecta Cemetery in Buenos Aires was amazing. The city of the dead holds over 6400 tombs all with their own style and design. I’m so fascinated with how other countries, cultures and people treat the dead (pretty morbid I know) so this incredible cemetery was right up my street. You can also see the final resting place of the infamous Eva Perón whose fascinating story is worth a research! Also check out El Ateneo Grand Splendid, the worlds most beautiful bookstore rated by The Guardian.

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Mendoza was a sleepy little city which in all honesty, I wasn’t very fond of either. But again, I don’t think the weather helped much considering we were stuck for three days longer than hoped because the border was closed due to heavy snow and it was just very cold! However, one of the highlights and a huge recommendation would be to visit the Thermas Cacheuta, a variety of outdoor and indoor thermal spa pools set in the Andes mountains. There’s two to visit, the more expensive thermals which is adjoined to a hotel and includes a buffet lunch, towels etc, or the cheaper one more famous with the locals and the one we visited. It was a lovely day out, we took a local bus, a picnic and a bottle of Argentinian wine, and it was perfect!

We also had a wine tasting day and visited the family-run wineries. It was a good day out and we had lots of wine, bread and different types of olive oils to taste so definitely can’t complain about that!

 

Call Me Debbie Downer…!

I do sound like a Debbie Downer in this blog about Argentina but it is important to remember that it’s just based on my opinion and experiences. I’ve met people that really love the country so do your own research and perhaps  go in the summer!

 

Places we stayed at:

You can use this code to get £10 off when booking with booking.com 🙂 booking.com/s/vanish15

 

Follow my South American adventure on instagram @vanishamay

 

Let me know your experiences and thoughts on Argentina!

Have a good day guys!

Vanisha

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Indonesia: Living with the dead. Could you do it?

Don’t believe in magic? Never had a deceased person in your living room? Never watched an animal sacrifice? Visit Tana Toraja. It’s a land like no other. I’ve never had an experience like it. Tana Toraja is in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and although it’s far off the typical tourist track, it’s worth a visit for sure.

 

The villages of Tana Toraja sit between rice fields and jungle mountains, and is an icky few hours drive through spectacular landscapes from Belopa. Although many villagers now identify themselves as Christian, many still uphold animistic traditions, and are completely at one with the dead. Believing in reincarnation and connecting with their dead, Torajans still practice the ancient ways of dealing with the dead.

 

When we visited, we were extremely lucky to be invited to a traditional funeral ceremony. We had no idea what to expect, and it still seems hard to believe. I’ve been to many funerals, but none compare to this one… this is not for the faint hearted (and put me off meat for two months) … you have been warned.

 

Firstly, the funeral was for a lady who died aged 116. Amazing right?! She had 109 grandchildren and had died two years before (imagine all the names and birthdays?!). Unlike our funerals, Torajans believe that the spirit stays alive, so they embalm the body and keep it in the house to care, feed, clothe and look after it. Funerals can take years, and the body stays with the family until then. The whole village save money together, and the family move into traditional housing which is protected by white magic. Torajans believe that no funeral can take place while there’s negativity felt. If people in the family are not getting on so well, then the funeral will wait until all relationships are fully fixed again. If a daughter is studying away at university, they wait for her return. It’s an amazing commitment.

 

Funerals can last days, and this one was four days long. Living more simpler lives, Torajans save all their money for lavish funerals. They feed their guests buffalos and pigs which are considered to be holy. The buffalo and pig are killed at the ceremony, and given as a sacrifice to the gods. The more that are killed, the more wealth is represented of the deceased family. On our visit, we watched the slaughter of around 11 buffalo. Slit from the neck, bleeding out, then skinned in the main arena, family and friends watch and celebrate the sacrifices. I’ve never smelt, or seen anything like it. Words cannot describe.

 

And for someone from the West, who’s meat is purchased from a packet, and who’s dead are buried within days, it was completely shocking. But, thinking about it now, it’s remarkable and beautiful. Adults and children were at one with the dead, at complete peace, with no taboo or awkwardness. The children were not wrapped up in cotton wall, their eyes were not covered, and there was something so beautifully natural about their connection to the dead. After all, it is the most natural thing in the world, right?! We could definitely learn something from them.

 

Once the ceremony is over, the dead are buried in caves, trees and homes made for them. They’re never forgotten about, and are regularly given gifts of food, money and cigarettes by their friends and family. And every few years, they’re taken out of their caskets, cleaned, greeted, and celebrated all over again. Torajans believe that the magic of the land helps protect the community, and keeps the dead more alive.

 

Tana Toraja is literally a land full of magic, and celebration of life and death. The people were friendly, kind and so hospitable. I encourage every single one of you to visit this enchanting community at some point in your lives!

 

And here’s the latest BBC documentary which explores Tana Toraja for those who want to see more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08p0z6x/our-world-living-with-the-dead

 

Thanks for reading!

Have a good day,

V

X

 

China

China has my heart in so many ways. It was the first momentous change of my life. It was my first ever trip alone. My first ever home and job abroad. And one of the scariest/bravest things I’ve ever done!

 

I remember being in Beijing and wondering near Wangfujing Snack Street (the place famous for its scorpion and tarantula on a stick!) and being completely lost. I felt safe and in no panic at all. Beijing was grey and full of smog, just as you’d expect, but it’s full of history and is a great starting point for an adventure in China! And it’s the home of peking duck, mmm. Also, thanks to my friend Eddy who took me on my first Chinese night out to a bar with the best deals (girls get in free and unlimited drinks for £1, COOL) and an evening meeting his grandparents in their home.

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Teaching English for six months changed me in so many ways. I was placed in a school, in a remote village. But even then, the village itself was a huge town compared to ours in England. Lots of things in China seem to be pretty over the top. I’ve never felt coldness like when I first moved there, and my first home had no heating and no window… just a space where one should have been. Lol. Then the summer was filled with sun and humidity like I’d never experienced too. The weather itself was a whole new experience. The teachers were lovely, and every weekend we drank brandy and sang karaoke at the local KTV bars, as well as cool stuff like exploring other cities, seaside weekends away and weird cinema trips. And the teaching itself was extremely rewarding. Hard work at times, but the children are so respectful and unlike lots in the UK, eager to learn and well disciplined. I loved watching them grow and learn english, while they taught me other things like, how to do the peace sign in every single photo for the rest of my life. I rarely cry, but leaving them on my last day nearly pushed the tears out!

I met my bestie and we travelled on sleeper trains and buses. Wuhan had a lovely art district but had a very odd vibe to it. Shanghai and Guangzhou are truly mega cities with mega skyscrapers and mega hordes of people. There’s so much to see and do in both, but highlights were Guangzhou Zoo which was one of the best I’ve ever been to, and all the super high towers. Lots of it is industrial, and busy city life, but China is a huge country and there’s so much beauty too!

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In complete contrast was Guilin, one of my favourite places in China with some of the most amazing landscapes. Riding around on the back of motorbikes and eating dumplings every morning is all I needed! We also had a day in the rice terraces of Yangshou. The sun was baking hot and we climbed for hours, high up in the terraces. It was so amazing that people still lived there and harvested the crops still. China is full of tradition and culture. Most of the places were relatively cheap, money lasts a long time especially if you stick with street food which minus the odd duck foot and chicken head, the food was delish.

The country itself is one of the most baffling to me. It’s a weird and wonderful place, and you find yourself whispering “wtf” to yourself at least ten times a day. Overall though, China is an amazing country to visit and there’s so much to explore. I recommend teaching to anyone and living there was easily done. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.