Saping

I decided to come to Nepal on a whim, quite literally. I had the month of May to kill before heading to Bali, and woke up one morning (whilst I was still in Kampot) and felt like going to Nepal - for no particular reason whatsoever other than I felt that I needed a break from South East Asia. That morning, I announced this to the other two other volunteers I was working with at Banteay Srey and booked a return flight from KL that afternoon. 

Now what to do in Nepal. A country that I knew very little about other than it has a shitonne of mountains that I had no interest in trekking up (I hate trekking) and it’s sandwiched between China and India. I had a look on Workaway and kept coming back to the same listing about a village school. Within in a day of sending a message Uttam (the school's founder) had replied with a yes and that was that. My motivation for volunteering was not a pity party or feeling like I am entitled to “save Nepal”…  I’d also like to add that I’d be lying if I said that this experience was a bed of roses and I’d also be lying if I said that I’d stuck it out for the entire time that I was supposed to be there. In hindsight i think doing this straight after a vipassana and a longer volunteering stint (Kampot) was pretty ambitious. 

Kathmandu was another step up in how far removed you can get from London. Narrow, busy streets where the road was either dust, dirt or mud. Take your pick. Within my first two hours there I realised that swanning around in my Birkenstocks wasn’t going to cut it -  It’s pretty much on par with rocking up to Glastonbury in flip-flops when it’s pissing down with rain. The first port of call was frantically researching where I could buy some walking boots without being ripped off or having to haggle. Eventually armed with some ugly, but practical booties, I was ready to stomp around Nepal and take on any muddy puddle that life threw at me. 

My first stop before heading up to Saping Dhulikhel, a pretty town about 40km outside of Kathmandu with some prime examples of Newari (the name of the people who live in Kathmandu Valley) architecture. That evening I was welcomed to Uttam's guest house where myself and his family put the world to right over dal baht and masala tea. I also learnt that I'd be sharing my first week with three wonderful ladies from France, one of which was a doctor and would be giving the children and villagers medical check ups. This also meant they had a hell of a lot of equipment and medicine to take up to Saping, so when Uttam announced that we'd be travelling up to the village in a jeep instead of a bumpy bus journey and a three hour hike up a steep hill, I almost cartwheeled with joy. 

An example of a Newari house (sadly damaged in the Earthquake of 2015), with a small temple outside. 

An example of a Newari house (sadly damaged in the Earthquake of 2015), with a small temple outside. 

The next morning, we piled our belongings into the jeep and headed up to the village. The views we were greeted with were just silly. Rolling hills of plantations, if a storm had cleared the air the night before, we'd be woken up to views of Himalayan mountains in the distance , eagles circling to catch their prey, villagers working in the fields... I could go on. At night time, I'd lie in bed and looked out the tiny window to see so many stars in the sky and lights from the villages in the hills opposite us. It's moments like this, where I'd have a rush of feeling incredible grateful for having the opportunity to travel. The opportunity to fall asleep in beautiful places. The opportunity to meet incredible people. 

The incredible view from the school!

The incredible view from the school!

Lesson planning got off to a good start; I was teaching English, Science and I could teach the children yoga when it was appropriate. Any yoga/ movement class would be themed around what were learning in Science, for example, on the topic or vertebrates and invertebrates, what would it look like if you didn’t have a spine? Sometime we'd play games like Simon Says and on one occasion I tried to do the Hokey Kokey with the grade three group however, that got slightly out of hand as I found myself having to hurl the smaller kids off the ground every time we ran into the circle. Naturally, the language barrier with the children was going to be an issue and because of this, trying to settle them down was interesting. They LOVED to draw, so I'd try to work this into lesson plans as a reward for good behaviour. 

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Village life is hard, especially for the women as a lot men are still rebuilding houses after the earthquake in 2015. Water is scarce and power cuts are daily - after only being in Saping for a few hours, we overheard a lady kick off as she'd completely ran out of water. The children are hardy, self sufficient and bloody smart. Some of the kids have to walk up to two hours to get to school -  if it's raining, they have to stay at home as the walk is too dangerous. Healthcare is an issue, and sadly a luxury. The French ladies found themselves having to drill in the importance of simply brushing teeth to most of the children (three minutes, twice a day in case you’re wondering) as their cavities were pretty horrendous. Referring back to my blog post on Kampot, sometimes what we see whilst on holiday or travelling, is a very sanitised version of the truth. Volunteering somewhere and spending time with locals can give you an insight into what life in another culture is actually like - and most of the time it’s very far removed from what can be experienced in trendy backpacker hostels with a commode toilet to shit in. 

After the French ladies went, things started to get tougher and by Wednesday (12 days in) I’d had enough. I was barely sleeping because of frequent storms. My eyes were itchy and my nose scabby from an allergic reaction to the dust. Because I was tired, I found myself repeatedly banging my head on doorways (at 5’8” I’m rather tall here) - so my head was throbbing. The veg in the fridge was starting to go bad (all day power cuts did not help this). Someone had hilariously written “Small problems make big problems in Nepal” on the kitchen table. These were all small problems that were adding up to become one big problem. I didn’t want to leave the village with a bitter taste in my mouth. I was done. Time to go.  On the Saturday, I packed my belongings and headed down to the nearest town to catch a bus. The walk down was an experience as I'm shit scared of heights, and a large portion of the footpath was uneven slabs of slate with sheer cliff drops either side. Uttam kindly accompanied to the point where it was a clear path down, and already sensed that this was going to take me a while. Three hours later, I flagged down a bus on the side of the road and bouncing around on the back seat en route back to Dhulikhel. 

What Uttam has done in Saping is nothing short of remarkable. The children are incredibly lucky to go to school in such a wonderful environment. There’s a strong sense of solidarity amongst the students, the older ones look after the little ones, the caste system goes out the window, no one gets left out. Through smiles, hand gestures and the best cups of masala tea ever, his family were incredible welcoming. And this was also a lesson in allowing people to help me… A good example was letting Uttam’s twelve year old nephew show me how to replace a gas canister so I could use the cooker. I’m incredibly grateful to have met Virginie, Virginie and Sophie during my first week, they were funny, kind and with incredible energy. Even though this experience didn't exactly go to plan, I have a feeling that I will be back in Saping one day. 

A little town called Kampot...

So I thought it would be a good shout to write a little blog post about the town I’ve been living in over the past few months and what I’ve been up to. 

Cambodia was always on the list of places that I was going to visit on this trip. I came here briefly in 2013, visiting Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. At that time it still wasn't on the majority of "backpacker routes" and at risk of sounding holier than thou, it was relatively un touched. A beautiful country with a grim past, stunning temples and a slower pace of life that I envied. 

Banteay Srey was on on the agenda and was the main reason why I came to Kampot. This is a fabulous social enterprise that empowers Khmer women by giving them vocational skills and also the space to learn English. And to be completely honest, you'll struggle to find better spa treatments anywhere else in Cambodia. I've been teaching yoga to guests and trainees, working on social media and marketing and also giving their "yoga outreach" project some love - so teaching yoga to Khmer staff (and sharing this with our Khmer yoga teacher) at other businesses in the area. In particular, an ethical clothing brand called Dorsu

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As my friend Madison put it, it takes a few days for you to actually get Kampot and what it’s about. When the bus initial pulled over outside the Giant Ibis travel agent, with the Durian Roundabout looming in the background, my heart sunk. The place looked like a grubby hole. A grubby hole where I was going to be spending the next couple of months… What on Earth have I done. In my head I’d imagined tango orange dirt roads, lush green jungle, the river running though… Almost the Khmer Dordogne (a few kilometres out of town IT IS like this!). I would hire or purchase a pale blue dutch bike to get myself around town, perhaps with a little basket… Etc etc etc. Oh the stories we make up in our heads! And alas, here I was with the reality being grey buildings, a busy road and a roundabout with a giant statue of a fruit that smells like death (Durian).

And of course, after a couple of days here - I had fallen in love with the place. I love the fact that it was a little rough around the edges. I had a pal who I'd met whilst volunteering at Soi Dog staying at the place next door to me, another friend who I'd met in Chiang Mai back in December who was also volunteering at Banteay Srey. So I was incredibly lucky to have friends here from the offset. I was staying right on the river, waking up and eating breakfast with a ridiculous view - the morning routine of dreams. On my evenings where I wasn't teaching, I'd walk over the bridge and sit on a bench (or at one of the noodle houses) to watch the sun set over the river and glowing orange behind the mountain.  

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And food! So much food! Of course you can buy food very cheaply from street food vendors or from the market - some basic Khmer phrases works well for this! On top of this, if you want to have a break from Asian eats; you can get your mitts on Italian, burritos, and various places that cater specifically for vegans and vegetarians (Deva Cafe and Simple Things to name a few). 

If you're bored of stuffing your face or massages, getting a tuk tuk out to one of the pepper plantations is a morning/ afternoon well spent. Or if you feel like your arms need toning, hiring a canoe or kayak and paddling down the river is bloody beautiful... Top tip, suncream and rehydration salts are your friends - there's not a lot of shade. 

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After almost three months staying in Kampot something began to click. The realisation when we travel to a new place an experience a culture, we are only really scratching the surface. We can never really understand a place after being somewhere for a few days or weeks - even after being here for a few months, I still feel like I’ve experienced such a tiny part of something much bigger. 

Being here has given me space to think and I feel like I’ve mellowed and grown up at the same time. All experiences and encounters positive and negative have contributed to me growing as a person - and as a yoga teacher as well. I’ve finally allowed myself to simply be, to slow down, to relax without any guilt. Hours spent in a hammock reading a book or just watching the world go by. Something that seemed like such a luxury before has gradually become the norm. 

BIG LOVE. 

Stacey x 

 

100 Days Alcohol Free

Those who are close to me know that I’ve been trying to throw in the towel with drinking for a few years. And anyone who’s tried to do this would agree that it’s bloody hard.  

I initially tried to become alcohol free in 2015. This also conveniently coincided with me training for my first marathon so I had a good excuse not to drink. I’m an extroverted introvert - I prefer my own space and company, I find most social situations exhausting, I’d rather sit and listen to a conversion than be the conversation starter and so on... Especially when It comes to new people or those I haven’t sussed out yet. On the surface (and when I feel like contributing), I’m chatty, funny and great value to be around. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a rather anxious person - and yes, I get that every human being has some sort of anxiety, but I’ve had quite debilitating melt downs from an early age and have a particular knack for working myself up into a “tizzy” (as my mum calls it) over very small things. 

Drinking was my coping mechanism for all the above. Like with most people, a couple of pints/ glasses/ whatever would relax me. I thought I was funny... Make inappropriate jokes, “work a room”, flirt, control a table, give godawful life advice, be the best person on the dance floor, get with someone because I could and I was powerful, wake up in a train toilet almost by the coast covered in my own vomit, various other substances, being inappropriate with clients who were not recripricating, dropping bottles of prosecco on the floor (fag in the other hand), managing to insult my entire close friendship group over WhatsApp as I was jealous of another good friend and I thought “they liked her more than me”, other friendships that have almost been destroyed, arguments with those I love, deliberately causing drama because I was bored.. The blackout moments... You get the picture. These are just some of the highlights. None of this is beautiful... Or clever or fun. None of this is me. And the hangovers, oh my god the hangovers. Days on end of sleep deprivation, panic attacks, an upset stomach, aching muscles, walking out halfway through meetings to be sick. I don’t regret any of this, the lesson I’ve learnt is that it’s not OK. I began to question if it all was really worth it and if this is what adult life is supposed to be like.

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According to advertising and marketing messages, apparently this is what adult life is supposed to be like. Just look around you today and count the amount of messages you see that market alcohol. It’s supposed to make us sexy, successful, a reward for a hard day or a work out, a remedy for feeling shit. The living for the weekend mentality. You need this to relax and have fun. Mummy needs a drink. At the end of the day, it’s marketing ethanol. Different flavours of ethanol. 

... I digress. My treat for completing a marathon was rehydrating with Prosecco. This was the beginning of a cycle of few months on/ few months off from drinking - with FOMO kicking in at around two months without the booze. The few months off the sauce usually started after I’d done something to deliberately self sabotage. My intentions for drinking was to never just have fun, it was always to make me an enhanced version of myself - To look “cool” in front of other people, or to relax because I’m stressed, or to “power through” a night out because I’m tired. I finally decided enough was enough on November 30th 2017, 100 days ago. Getting to this point has been hard, but something I’m incredibly proud of. When I realised that I DON'T HAVE TO DRINK, I felt like a massive weight had been taken off my shoulders. 

As mentioned in previous posts, last year I took the time to press reset and begin to look after myself. And to caveat, it wasn’t because I felt like I’m a bad person or I’m beating myself up - I just can’t be arsed putting something into my body that makes me feel like shit. I’ve had to re-learn (and still learning) how to deal with emotions or feelings of anxiety in other ways. When you haven’t got what is essentially a drug to mask your feelings, you suddenly feel very raw and exposed. Coping mechanisms have of course been yoga and meditation and a lot of it. Running was also a huge release for me, and I found that I’d get the same buzz from all of these things as I would from that first pint of the day. Even simple things like hot baths, good food, tea, still going dancing! Everything I could possibly do to stop myself from giving in… Even if it meant skipping out on things or going home early. I also realised that I don’t have to do things if I don’t want to - so there’s really no need to go into endurance mode on a night out just to please other people. Educating myself on the effects of alcohol and what it does to the body has also been a key one - if anyone’s interested Annie Grace’s “This Naked Mind” is an excellent read. 

When you haven’t got what is essentially a drug to mask your feelings, you suddenly feel very raw and exposed.

As mentioned before, how other people have reacted to me not drinking has been a challenge. On one end of the spectrum I’ve had digs where I’ve been told that I’m boring and not fun. People miss the fun, drunk version of me. The other end of the spectrum was the reassurance of “don’t beat yourself up, you should allow yourself to have a treat once in a while”, life’s all about balance etc. Also being made to feel bad or guilty because I’m not drinking, therefore whoever I’m with shouldn’t either, and my choice to have a soda water and fresh lime is putting a downer on whatever situation I’m in. It’s taken time for those around me to respect my decision, and I’m also beginning to learn that it’s something I should no longer have to justify to anyone. 

So the positives. Ahhhh the positives. The first is no hangovers, no pranging, no vomiting up my stomach lining for 48 hours. The way I look; so clearer skin, brighter eyes! Being able to sleep all the way through the night. A clear head, having the space to think and not being tired all the bloody time. And the most important one is that I feel like I’ve won so much time back. No more days lost to recovering from the night before. Being able to enjoy an evening without worrying what the fuck I was going to say or do. When I was still at work, it made me so much more productive - which is funny as I was working in an industry where drinking is strongly encouraged. I suddenly want to learn things, grow even more as a person and in short, knocking this habit on the head was the start of me wanting to get so much more out of life. 

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I know this is a continual process, and not a quick fix. This also isn’t an attack at anyone at all - It’s just my experience. But it’s 100% been one of my brighter ideas and I’m excited about what the next 100, 200, 300 etc days are going to bring. 

Here are some wonderful resources if you're looking to throw in the towel as well.. 

  • Hip Sobriety - a wonderful blog from Holly Whitaker, founder of the incredible Hip Sobriety Project. 
  • A Girl & Tonic  - another fabulous blog this time from Laurie Mcallister. There are SO many resources on here! 
  • One year no beer - broken down into 28, 90, and 365 day challenges and addressing the issue with drinking culture. Have a read, sign up and give it a go! 

Big love, 

Stacey x

SOI DOG

At the beginning of January, I spent 10 days volunteering at the wonderful Soi Dog in Phuket. This was recommended to me by an old work colleague as her and her husband had volunteered there earlier on in the year (they also have two rescue dogs from there). I’ve grown up with dogs and always had them in my life. So spending 10 days at a rescue dog centre felt like it would be good for the soul. 

Soi Dog began in 2003 and over the years has sterilised 80% of the dog population in Phuket, declared it rabies free and are working hard to fight to dog meat trade - how incredible is that? A lot of the dogs that arrive at the centre are in appalling states. Riddled with worms, mange, some had been hit by cars, abused by humans, pets that have been stolen for the dog meat trade - the list goes on. It’s heart breaking. 

Each volunteer is assigned a “run” for the time they are there and yours truly was working with the teenagers. These were dogs aged between 6 - 12 months and had graduated from the puppy run. My first day was spent in the run and getting to know the 21 or so pups, when I say getting to know, allowing most of them to climb over me. Naturally with me being completely new, the little buggers saw this as an opportunity to run circles around me - almost like when you’d have a supply teacher at school. For example, trying to escape was a thing, so they’d try and find any excuse to get into the air lock between the two gates. This made exiting and entering the run a challenge and trying to time this whilst they were distracted with something else became a skill. And and also resulting in a dead right arm from having to lift them up from behind their front legs and steer them back into the run.  

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The majority of the runs at the sanctuary had some sort of hierarchy with one or two dominant dogs, and then shyer ones that would stay towards the back of the run. The dominant dogs would have to be treated with more respect than the rest of the run for example, being walked and fed first. Naturally fights will always break out, and the run keepers would literally come out of nowhere to put a stop to it. Luckily, with my lot being so young - they’re yet to establish any sort of hierarchy and haven’t really worked out how to fight yet, so most drama would be squabbling over leaves or rocks (both of which are a very in demand currency) or over who gets to dig in the hole that they’d been working on. 

Most of these dogs hadn’t actually been walked before, so any time outside of the run was always interesting. Like I said, a lot of them always wanted to escape however, once they were outside in the big scary world encouraging them to walk became a challenge. A couple would happy do a few laps of the lake and some wouldn’t even leave the air lock. The key was to be as gentle as you could with them to encourage them out of the run and put the harness on and go where the dogs wanted to go - which was usually just around the benches outside of the run. Over the my time there, they increasingly wanted to go further and suddenly, going for a walk was what all of the cool kids were doing. 

The point of having the volunteers there, was to get the dogs socialised to the point where they could then be adopted. Some will never get to this point, and because of their abuse, they’ll never fully trust humans and will spend the rest of their life at Soi Dog - which is why donations from sponsoring dogs is so important. The incredible team there also includes behaviourists who work with the dogs to get them used to being walked, being around other dogs and socialised.

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My time there reinforced how much dogs were like humans. They are intelligent, gentle creatures with so much love to give. I gained so much personally out of those ten days and it helped with the process of detaching myself from my life back home and learning to slow down. I also noticed how reactive they were to my energy. If I was buzzy or agitated, they’d sense it. The energy in the run would become tense and thick  and this is usually when “drama” would break out. Whereas, if I sat calmly with them, they would start to quietly play or nap. This makes me think about the energy we personally emit, and how we react to certain situations and how it effects those around us. And how being centred and present with the dogs was key to defusing a spat. 

More information on Soi Dog can be found here. And if you would like to donate or sponsor a dog, you can find out more here

BIG LOVE ETC. 

Stacey x 

The first two months...

Blogging has been one of the main things I wanted to do on this trip and up until this point, it hasn’t really felt right. At one point I was debating a newsletter, but I still can’t bring myself to inflict my waffle on other people’s inboxes. My Evernote is full of unfinished posts - most of them negative and ranting… Which is fine however, this is not the space for that - which is why I’ve started scrawling in the notebook my mate Lizzy gave me (aka journalling). For the first time since I left London (on the 18th November… Yep that long ago now!), I feel like I’m starting to become grounded, I feel like I’m home. As soon as I landed in Siem Reap I knew Cambodia is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. Isn’t it funny how our gut and intuition is always right? I’m currently writing this looking over the Praek Tuek Chhu river in Kampot, pumped full of rather strong Khmer coffee… And here goes. WELCOME. ENJOY. 

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So neatly bullet pointed (and for those who are interested) this is where I’ve been so far… 

 

Thailand (2nd Dec - 22nd Jan) 

  • Bangkok 
  • Chiang Mai
  • Pai 
  • Pa Pae 
  • Chiang Mai
  • Koh Phangan 
  • Phuket 
  • Koh Lanta
  • Krabi Town 
  • Bangkok 

 

Cambodia (Present) 

  • Siem Reap 
  • Phnom Penh 
  • Kampot 

 

Seeing it written down like that makes me realise how much ground I’ve covered in the past (almost) couple of months! Holy shit. And I thought I was travelling slow. I’ll go into each of these in more detail over the next few weeks… I’ll have the time, trust me. I’m now settling in Kampot, Cambodia until the middle of April (if not longer) where I’ll be volunteering at a wonderful women’s empowerment project called Banteay Srey - aptly named after the beautiful women’s temple in Angkor. Once again, I’ll post on this properly! But over the next couple of months I’ll be teaching yoga there and helping them out with their marketing, mentoring one of the staff members and also being their IT support. I cannot even begin to describe how excited I am to get stuck in. I’m also going to be teaching (once again on pure karma) at a vegan/ vegetarian restaurant in town call Simple Things, the studio space is beautiful and I’m feeling very, grateful to be teaching there. 

 

So once again WELCOME. And thank you for taking the time to read this, I promise I’ll be updating this regularly with my thoughts and movements. 

 

Love and light. 

 

Stacey x