Trans Pennine trial

Posted by: on Apr 30, 2015 | No Comments
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I can’t remember what made us decide to raise money for charity but after doing a Google search I came across the Orphan Trust website. I was inspired by the charity and all the good work that it does, so I, along with my friend Syed decided to do a sponsored work. After much hesitation it was agreed that we would walk from Sheffield to Manchester along the Trans Pennine Trail!!!!

The Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) is a route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders linking the North and Irish seas, passing through the Pennines, alongside rivers and canals and through some of the most historic towns and cities in the North of England.

We had no concerns about my fitness levels for walking however, I was very concerned about my map reading skills.  We therefore decided to leave navigation to Syed. As for training, on the weeks running up to the big day we did some walking just to ensure I had worn in my “fashionable” walking boots.

The day before the walk we had to make a late change of route.  Due to excessive rain and poor weather conditions, it was not safe to walk across the Pennines. Bad weather was not going to hold us back! We decided to walk the A57 route.

The walk itself was a success. In consisted of Syed experiencing blisters for the first time and I conquered my fear of sheep (sort of). The best part of the day was when we made it to Glossop as it meant we were half way. In celebration we treated ourselves to a nice Costa Coffee but then hit a massive low as the walk out of Glossop was a long stretch. When we did eventually get to the city of Manchester we were over the moon, thinking it was all over, but we were so wrong.  We still we had another hour to go! We completed the 42 mile walk in 14 hours and 8 minutes.  Throughout the walk, the fact that we were doing this for a greater purpose was good motivation.  The thought of the children that we were helping was what kept us both going and made it all worthwhile.

A big thank you to everyone who sponsored us and helped me conquer my fear of sheep (sort of)

 

Aalia and Syed

Post-trip: Back home in London Town

Posted by: on Apr 12, 2015 | No Comments
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Arriving back in London

It feels very strange and slightly surreal being back home.  There are no twinkling rickshaw bells outside of the window, an absence of amazing smelling street food, no constant and frenetic noise of life in it’s most ‘in your face’ form being played and enjoyed by millions of people crowded together into a crazy small area.  Everything seems too ordered and clinical somehow.  Ah Dhaka, I miss you already!

Newmarket, Dhaka

 

We arrived home yesterday to the most wonderful welcome party, with signs held high heralding our return.  Thank you Sofena, Abz, Leon and Tim for greeting us so excitedly and warmly and apologies for the slightly dazed look on our face after 19 hours of travelling!

Happy times

I feel we all learnt so much from our time in Bangladesh – what kindness really means, how the world might be full of unimaginable suffering but its also full of amazing and proactive people, that you can make the most wonderful friends in all areas of the world.  It has also reinforced and strengthened our resolve to help all those children who need us, and support all of the wonderful and life changing individuals and organisations we encountered whilst there.

 

Thank you Dhaka – we look forward to meeting you again soon!

 

Final day of training with the most wonderful people!

By Menna

Day 13 – “Actually, we don’t feed them, we eat with them.”

Posted by: on Apr 10, 2015 | No Comments
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Today was our last day in Dhaka as well as our second and last training day for Pothoshishu Sheba Songothon.

It was yet another rewarding and fun day with this group of committed individuals who volunteer their time to work with street children. Although part of the training involved the introduction to and opportunity to practice and develop certain therapeutic play skills, it also focused on highlighting and validating the high quality of work that the volunteers already undertake.

The volunteers give this group of marginalised children the biggest gift they could: relationships based on love, acceptance, understanding and respect.

It seemed an uncanny coincidence that on the day that we were delivering training that highlighted the importance of empathy and positive relationships with children that a certain Jose Mourinho spoke on the very same subject in an article published on the BBC Sport website.

Mourinho revealed it was during his first job with children with Downs Syndrome that he discovered the importance of relationships:

”I wasn’t technically ready to help these kids’ he said. ‘And I had success only because of one thing, the emotional relation that was established with them. I did little miracles only because of the relationship. Affection, touch, empathy – only because of that.”

(Well said Jose. Let’s hope those relationship making skills of yours help
Chelsea get another 3 points against QPR on Sunday.)

It’s only a few hours until we fly back to London and although I am looking forward to getting home and seeing my loved ones, it is also with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Bangladesh and all the amazing people and friends we have made here. There are too many names to mention here, but thank you all for your warmth and hospitality and also for filling my belly up yet again today!

By Catriona

As I write I am surrounded by my packed bags, waiting for the car to take us to the airport and from there, home.

In some ways I can’t believe it is time to leave but in others I feel like I have been in Bangladesh for way longer! We have met so many wonderful people here, and I have been blown away each day by the Bangladeshi hospitality.

Bangladesh has exceeded my expectations in so many ways (in particular the kindness and respect the Photoshisu volunteers show the children) and also both filled and broken my heart on a daily basis.

The poverty, desperation and suffering I have witnessed has been breathtaking at times and it has left me feeling both angry and devastated at how people and children can be left to live in such conditions. I have cried more tears than I have thought possible and felt greater sadness than I was expecting.

The hope, happiness and determination of the people and children I have met had left me questioning what it is we truly need as human beings to be happy. What I have witnessed here is that people are happy without so many of the things in the west we believe are importance for our happiness. Do we need so many ‘things’? Quite possibly not. Have we in the west perhaps forgotten what we actually truly need to feel happy and contented? Quite possibly yes.

While dhaka is full of sad and upsetting life stories, it is also full of good and kind people who are doing all they can to help those suffering and in need.

Hassan, Menna, Catriona, Lubna, Christopher.

We need to champion people like those at Photoshisu and Bottomley House (among many other amazing organisations and services we met here) because they are the people who make the most important changes in this world. They change lives by offering what we all need at heart – namely acceptance, empathy and kindness.

I leave Bangladesh with a heart heavy with hope for this beautiful country. It is certainly full of wonderful people who are trying to make it a better place for all of their fellow countrymen and women.

Thank you Dhaka – it’s been a blast! I look forward to coming back soon.

By Menna

Fitting that today, our last day in Bangladesh was spent with all of the people that have welcomed us so so warmly, all together for the final day of the therapeutic play skills training. They are the people that give their time to volunteer for Potho Shishu, a very talented, intelligent group of people with a great sense of fun and humour! It was great also that representatives of some of the other organisations The Orphan Trust works with could link with PSS for the training such as Dhaka University, Ekmattra, Bottomley House Orphanage and Shishu Polli Plus. They are brilliant with the children and already have a lot of therapeutic play skills such as knowing the importance of play, having outstanding relationships with the children they care for and setting boundaries for the children in the sessions. They provide a physical boundary with a rope and all volunteers are firm, consistent and calm in their manner. Our training has improved their communication, particularly in the use of statements rather than questions and  empathic responsiveness, working on using empathy rather than sympathy, joining the child on a journey. One volunteer told the group today….

“Actually, we don’t feed them, we eat with them.” 

Enthusiastic volunteers practising therapeutic skills.

The group has enjoyed a game know as Pani Pani which has taken cult status during the 2 days of training. The Ummba Ummba… Pani, Pani game I think may well take Bangladesh and then the world by storm and become the new Gangnam Style!

I’ve enjoyed living a simple life with a bucket to wash with. I’ve enjoyed smiles around the clock from every passer by and I’ve enjoyed beautiful food.

There are only 42 countries in the world out of 219 that are experiencing better economic growth than Bangladesh and that growth has been consistently growing too at a rate of 6% a year.  Our job is to provide for those that are left behind and are not feeling that growth or are unable to. To provide therapeutic experiences for those on the streets, therapy for those who have suffered extreme trauma and are living in or visit a safe space each day. We also need to continue to look into supporting in new ways such as those with special needs, disability and mental health issues as well as seeking to support additional organisations through education, health and community action.

Continue to support us on our journey.

Thank you.

Christopher

 

Day 12 – Girl without eyes, rickshaw accident, 150 sisters gained!

Posted by: on Apr 9, 2015 | No Comments
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Notes for today’s blog are being typed up on the back of a cycle rickshaw, today has been scorching hot and the sky is in stark contrast to how it has been of late, it is calm, dark and quiet as opposed to loud and angry. Today’s soundtrack comes from the soothing and some-how magical sound of the tinkling of bicycle rickshaw bells.

After a roadside breakfast of tea, spicy omelette and parotha, the day began with a rickshaw journey. Rickshaw journeys are very different to your average journey in England and rarely dull! Whilst at a junction a man with one leg asked me for money, I gave him a samosa from my supply bought with money donated from 2 people in London. As I handed him the snack the rickshaw moved away and rode over his crutch snapping it in two. He was gutted, broken, startled and angry. A fight of sorts broke out, the man stepped in front of the rickshaw forcing him to stop, he then let down the rickshaw’s back right tyre, I guessed the conversation was surrounding compensation and I guessed the outcome was probably no as the man began hitting the rickshaw driver with his spare crutch which he was using as a leg. I moved to the side of the road (we were in the middle of a 5 lane road). The man gestured to me in a praying motion as if to say his beef was not with me, he wouldn’t harm me. I looked round again and they were gone. The driver had made a run for it pulling a U turn and heading in the opposite direction, they were now together on the opposite side. I’m guessing he hopped and caught the rickshaw as the traffic was so bad. The guy was immobile but his strength was admirable as the rickshaw now on the opposite side of the road was now fully upside down (I was long out of it by then).

A massive crowd gathered, the driver offered 20 taka (17p) which was rejected. Once the commotion had died down the man and I took a rickshaw a mile up the road to the hospital area where we had visited 2 days before (see previous blog) and opposite was a whole row of shacks selling every kind of medical assistance of the equipment variety you can imagine. After the initial introductions, I sat down, made myself comfortable and waited for the price of a new set of crutches to drop and drop to a reasonable level. During the journey, the man was gesturing to me that he had lost his leg in an accident. Later in the day I was walking through the underpass at the notorious Kawran Bazaar area and what I saw left a feeling of sadness that enveloped me and was truly haunting. A girl between the age of 10 and 14 was standing in the underpass, a white stick in one hand a small plastic bowl in the other.

She had no eyes.

I gave her a snack. When I returned half an hour later, she was still standing in the same spot. This is her life, this is her future.

This is a research/planning trip in truth and one of the areas that has struck me is the fragility of life and existence here. It’s a beautiful country, with the kindest, most generous people but it seem like these people are perched on a wobbly branch and at any moment that branch could snap and for most the inevitability is a life on the street, survival. During our research visit to the Dhaka Children’s Hospital we were kindly shown around the departments by Dr Monowar Parveen, the Lead Senior Psychologist. She heads a home in her spare time for people with disabilities like the man and girl I met today.  The Orphan Trust has the details of this home, this will be highlighted in our post-trip feedback meeting with the aim of looking into the feasibility of the Orphan Trust supporting this and other such groups.

Another topic of conversation that invariably pops up on visits to ‘so called’ developing countries is happiness. I had a very interesting conversation with Josh my roommate (Masters – international development, dissertation – street kids, see post #1) who had apparently also had the same conversation earlier today with Menna (Masters – play therapy). Adults and children seem happy here, very happy. We in the ‘developed’ world could learn a lot. Josh pointed me towards Amartya Sen’s work, ironically a Bangladeshi-born Indian, professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University in the U.S, recipient of a Nobel prize who helped to create the Human Development Index (HDI), a United Nations statistic ranking countries’ level of development based on health, knowledge and standard of living. He also considers such indices as happiness and includes human wellbeing and human freedom into indices as well as just narrowly focusing on GDP (a country’s total value of goods and services produced) and believes this could improve policymakers’ responses to problems in the economy in the wake of the global financial crisis. The economist told Reuters “If you have indicators that concentrate on human wellbeing and human freedom then you could get ‘there’ much more quickly by thinking about policy decisions in that light.”

On a more positive note I completed the shopping for Bottomley House Orphanage. I arrived at the orphanage at the pre-arranged time and once again the hard-working girls were writing away at their desks. As I approached the hall, the girls broke out into fits of giggles punctuated by smiles and waves! Sister Bijoya told me to go in, talk to the girls and look at their work. I learnt about Bangladesh’s seasons, one girl asked me to read out loud about the six seasons, another shared the beginning of a Bengali story ‘The Red Cow’ which, she read aloud in Bengali before translating it into English. The best moment of the day was when the room of smiling girls enquired about my family. One asked about my siblings, I told them I have 2 brothers. They then enquired about sisters, I told them I have none to which they replied…..

                          “We are your sisters!”

Suhel, a multiple shop owner from the same road who helps the orphanage and I ventured back towards Old Dhaka as we had done yesterday

armed with the knowledge of how many of each size of shoe we needed. We located the shop, worked through the list and once again the cargo was boxed, tied up, loaded and dispatched to its destination!

And all that remained was to write up this blog and eat a delicious snack; fresh rotis (bread), coconut and gulab jamun (sweets)!

By Christopher Downie

Day 11: Chowk Bazaar Shopping Trip

Posted by: on Apr 8, 2015 | No Comments
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I’m writing today’s blog sitting on top of 2 huge sacks containing 150 school bags The Orphan Trust has bought that are tied on to the back of a bicycle cart. With me are Sister Bijoya and Suhel, We’ve just finished our dinner on board and are stuck in a seemingly endless sea of rickshaws.

We had ventured out in search of shoes and bags for the 150 girls of Bottomley House Orphanage. First stop we tried the renowned shoe brand Bata in Farmgate; a manic place with traffic heading in all directions in a cacophony of noise under a series of connecting pedestrian bridges. The prices here were extortionate so we headed south to Gulistan on the edge of Old Dhaka. We passed a very small political protest of a 100 chanting people before arriving at the shoe wholesale market, here prices were more than 3 times lower. We scoured the market’s 3 floors searching for girl’s school shoes of the best quality and price before agreeing a deal. We bought 1 of each size and tomorrow will see the great shoe fitting exercise at Bottomley House, with 150 pairs of feet to measure!

Next we took a cycle rickshaw and headed deep into Old Dhaka to Chowk Bazaar, on the way we past the city jail where a crowd and TV cameras were gathered and Suhel informed me that a political execution by hanging was about to take place. As the rickshaw weaved in and out of on coming traffic the roads became lanes and the lanes became narrower, I noticed an open manhole cover and then out popped a near-naked man! Farmgate is manic but Chowk Bazaar is an incredible mass of humanity crammed into a tiny, narrow road with goods of every kind being moved up and down on heads, shoulders and bicycle carts amongst other modes of transport. We quickly located the bag wholesale market and again searched out the best prices and quality. Once the deal was done the school bags were tied up in sacks ready for the journey home and are currently safely below me, very slowly winding their way back through the jammed streets to the orphanage. 

The journey back from Old Dhaka to Farmgate took just short of 2 hours, when we arrived back at the orphanage the girls were all working hard sitting at their desks in a large hall studying. I headed back to Dhanmondi and stopped at Dhaka’s famous Hotel Star Kebab which does a cracking lamb biriyani. It’s back to Old Dhaka tomorrow to collect the 150 correct sized shoes!

By Christopher

Day 8: Dhaka University, Talent Show and Sponsorship!

Posted by: on Apr 5, 2015 | No Comments
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Dhaka’s Got Talent

After the training on Friday and a hectic first week in Dhaka, Menna and me were looking forward to a well deserved lie in yesterday morning. However, Dhaka had other plans. We were awoken at 7.00am by a very loud sound check for what we could only assume was ‘Dhaka’s Got Talent’. Unfortunately Dhaka’s Got Talent was taking place in the play area opposite our apartment, it was extremely loud and lasted all day – and worst of all, Dhaka didn’t seem to have much talent (obviously we know this isn’t the case when it comes to working with children though!) The sounds of off key singing from men, women and children accompanied us all day. Not quite the peaceful day we had in mind.


Whilst in Dhaka not only have I been learning about Bengali culture from the locals, but also about Welsh culture from Menna. Yesterday Menna compared the talent show going on outside to a Eisteddfod in Wales. She told me all about Eisteddfods. Apparently they involve Druids! ‘Druids?! What like Gandolf?’ I asked. ‘Yeah, Druids are massive in Wales!’ she replied.  How cool is that? Next trip for me after Bangladesh is so going to be Wales. It might seem a bit tame in comparison to Dhaka, but hey they’ve got Druids.

By Catriona

 

Dhaka University

Today we headed to Dhaka University to meet with Shaheen, the Head of the Educational and Counselling Psychology depatment and her fellow colleagues. As with all of our previous Bengali experiences – we were greeted by warmth, amazing hospitality and welcomeness (complemented by the most beautiful smelling flowers placed in the room – they were heavenly).

Shawnee, Head of the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and her fellow colleagues

The aim of this meeting was to discuss the next steps in our Play Therapy ambition and the feasibility and practicalities of bringing professional standard Play Therapy training to Bangladesh. The professionally accredited Play Therapists would then be able to work therapeutically with the children here who need them the most.

Catriona and Menna outside the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology

 

The meeting was extremely successful and we left feeling that each of us was on the same page and each shared the same motivation and drive to move things forward in this exciting direction. The professionals we met today truly shared in the principles we too believe in.

 

We each of us are so excited about where the Play Therapy project will go in the near and long term future…. Such exciting times ahead for us all.

By Menna

 

 Jaago Sponsorship Update

I had a successful meeting with Raisul Alam today who works in Jaago’s sponsorship and child welfare department. We currently fund the salaries of 5 teachers at Jaago and today we have set up sponsorship of 30 children that attend Jaago schools across the country. The school educates and cares for children from families that earn less than 2.5 U.S. Dollars a day. Sponsorship is now available through The Orphan Trust, we will allocate you a child and you’ll receive a child profile, copies of the child’s work and school reports and a personal relationship with the child to exchange birthday greetings. Skype calls are also a possibility! Contact The Orphan Trust to sponsor your child in Bangladesh today – mina@orphantrust.co.uk

Thank you

By Christopher


Day 7: Reflection, recuperation and Kamlapur train station!

Posted by: on Apr 4, 2015 | No Comments
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Yesterday’s therapeutic play training,

After our super ‘full on’, busy and very exciting day yesterday – today was all about reflection and recuperation for Catriona and I.

Sometimes it is only when you step back from a situation or environment do you fully appreciate the true reality of what it is.

Dhaka is a crazy city. It is jam packed with the most hospitable, interesting and friendly people I have been lucky enough to meet. It is also full of some of the worst poverty and suffering I have ever seen.

Bangladeshi people are very proud people. They do not seek massive handouts from international sources, rather they seek to be empowered ‘to help themselves’. The eagerness and willingness of the trainees yesterday really brought this fact home to us.

Whilst at Khokon’s house yesterday evening (he is one of the founding members of Photoshisu) we were shown the library of literature and knowledge he has accumulated over many years. Khokon believes that ‘with great fortune comes great responsibility’. He uses his own money to print and copy books to distribute to those who would otherwise have no other access to them (this one among many other inspirational philanthropic projects he is involved in). The books included those on educational techniques, sociological theories, inspirational biographies, poetry and great works of literature. As he so aptly put it: ‘I want to provide the people with the tools and knowledge to empower themselves’.

Yesterday was a day of prayer. One of the 5 pillars of Islam is ‘giving Zakat’ which means ‘supporting the needy’. As such the streets were filled with many more cases of suffering than we had come across previously. These included maimed and seriously injured people, some with eyes gauged out and others with lost or severely damaged limbs. Some had bodies riddled with rickets and polio.  It was hard not to be acutely affected by the suffering we witnessed.

We are so lucky in the UK. We have a wonderful service – the NHS – that is free and available for all those who need help. We are also provided with vaccines to protect us against polio and other preventable diseases. The people we see daily here have nothing and if fate deals them a blow then they have nowhere to turn and no medical service to care for them. How fortunate Catriona, Christopher and I felt yesterday. How lucky that by being born in a country nearly 4000 miles away we don’t have the worry and fear of what would happen to us if severe illness or accident should strike. A sobering thought indeed.

By Menna Cook

Today I visited the area around the notorious Kamlapur train station, the area that Mina has blogged about in previous trips. I took a local bus from Farmgate to Kamlapur, I was helped onto the correct bus by a lovely young man taking food to his father in hospital and was then forced to sit down amongst the crush on the bus by a man who demanded I take his seat. Two people in the U.K had given me money to buy food for children who live on the streets whilst I’m here and so that was my mission for this afternoon. Initially I armed myself with bananas and singaras (large samosas) and water. On the road leading to the station I saw a small girl, around 3 years old with her mother sitting on the pavement dressed in a tiny pair of dirty ripped shorts. I gave them some food and the monkey teddy from one of the wash bags. The girl was so happy, she wrapped the monkey around her upper body and around her neck and ran around playing with it. A cycle rickshaw pulled up and she kept peek-a-booing it through the slit in the canvas at the back! A simple donation from our supporters made this girl’s day. A boy between the age of 7-11 appeared and stood in front of me completely naked, he didn’t request anything but just stood and looked.

I went to the concourse outside the station and met a boy of 10 years old, he kept saying ‘Amma’ (Mother in Bengali) and sticking his tongue outside as if to say she was dead. The locals were very bemused and kept trying to usher me away from the boy and also from the roadside with the little girl, trying to persuade me that a café would be a cleaner and less dusty and smelly place to sit! I tried to spend some time with him, give him some affection, some smiles and also some physical attention by placing my hand on his shoulder. Attachment specialist Louise Bomber from Brighton promotes the use of touching on the shoulder as a safe place to touch but also an area that calms, soothes and regulates the body. Everyone was very appreciative, shook my hand and gave praise to God.

When I moved over to a different area, a covered walkway on approach to the main station area there were lots of groups of people some sitting down and some lying on mats and old concrete bags, I continued to give out the food but at this point lots of people started to crowd around very close and one man started to get very angry and shout in my face. At this point I left and calmly walked away, he followed me blowing a whistle in my ear, as I continued to calmly walk away he disappeared.

Thinking back now I guess it’s most likely that he had mental health issues, as a group this is a topic of discussion that has come up time and time again over the last week. A well-dressed man had come up to me and told me he was telling me I was mad. Catriona and Menna have suggested that he might have been ‘translating’ any possible problems on to me.

As I walked through the door of the school this afternoon the paper lanterns made by children hanging from the ceiling started to blow, people started to wail outside, thunder followed and then the rain, the storm continued for the next few hours as the sky became angrier and louder. The electricity cut and remained out for around an hour just in time for dinner so my roommate Josh and I and some of the Jaago staff had dinner under mobile-phone torch light whilst the sky provided a very dramatic soundtrack. I had planned to finish on a positive note, Josh and I now have a working AC in our room, meaning sleep is a more likely possibility at night time but the back-up power is providing electricity only for the internet and the corridor light…. and as if by magic hey presto! The AC rumbles to life!! Hurray!

…. And after checking through what I’ve written the electricity has once again gone…..

Goodnight people, see you tomorrow for day 8.

Christopher Downie

 

Day 6: The training was a success!

Posted by: on Apr 3, 2015 | No Comments
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Hasan and Catriona.

So the training was a success – hooray! It was well received by the participants and there were no cock ups – result! It was a busy day, we covered a range of theory around play, brain development and communication; we played lots of lively group games and got a bit of practice in as well. The participants worked really hard, as did our interpreters Lubna and Hasan. It’s not easy delivering or attending training that has to largely be translated – but everyone stayed as focused as they could. There were some tired faces and scrambled brains by the end of the day though. Next Friday we’ll meet with the volunteers again, the day will focus more on the practical side of the training. Giving people a chance to practice and develop some of the therapeutic play skills they will have been learning about. One of the participants said the highlight of their day today was learning about, and now understanding, the difference between empathy and sympathy.    There were a number of highlights for me today, but one had to be getting to use a handheld mic – which all day made me feel like I was an MC in a drum and bass rave!!

After the training Khokon, one of the original founders of Pothoshishu, invited us to his beautiful home for another delicious meal. Before dinner we sat in his rooftop garden and met his extended family. Then he proudly showed us his collection of wooden sculptures and carvings capturing historic figures and also his extensive range of post revolution Soviet literature on child development and child rearing, all translated in to Bangla. Another wonderful meal followed, prepared by his wife and sister-in-law. Then it was time to head home for the night.

Khokon bha

Apologies if my contribution to the blog is a bit short, but it’s been a tiring day, I’ve just finished my post training G&T and my bed is calling me. Night night.

 

By Catriona