Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Day I Saw the Prime Minster of India

The afternoon before the day the PM was going to be in Barmer to dedicate the new Cairn oil well to the nation I did not have an invitation.  I tried to get my NGO to arrange one for me as they all had invites to go but no such luck.  So I called my connection in Cairn, Shankar and he told me I could come, he would have my invite at the entrance.

That night I didn’t sleep well as I discovered that no one in the office was going to the event, except maybe Hitesh.  Most were out of town for various reasons and no one could tell me where the event was.  My Shankar’s phone was not working, or he was too busy planning the celebration to answer.  So I didn’t know when or where and I really wanted to go to see the PM for some strange reason. I got up early and ate a good breakfast and then proceeded to make multiple calls and drove around to try to find out the necessary details I needed.  Finally Hitesh called me and told me to hold still, he got me Magraj Jain’s pass, which he delivered to me, and told me to go get the invite from Mr. Jain’s house.  At the house no one had any idea of what I was talking about.  So I left with some sketchy instructions about where the event was, some 25 kilometres down the road and hoped for the best.  Actually finding the place was easy.  The road way had been all cleaned up for the PM visit and there were signs everywhere.  Security at the parking lot was intense, soldiers and security guards everywhere.  I parked my motorcycle and went up to one of the Cairn staff, who were all dressed in their blue coveralls.  One of them recognized me and got me an invite and helped me pass the security check.  I got onto a bus which took us another 4 kilometres to where a huge tent had been set up.  But first there was another security check and without a proper pass I was not able to go beyond that point.  Fortunately I spotted another Cairn blue boy and called  him over.  I got him to call Shankar who came right over and cleared me through and then took me to the next security check at the VIP entrance.  He got me through that as well and I went inside to a very nice, very large air conditioned tent with room enough for about 3 thousand people.  I sat down with some water and waited.   I was the only person who did not have a brightly coloured pass hanging around his/her neck.  And of course I was one of the few white people there too. Finally the PM came, speeches started and then were over.  The PM gave a short lack-lustre speech, turned a wheel valve to signify that the oil had begun to flow and one hour later the whole show was finished.  Well almost, there was lunch to come.  I went into the VIP lunch room where a short press conference was being held and then a most wonderful lunch buffet was available.  I have to tell you I went right for the non-veg section and filled my plate with meat.  I ate it all and then filled my plate with vegetables twice before having desert.  As I was walking out I notice a familiar shape on the table where the presentations were held.  There were two Toblerone bars out of their paper wrapper but in their tinfoil suits. A guy was cleaning up and I asked him for one which he gladly gave me.  It melted a bit on the way home but was the real thing!

So that was it.  I saw the PM, end of story.  Lunch was worth it.  Oh and I did speak briefly with the CEO of Cairn and he gave me his email address to continue our talk. However I put the paper in my shirt pocket and due to my sweating, the ink got wet and all blurrrred.

Typos are very important to all written form. It gives the reader something to look for so they aren't distracted by the total lack of content in your writing.”  - Randy K. Milholland




Thursday, August 27, 2009

Update on my work

During my two years at Avid Projects, I was honoured by my clients for the work I did for them in managing the construction of their home.  The Shiners (a client) bought me two really good tickets to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” musical and then treated Christina and me to a wonderful Italian dinner.

Gordon Wiseman, owner of Avid Projects always treated me as an equal partner and we worked closely together on many projects, including those of Gillian Gillies, the interior designer, who took a fancy to our great management practices and started to use us regularly, including a major renovation project of her own house.

Today, I have been honoured again by the leadership of the NGO I work with: the Society to Uplift Rural Economy (SURE).   They have reviewed my 65 page proposal for capacity building in their organization and have agreed with all my suggestions on how to change the organization to make it sustainable, healthy and strong.  They have accepted me as their change facilitator and soon I hope to work closely with the Executive Board of SURE to launch a local fund raising campaign and a search for a new Executive Director.  These are exciting times for all of us.

On the side, that is in my spare time, I have also been involved with some minor projects concerning VSO India and doing peer reviews with fellow volunteers.

I thought some good family news would make your day.

Love Mark

August 26, 2009

“Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you recognize a mistake
when you make it again.” -  F. P. Jones



Monday, August 24, 2009

From Neil with love

My brother Neil wrote me:

“Hi Mark, I love reading of your adventures and am envious as I have had many of my own having traveled to more than thirty countries and lived in several from six months to a year. I was one of the few travelers to be more interested in the locals than other travelers and as a result have had many adventures from funerals, to weddings to parties based on the dreams of elders. Parties that would go on for three weeks. It was always an interesting experience and filled me with much joy. Ah the gifts of life.”

As I read his envious words and also began to wonder about his crazy adventures, another thought came into my head.  While I have been only recently writing a BLOG of my adventures in India, I think I have been living my life so that all of what I do is an adventure, or misadventure as the case often is. The only difference now is that I’m writing about it.  But while I lived on the West coast of British Columbia, I had many adventures every week from learning how to SCUBA dive, sailing around the Pacific islands learning to sail, climbing the various mountains nearby, playing music with many people and groups, dining out for new foods, driving snow covered roads in the mountains with no snow tires, camping out in those snowy hills, kayaking the coast both alone and with others, discovering and working with new people and discovering new materials, systems and processes, and so on.  Isn’t this the way for all of us, except we sometimes forget that we are on an adventure?!  Einstein said that he loved to travel, but hated to arrive.  Maybe that’s the secret, keep everything in the moment of wondrousness, new and fresh.  Or as my old mentor said: Be Here Now Remember.


Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other. – Dalai Lama


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Of Bikes and Biking

Of Bikes and Bikings

I was invited with Vishal to another Muslim wedding.  Vishal and I decided to go there on our own motorcycles. It was about 60 kilometres away and we left just before sunset riding, where we could, side by side in absolute perfect air temperature. It was exhilarating to be riding down long two-lane roads in the semi-arid desert. We were both wearing helmets for those of you concerned.  But the helmets protected us from the many insects we collided with along the way.  Sunset turned to evening as we turned off down some narrow dark roads looking for the light.  The light was the decoration of multi-flashing coloured lights that all weddings, Hindu or Muslim, use for such events. And way off in the distance we saw them.  At some point we had to turn off the paved road and go onto the hard sand, weaving in and out between the brush to the little village of Garda.

We arrived and were welcomed like heroes returning, ushered into a room and served tea, raisins and cashews.  It took us about  two hours of driving to get there, and we were still early for the celebration. Despite the lights and sound of people, there was a deep dark silence in the desert.  The stars here have their own sharp illumination. I’ll spare you the details of the event itself, save to say that after supper the music began, played by many international folk musicians from Rajasthan.  And I mean international.  Many of them had just come back from tours of Europe and one group from doing a recording at the BBC in London, England.   Needless to say we heard and saw some of the best Rajasthani music in the country.  I, of course, fell asleep on the ground sheet early on, even though they did use a sound system with the volume set to about 150%, I still managed to sleep.  If you recall, I was at this same village at a previous wedding where the music was also fantastic, but very intimate in a small room and live with no sound system. I prefer that way to listen to music.  Around 3am, I awoke feeling very refreshed and looked over to Vishal and asked him if he wanted to return to Barmer, but he had not slept and from the look on his face, I saw he needed to.  So he lay down and dozed off while I wondered into the desert, a dangerous thing to do as earlier that evening a poisonous snake was killed as it tried to come into the village. I just wanted to get right out of the light and sound for a few moments to feel the cool night breeze as I gazed into the heavens.  So I did, and I didn’t meet up with any snakes, scorpions or lions, tigers or bears.  I did hear a wild peacock in the distance calling out to me to come back.  That’s what they call out I’m told.

I wandered back into the village thinking I better get some additional sleep.  I found a blanket on the ground near our motorcycles, shook one out to get ready to sleep on it when one of the guys saw me and went and got me a bet cot with a mattress, blanket, pillow and bottle of water.  How very sweet it was of him.  He helped me put it in the shadow of a nearby house and I fell asleep looking up at the stars with the desert breeze gently blowing over me.  I didn’t think I would need the blanked, but around 5am I pulled it over me for warmth. An hour later I heard Vishal’s voice call to me to wake up, we had to go. He had to go to work that morning in Nagar, a village far off to the south of  Barmer.  I managed to get a cup of chai (the musicians were still at it!) and then we drove off into the sunrise though the desert. There was not any traffic at that time and we made good time back.  This was my first road trip, albeit a small one, but I got a taste of what was to come and I felt very good about it.



I have made an offer to buy a Royal Enfield Bullet 350 cc motorcycle from one of the local boys.  He is the son of a wealthy man and but he bought the Bullet without his father’s permission and now he has to sell it as his father disapproved of his action.  He paid 72,000 rupees for it new.  It has about 3 thousand kilometres on it so it is still new but I offered him 50,400 rupees, or 30% off the new bike price.  I await his answer, but as people have learnt of my offer I have been asked if I could sell the bike to them when I leave in 20 months.  I would take it with me back to Canada but I have inquired to the transport office there and it doesn’t meet the emission requirements.  So I have at least two offers to buy the bike I still don’t own. And just to make the situation a bit more humorous, today as I was driving back to my house on my little 100cc Honda Splendor, I met the guy with the very Bullet I want to buy.  He stopped when he saw me and asked me if I would sell him his bike back when I left India!  This is too funny, now I have three offers.  He hadn’t yet decided on my offer at that time.  But I hope to hear from him soon for the next negotiation.  This should be interesting.

“I love to travel, I hate to arrive.” – Albert Einstein


Friday, August 14, 2009

Mobiles, Police and Illness

Off off and away

The volunteer conference was held at the Bundelkhand Hotel in Orchha this year.  Before I left Barmer to spend a few days in Delhi with Mike, I submitted my completed work proposal to my bosses. (feedback to date has been very positive, Mr. Jain calls it the Bible!).  In Delhi I picked up a cold from Bolbol, one of the kids at Mike’s house.   Then to add insult to that I stayed out in the sun too long and got sun stroke again.  So my trip to Bundelkhand by train was spent sleeping.  And most of my time at the hotel/conference was in a daze.  After a few days a doctor was called in to see me.  He gave me a handful of many coloured pills to deal with my symptoms and I did begin to feel a bit better after that.  But my appetite seems have disappeared (and is still not back this 14th day of August).

On my way back to Barmer: I had arrived in Delhi at the new train station and had to take the Metro to the old train station for my train. During that short trip between stations someone picked my mobile out of its holder.  I managed to find a pay phone at the old station and call the VSO emergency number to see if they could call Vodaphone to cancel my service.  Still in a daze I got onto the wrong train car, A1 instead of A2.  The train conductor told me to get off in an hour and make my way up the train to the A2 car. I did that, but the train didn’t stop long enough at the station for me to make it all the way up to A2.  The train started to move and I ran along seeing only the luggage car beside me.  But with my back pack on I couldn’t get a good leap onto and into the car and I was about to fall out back to the platform when two guys in the luggage car pulled me inside safely.  There were eight guys sitting around in the luggage car, no luggage, and two of them spoke a little English.  So they told me that I could get off in a few stops to get up to the A2 car.  It was nice sitting in the luggage car, with its big doors open on both sides and the wind swirling around inside.  Half an hour later I made it to my right seat where I had to ask some guys to move, as they had taken over my seat perhaps thinking I had not made the train.  After that I slept until the next morning when we arrived back in Barmer.


Mobiles and Police

I went home and put my stuff away and immediately went to the Vodaphone store see if my phone was cancelled.  It was blocked and I was able to get a new phone and sim card for only 1,050 rupees with my same phone number.  I took the information I needed about the old phone and went to the police station to report my missing phone.  At the police station, four guys behind desks in a small room looked at me and wondered what to do with me. Finally, one guy got out two blank pieces of paper with a piece of carbon paper in-between. He put it in front of me and told me to write out my report.  So I invented a Lost Mobile Report form and filled in my details and that of the phone.  I didn’t mention it was taken in Delhi, as they would have asked me to fill out the report there.  But it was important, according to friends at SURE, that I fill out a missing mobile report in any case. After I did my writing the man behind the desk stamped both papers, signed and dated them and gave me one for my records.  What this all means I haven’t the faintest idea.


Back Home

I went to see the Sharma’s and they made me supper.  And as usual they were not happy that I ate so little. I went home, turned on my AC and slept. Not only did I not feel like eating, my stomach was upset too.  I tried to eat a banana and drink some water, but I couldn’t do more than that.  Vishal came the next day with some lunch which I tried to eat, forcing myself, but only a little.  I watched some movies (that I downloaded from others while at Bundelkhand) and slept. This morning (August 14) I’m feeling a lot better, although I still don’t feel hungry. So I went into the office to catch up on email, write this blog and wait for the power to come back on (it’s off from 8am to 12noon everyday) so I can get back to my AC once again and to sleep.

Nasrudin walked into a teahouse and declaimed, "The moon is more useful than the sun."  "Why?", he was asked.  "Because at night we need the light more."