Mawlynnong – The Cleanest Village in Asia

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Clean house in a clean village!

Since 2003 a little village in the north east of India has held the very prestigious title of ‘Cleanest Village in Asia’.  Mawlynnong, 90 kilometres from the capital of Meghalaya, Shillong, received the award from a travel magazine for having a zero litter policy, helped with pretty bamboo bins scattered around the village.  As well as that all the villagers have access to a toilet and everyone is literate. It seems (from my limited research) that no other place has taken their crown in the intervening years so Mawlynnong is still the King of Clean. If anyone is not sure where we’re talking about, the pink dot on the map marks the spot, it’s very close to the Bangladesh border, but high up in the Khasi Hills.

Pink dot marks the spot

Pink dot marks the spot

Getting to the village isn’t the easiest thing in the world. The nearest major international airport is Kolkata, which is an hours flight over Bangladesh to Guwahati in Assam. From there it is almost 4 hours to Shillong and then the final 90km to Mawlynnong takes about 3 hours. You might think that is a long way to go for a clean village, but that’s not all you get after travelling this far. You can also witness a big rock balancing on a small rock:


It looks like it's balancing on that fence, but it's not

If rocks balancing on other rocks aren’t your thing, Mawlynnong also boasts a tree with roots that spread across a river, connecting the two sides and creating a living root bridge. If this was in a more accessible place, it would definitely be one of India’s top tourist attractions. The Taj Mahal might have taken over 20,000 people to build – but this took no one, just nature. The local people just use some betel tree trunks to guide the roots in the right direction. Within 10-15 years the bridge becomes strong and stones are placed on them to make walking on them more comfortable.

The root bridge (with my colleagues waving on the right!)

The tree that is used for this is called Ficus Elastica. The roots of this tree can be used because it produces secondary roots further up it’s trunk that can be grown and spread across a river.

The stones on the bridge

The view from inside the roots


That’s not the only engineering marvel the Khasi people have created in Mawlynnong. This tree house is so far up in the trees that I couldn’t get the whole thing into one photo:

It looks high, but it is actually much higher...

The Bamboo Route

Just rope keeping those corners together

By the time I got to the top I could barely breathe. I was up higher than the trees with nothing but bamboo and some rope to support us. One of my colleagues reassured me that the Sky View treehouse had been  there for years and it hadn’t collapsed yet, so we were probably going to be ok.

At the top there was a little platform on which we could rest a moment and get our breath back. From the top there is a great view of Bangladesh (but we went mid-monsoon and so had to catch quick glimpses between clouds).

Part of the crew

Some of my wonderful colleagues who brought me to this magical place (the rest are waiting under the tree)

Mawlynnong is only 4 kilometres from the Bangladesh border so when the clouds step aside for a minute there are some great views.


Back to the amazing tree house….I want to live in this thing!

The way down

With the balancing rock, living root bridge and ridiculously high tree house, it’s easy to forgot the main attraction; the very clean village. So here is some more Mawlynnong:

Typical house in Mawlynnong

Typical house in Mawlynnong

Friendly local

Paths in the village

Mawlynnong is an amazing, peaceful place. It is well worth the many rocky roads it takes to get there. Just bring sandwiches if you go! There aren’t many places to eat and the place thats sign reads: ‘All kind of cool drink’, actually only sells tea.

Strolling through the trees


August 15, 2011

A Week of Inspirational Students

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While searching for a few students I lost today, I started pondering the differences between teaching in Ireland and India. Being able to take 27 kids out for a day on your own would be not be possible on my green island. Losing students could get you into quite a spot of bother. Last week one of our teachers spilled hot oil on a child, and he just shrugged and moved along with his burning arm. When someone needs to light a gas stove they take a long piece of paper, stick it in the fire then run through the crowds of children ducking and dodging them while holding their Olympic sized flame.

But the students are great, and we really try not to lose or burn them.

Match-day warm up means hardest workout of your life in our school

This week I have had a whole week of being reminded why I keep coming back here to Shillong to see them.

(This is being posted two weeks after I originally wrote this as Internet has been too weak to add the photos)


At the start of the week I happened across two students having a friendly argument. Both were jumping around the yard throwing something at each other. It was a 50 Rupee note (€0.78) that the one half of the argument had given to her classmate and he was trying to pay her back. The same girl who was refusing to take back the money couldn’t afford a 2 Rupee bus fare in 2008 (her lot improved when the school placed her is a safe home to get away from an bad situation). It’s nice to see someone whose luck is improving spreading the love around!


On Tuesday morning I began my day singing some rhymes with the KG class. The smallest student in the school ran into the classroom holding his pants. I informed him that he would have to get back out the door and get himself to the bathroom, I’m not good at handling accident situations. His little face scrunched up as my translator told me there was no time. He had to go and he had to go right away. Wilson, the chap in question, has rickets and so he knew his legs wouldn’t take him to where he needed to go in time.

The tallest boy in class came to Wilson’s rescue. Without even telling his smaller counterpart the plan, he hoisted him up on this back and made for the door. A third lad grabbed an umbrella and ran after them to keep them dry. They all came back a few minutes later with a very happy Wilson still on Noah’s back.

Wilson, happy after making it to the bathroom!


The midweek ‘hump’ day started very early for one of our students. Ranjit, turned up at 6.30am to cook some India snacks for his classmates and teachers. We had no idea what he was doing when I arrived into the kitchen with my two colleagues. We all presumed that one of the other teachers had asked him to cook these as part of the cooking class. It was only at the end of class when we were asking why he was rolling so many of these tasty doughy-potatoy goodies that he told us it was his way of celebrating.  In the confusion I had tried to pack up his labour of love and sell it along with all the other food we make for selling every day. Thankfully some little people stopped me in my tracks and we all welcomed in his 17th year.

I didn’t get a photo of his birthday food. But it looked very like the circles below. Just with onion and potato mixed in:

Teiborlang modelling the food

Later that day…..

…I had to go do some shopping. My students dutifully accompanied me so I wouldn’t get lost on the road. Just as we were  leaving the grounds of the school one girl said;

“Miss, what is a squat?”

I showed her what a squat was, getting down on my hunkers and knocking over a uniformed man with my butt.

“Eh….no Miss. S-Q-U-A-D”

“Ah, a squad. It’s like a team”

“Oh, so what’s a bomb team…”

The uniformed lad my rear end had collided with was one of the many bomb disposal experts who were outside our local restaurant. An hour earlier we heard an explosion and joked that it sounded quite like a bomb. My students laughed at my reaction (I’m not too fond of bombs) – suddenly I didn’t really need to go shopping at all.

“You scared of bombs, Miss??”

And just in case I wasn’t terrified enough the littlest one stated matter-of-factly; “There was another one in Lapalang yesterday”

I’m not sure where this Lapalang is but I think I was there once visiting the homes of the students.  These little people are unfazed by anything (except earthquakes, don’t mention earthquakes). The ‘bomb’ in our restaurant turned out to be a gas explosion (in which one person died unfortunately).  It was just unlucjy that it happened just after a local group threatened to bomb the city so it caused a bit of panic.



On Thursday I met one of my former students who I taught back in 2005/06. She’s now 21, working, studying and fending for herself far better than I am. She spoke to me very honestly about how life after school is for our students, and how they feel applying for jobs having come from a school with, ‘for underprivileged children’ in its title. She was afraid at first to tell anyone what school she had gone to for fear of being branded in a negative way, and only now, two years after she left school, she realises how lucky she is to be a graduate of Providence.  The skills she learned in the school have stood to her and she can earn a decent wage as a hairdresser/beautician while she studies.

She is currently taking classes in English, Education, History, Economics and  Political Science for her Class XII exams (equivalent to English A-levels). When class is over at midday (it begins at 6am) she goes to her job in a beauty parlour and does a full days work there. She gave me the run down on what her former classmates are up to. 5 have gone on to higher education, the other 10 are working as chefs, teachers, in a bank, and as a trainer of sales people in an insurance company. I recently met the last gu y who was just back from a business trip in Kolkata! When you think that their parents had to earn less than 15 Euro a month to get them into the school, and they’re all earning more than that now – they’re not doing too bad!

(We’ll just slip past Friday as not much happened that day…..)


We went out for a stroll, my students and I. Came across this lovely addition to a waterfall:

Recycled Beer Bottle

For our outing we went to the local golf course (where I misplaced the aforementioned lost students). This is possibly the most popular hang out place for families in all of Shillong and anyone who dare play golf there gets hundreds of angry eyes watching til they move on. I used laugh at this, but I became the owner of two of those angry eyes when my picnic on the 8th tee was  interrupted.

My students and I wandered around for a while, the smallest one taking me by the hand and leading me around. I thought she just like holding hands, but I noticed she seemed to also want to run and play. I finally convinced her to leave me and go and she screamed;

“Roseliiiiina! Come mind Miss”

My students are cute, but there is really no need to mind ‘Miss’.

Chesstastic - lying on the 8th fairway


I only have a few days left here in Shillong. My main job is to teach Internet to 10 youngsters who have never used it before. We had a shaky start with people replying to Google Alerts Autoresponders thanking them for services and writing too Mail Daemon messages apologizing for writing the wrong email address. Just the other day someone wanted to ask Google how to change the homepage. When they typed in ‘How to’ Google gave some helpful suggestions, ‘How to get pregnant’ and ‘How to kiss’. Thankfully the student’s head was down while she was typing and and didn’t see the suggestions. I willed her to keep typing and not look up until she’s done!

August 2, 2011

The Monkey and the Mosquito Repellent…..

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One of the reasons I like India is that I have never been robbed, mugged or even badly ripped off here. I have found all 1.16 billion Indians to be nice, honest folk.

All that changed this week. I was the victim of a planned attack by a local family who decided my 50% deet insect repellent would be of value to them (it’s not available in India so I see their point).  On the day of the robbery they even brought a new mother along with her infant to help out:

Keeping watch

Keeping watch

When I first moved into my hotel last week the owner warned me of the local monkey population. Despite many social inclusion programs the state government has put in place here in Shimla, this minority group continue to live on the margins and are the main cause of petty crime in this hill resort. Shimla, by the way, is a very pretty little spot. This is the view from my hotel;


View from the top

It was all fun and games to begin with; cute little monkey climbed up on my windowsill. Our eyes met. He was clearly an angry monkey. While jumping away this was the only photo I could get of the incident;

The Incident

The monkey took my repellent and put it just out of my reach on the roof outside my window. I took some time to think about strategies to retrieve the spray. I walked around town and got confirmation that they do not sell that kind of thing in India (deet is bad for the mosquitos’ health). The only way I was going to be protected from the disease -filled bugs was to go retrieve my bottle from the monkeys.

For that, I created this:

I now have two Indian mops in my suitcase

I now have two Indian mops in my suitcase

When I returned home three hours laters, armed with my mops, the repellent was still where the monkey had left it and the unruly monkey family seemed to have left. Just as I lowered my mops out the window the whole family came galloping back into my part of town. One little fella made a dash for the bottle:

Going for it!

Going for it!

Inspecting the bottle

Inspecting the bottle

Getting a closer look

Getting a closer look


Daddy Monkey standing guard

Daddy Monkey standing guard









Daddy Monkey ruining his teeth

When it’s all over Baby Monkey runs away with the evidence

Off he goes

I thought that was the end of that when the monkeys  had finished feasting on my impossible-to-buy-in-India insect repellent.

But no.

The next time I looked out my window I had some severely ill monkeys as neighbours, all looking at me like I had poisoned them (I had shouted some warnings earlier but they didn’t listen). At first I thought they were dead monkeys, but no, just a bit hungover after their deet high.

Note how the original thief (far left) tries to make me feel guilty with his eyes:

Told ya so

Well honestly, what did you expect?

As he’s getting checked out they might as well look for knits at the same time

In Ireland we’d just have had another bottle of insect repellent the next day to cure the effects of the first bottle. These monkeys didn’t seem to like that idea…

But at least none of the little buggers died. And I finally got another bottle of deet when a kind American lady called Frances gave me her spare bottle. I’m all set to tackle the crazy mosquitoes of North East India. At least they don’t have crazy monkeys there.

July 9, 2011

Getting my ‘India Confidence’ Back

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I'm baaaaack!

After a two year absence I am back in India! It’s still hot and the mosquitoes still love me dearly. Even though this was my 6th time arriving into India, I still had to take some time to chill out and get my ‘India confidence’ back. That is, to go from shrieking at a man who dared ask, “How are you enjoying the rain?” to saddling up next to some people on a boat and asking them semi-personal questions. This usually happens within 24-36 hours, depending on how much sleep I’ve had.

I blame the guidebooks for this initial nervousness I feel towards the horns, the smells, the oft-quoted “attack on the senses” (I have a parasite in my eye and just had surgery on my nose – my sense are a little delicate). According to my two guidebooks a woman travelling solo in India has to be confident, relaxed, adventurous, courageous.  assertive,  daring, very brave and thick-skinned. That is too many adjectives for anyone to live up to. I will also be dealing with; groping, provocative gestures, jeering and lewd comments. So far all I’ve gotten are a few, “You’re very big for a woman, you know?”.

I don’t think they were coming on to me.

My last blog post had a list in it, and people seemed to like that (1,340 times according to the Like-o-meter at the bottom, but who’s counting?) so this post should also have a list.


2 things I have learned in my first 2 days back in India

Lesson No.1 : Don’t stick your finger in your eye after using hand sanitizer. I don’t smoke or do drugs, but I do occasionally indulge my habit of rubbing my eyes, especially in the morning when the night has been spent listening to the Mumbai traffic thinking, “I bet they’ll go to bed in 5 minutes…..maybe another 2 minutes….” and just a little rub would has me up and ready for the day.

This is the result (don’t look if you don’t like having your senses attacked). This is actually when I was half-way cured again. When it was really bad I was too busy running around in a small circle screaming and the aforementioned men who were meant to be leering and gesturing at me were terrified and wouldn’t look at me (It’s really not too bad here, it was a like a swollen tomato at one stage).

Two eyes....two different shapes!


It all went back to normal after 12 hours.

Lesson No. 2 – Don’t say, “Wouldn’t it be nuts if this boat crashed” while getting on a boat

From the little pier next to the Gate of India in Mumbai, you can take boats to Elephanta Island (don’t be fooled as I was – there are no elephants. The place used have a name that actually meant something ’til the Portuguese saw a now long-gone statue of an elephant and called the place Elephanta).  The wooden tourist boats leave every 10-15 minutes and from what I could see were all leaving the pier fine and happily sailing into the mist, dodging all the military boats quite skillfully. I chose the boat that chugged along gracefully for about 10 metres and  then…..died.

I thought the driver was just saving petrol and that we would shortly be floating towards the island. Instead we floated into the next nearest boat who watched, unable to do anything, as we all leaned over the front to see our water carriage  careering into their boat in slow motion (because we didn’t have an engine to do it any faster with!).

It was a lovely boat before we reached them:


The before shot

And then we came along and made this dent (this photo was taklen after they had kicked it out from the inside – I was waiting for others to start snapping photos before I did….)


The after (after the kicked it out from the inside)


Being Irish I was expecting finger wagging, police intervention and insurance claims. Being Indian the other boat’s crew made fun of our captain and grabbed a hammer and nails to get to work repairing their wooden boat. When that didn’t work Plan B was put into action: hide the damage.



When all the laughing was over with we were still stranded less than 20 metres from the shore; a little bit too long to jump (and did you see the colour of that water?). A little old lady was the first to come up with a solution when she took the garland of flowers from around her neck and threw them in the water. She turned and gave me a look that either said, “Now it’ll all be ok, the flowers are in the water”, or else it was “This’ll teach that foreign one to go boating with the contents of a small electronics shop attached to her combats”.  Either way the flowers did not work and next it was the men folk on board who tried to get us moving.

(The view while all this was happening was quite cool though:)


The view


The captain had decided that we should all stay on board until the engine was back working. Calling another boat to take the 30 passengers would mean the boat’s crew giving the fares they’d collected to the new boat. But the older gentlemen on board didn’t enjoy being on an open top boat on a sticky summers day and  started a revolution from their little wooden benches. Everyone joined in (I was excused from duty – I don’t think they wanted to look at my eye – see above). I found one of those 10 year olds who have parents from 4 different countries and can therefore speak 9 languages who told me the passengers were shouting, “You’ve kidnapped us” and “We will have you arrested the minute you step back on land”.

The revolution I did nothing to assist with worked, we were rescued and off we sailed to see the elephants (I had yet to discover the no-elephant thing). Elephanta Island is known for its caves, so I suppose I should show some caves here:


Not an elephant

Some more caves

The island did have a good population of monkeys. They looked like fun, but the guidebook said if I even looked at them they would attack me.


Ain't he cute?


I have to stop reading those guide books.


July 1, 2011

10 Things I Like about Kosovo

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I’ve just spent the afternoon walking through the town that was my home for the past year. Seeing as the 2nd most common way my blog is found on Google is through someone typing, ‘Living in Kosovo’ I figure I should write a little something for those who may be living here in the future or who would may holiday in this part of the world.

10. Location

Kosovo is a great base for exploring the Balkans. As you can see from the informative map below it has a useful location in the region for travellers.  Just €5 and a 2 hour bus ride will have you in Skopje, Albania’s capital Tirana is 5 hours away (and €15), Sofia is just 5 hours from Skopje. The only place we can’t get to easily is Serbia as there are issues with entry stamps and registration cards.

Living in between so many countries is also great for your geographical knowledge and makes you occasionally useful at table quizzes.


We're the blue one

9. Coffee

Not one of the things I like about Kosovo, as I have a passionate dislike of all things coffee flavoured, but anyone who has ever tasted Kosovo coffee has said it’s the best in the world. I once had a local coffee-lover here corner me and slightly aggressively ask, “You like gay coffee? Gay coffee is the best, isn’t it??” I didn’t want to disagree with this guy so I said that yes, of course homosexual coffee tastes better than the straight variety. After about 10 minutes of this he pulls out a packet of ‘G Coffee’, pronounced ‘gay coffee’ in Albanian.

8. The Kosovar Pepper

I don’t know what these things are really called, but they are damn tasty. They go with everything, and seem to come with everything as well. I’ve never seem them outside of Kosovo (but they’re probably as common as rice everywhere but Ireland). In the photo they are the slightly green ones. I have to figure out how to import these fellas into my garden in Ireland:


7. Activism

These people are vocal, and not afraid to take to the streets to make a point. Coming from a country where we hand over billions of Euros to toxic banks with a smile, it’s nice to live somewhere where the people will stand up for what they believe in in peaceful way (just last night I waved to some lads camping on the main street in protest). The most memorable in the past year has been the campaign in the photo below, where 1837 pairs of shoes were left on the main pedestrian street, one pair for each person still unaccounted for since the war.

Shoes for the missing people

6. Restaurants

There aren’t many cities the size of Prishtina (2011 census suggest 200,000 people live here) that you can eat out in regularly and not get bored. Fellow Kosovo blogger, known as MT Cowgirl, has a Restaurant Guide that we often refer to before stepping out. The large ex-pat community here is the main reason the capital city has Indian, Chinese, Italian, Nepali and Thai restaurants. My personal favourites are any that comply with the lax anti-smoking laws; Amelie, the Nepali restaurant, downstairs in Central Lounge, DeRada… Although all forget the laws if someone important looking wants to light up.

5. Little Towns

Kosovo has many little cities/towns that we like to escape to for a day in the countryside. Among them are Prizren, Peja/Pec, Gjakova. All are easy to reach from Prishtina and have a completely different feel from the capital (mostly owing to the lack of internationals with their hamburgers and baseball caps and the different ethnicities that live in these towns).  Below is a hotel near one little town, Brezovica (the site of my ski trip earlier this year:


Sharr Hotel in the mountains

And that brings me to…..

4. Nature

Kosovo does nature quite well. There is an active hiking club in Prishtina that goes all over Rogova Valley and Dragash, two popular hiking spots. An easy way to see this nature is by joining one of the many sporting endeavours that are organized throughout the year like the swimming marathon and the Tour de Culture Cycle. That way you find pretty restaurants like these you may not otherwise come across:

Not a bad spot for some ice-cream

3. Food

I think pictures will do a better job of explaining this section:

Little bits of meat swimming in melted cheese

Vegetarians should just keep on driving until the reach Greece, you might find something for yourself there...

This next one, flie (pronouced flee-yah – well I pronouce it flee-yah, it might not be said like that at all….) can fill you up for up to 7 hours with one serving. Very often new people arrive in town and we invite them out for dinner. A common response is, “Sorry guys, I ate something called flie for lunch, and I don’t think I can eat again until tomorrow”. This is also what we were given before our 43km cycle over the hills of Kosovo to keep us going.

I looked pretty nuts in the restaurant stripping it with my left hand so my right hand could take a photo


I checked, they don't taste like stale cigarettes and bad aftershave...

The next, the famous burek, deserves a better picture – but this is the best my phone could manage. It comes in 3 flavours - spinach, cheese and meat and they’re wrapped in pastry. One of my happiest days in Kosovo was when I discovered you could order a mix and get all three and so not have to chose between them.


More burek, just a different shape.

2. The People

Before writing this I asked a few people what their favourite thing about Kosovo is, and quite a number of them said “the people”. It has be to said; they’re friendly (and quite good looking!). For me, there are two sets of people here – who unfortunately stay separate a lot of the time – the locals and the ex-pats. Both are great; the local people for always being up for a chat and not minding that we are so terrible at their language. They educate us on what has happened in these parts for the last 20 years, and don’t seem to  hold it against us that we arrive ready to save the planet but not knowing exactly where Kosovo might be on a map….

The ex-pats are equally fun. Age, nationality nor hair-colour matter, we all hang out together with a sort of ‘in this together’ attitude. People are always available as we don’t have distractions like partners, children or hobbies (save for the odd Albanian lesson or Pilates class). For anyone new to the place, check out a group on Facebook called ‘Network Prishtina’, anyone doing anything, going anywhere or giving away puppies announces it on that.

And now for my favourite thing about Kosovo……


1. The Constant Festival Feel

This could be numbers 1 through to 5. The single best thing about this place is the fact that there is always something happening on Mother Teresa Boulevard. As I type this on a Sunday evening in June, there are the aforementioned people camping on the street, popcorn sellers, balloons, flags from various countries draped across the road, photos hanging from clothes lines (again in protest, but still…), people handing out badges, men selling toys with plastic dogs barking at their heels, ice cream stands, teenagers walking up and down and up again all evening (and there are lots of teenagers in this youngest-population-in-Europe place).

When I arrived back here on Saturday evening I first thought I had stumbled across some mid-summer festival, til I remembered it’s just Prishtina being it’s normal celebratory self:


Party time!



Some lovely (protesting) pictures

Another festival day sometime last year...

If I’ve left anything out feel free to let me know in the comments below. Or if you disagree with any of mine (just don’t insult my Kosovo Pepper….).

June 13, 2011

Becoming a Youth in Action

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I’m seven years into my ‘youth’ (as defined by the EU 18-30) but I’ve only recently discovered the wonderful programs the EU fund for us young people so that we can hang out, get to know each other and become friendly EU neighbours. The lovely EU folk have created a program called ‘Youth in Action’ where people can go volunteer in other countries (not necessarily EU countries) and get together for short projects like training courses and study visits. In the last month I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in two such activities; a study visit of NGO’s dealing with marginalized groups and a training course in Adventureship (I’ll write on the former soon when I get photos from it).

Our team on an adventure!


These type of courses are based on the concept of non-formal education. Basically, this means we all get together and learn from each other, rather than listening to someone speak all day long (although my courses had knowledgeable facilitators).  I’ve had some eyes rolled at me when people hear it’s a Youth in Action course. To that, I can only say it depends on the course you go to and who is running it (and who participates). The people in Macedonia, including my wonderful former housemate Ilona, have been doing this for quite a while now, they run a lot of courses every year and they do it extremely well!

Training Course on Adventureship

Last week I joined 24 people from almost 20 countries who came together to learn about Adventure skills in Macedonia. We started out in Skopje, the capital, where we had a City Challenge. We were given a map and some clues and had to find our way around the city to 7 stations. At each station we had some team building exercises to do, that included painting, drawing Europe, deciding who to allow move in next to our hypothetical apartment, interviewing strangers on the street and musical and theatrical performances. The highlight of that tour (apart from being on the winning team…) was performing my favourite childhood poem, Ooey Gooey:

From Skopje we moved to Struga, and to a hotel on Lake Ohrid. The highlight for most people was the one-day hike in Galicica National Park. We hiked for 5 hours, through the snow and had a victorious photo session at the top!


Our ascent...


Jose on the mountain


At the top!!


Sliding down on a plastic bag

The rest of our days were spent doing various activities like moving a glass for of water, without getting closer that 1m to it, using only an elastic band and some string. Oh, and this was to be done blindfolded.


Guiding blindfolded Bahlul


Another activity best done blindfolded - jigsaw puzzling!



For me the highlight(s) were the intercultural evenings we had. The participants brought mouth watering food and eye watering alcohol.  There was even home made wine from Georgia and Pomegranate wine from Armenia (few of us have plans to go to Armenia and export that stuff).


Kyriakos leading the men in a dance


Food from Georgia

Luckily the local store had an Irish alcohol section so I was able to introduce my fellow participants to Baileys Irish Cream. And of course, there was Irish dancing (If video doesn’t show, click the link to see the video):


Irish Dancing in Macedonia from Claire Ní Chanainn on Vimeo.


At the end of the training we had a short amount of time to put together a (very cheesy) video of our experiences. In the video you can see our interpretation of modern dance, and the dance, ‘It’s the time to Disco’ I learned from my students in India in 2006.



Further Information on YiA

If anyone would like to take part in these Youth in Action training programs, check out the EU’s YiA website. You can also find info on upcoming training programs from the Mladi Info website.

Courses are free for participants (food and a bed included), you just have to pay 30% of your travel costs to get there.

I’ll write more about Youth in Action programs soon. But for now I have to go back to completing my last week of work here in Kosovo!

April 19, 2011

Skiing in Prevallac, Kosovo

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(This post was formerly called Skiing in Brezovica….until I was told months later that I was not in Brezovica at all. Oh well, I enjoyed skiing in Prevallac!)


Recently I discovered an absolutely terrible way to learn how to ski; climbing to the top of a mountain and watching how other people do it. This was my tactic in one of Europe’s up-and-coming ski resorts; Brezovica Prevallac, in southern Kosovo, and it didn’t quite work out.

According to the guide book, Brezovica has three slopes, but I spent all day at the resort with my friend Marie, and only managed to find one. The book also got it wrong in saying that the slope is small and suitable for beginners. Bradt Guide, you need do to some further research on this  - the slope is massive and terrifying. Just look how small the people are at the bottom:

 (Apologies Bradt Guide – I guess I was on the wrong mountain…..)

View from the top of the massive mountain

This giant of a slope took me 45 minutes to descend on my first attempt (us Irish are not born with natural skiing abilities). I moved a little, stopped for a break, skis fell off a few times and I walked a bit and did a few rollie-pollies. All the time cheered on by the gangs of teenagers at the top sending some supportive snowballs my way. No one seemed to mind that I was walking on the slope, I was just one of many human obstacles, there to make life more interesting for the skiers. Study this photo and see how many of my fellow slope users are skiing. Note the presence of shoes and distinct lack of skis….

Lots of shoes

The slope is like a winter playground. You don’t have to ski, you can sit around with your buddies, have a picnic, take some holiday snaps. I sat and listening to music mid-slope when I needed a break. You can rent sledges, snow bikes and pieces of plastic that the kids put under their butts to go down the mountain on, and they went even faster than some skiers.

(apologies for the blue snow – my phone – HTC Wildfire does not deal with snow very well)

Man and his bike

Kid with butt-shaped piece of plastic - might have noticed me taking a photo of him

And some people just slept on the slope…..


I unfortunately did not know all these fun items were available when myself and Marie arrived at the ski resort, so I went with the traditional option and got some skis.

Rookie mistake No. 347; putting on skis before reaching the snow:

Too soon

Not easy

The most difficult part of this ‘beginner’ slope is operating the ski lift. I had such difficulty with it that the guy working it wouldn’t charge me, as he figured I’d be giving up pretty soon (I fell flat on my face during attempts 1 – 6). The ‘lift’ is a piece of wood, that moves so fast I had trouble taking a photo of it. This is the best I could manage:

Spot the pink piece of wood

What is supposed to happen; you get in position to grab the stick while it’s flying along on its piece of wire, let it pull you along for a bit and then put it behind you and let it propel you up the mountain. Like so:

She must have been doing this for years....

I’m sure you see the large scope here for being knocked over as you put a moving piece of wood behind your back – it moves, you don’t.

After falling over and popping out of my skis a few times, I came up with a plan; forget using it correctly and just hang on and let it pull me up the mountain. I succeeding and proudly gave the lift-operator man his money….. but my arms were unusable for a week after.

Some info for any future Kosovo Skiers:


Skiing is extremely reasonable in Kosovo. The equipment is €5 for the day. The lift also cost €5. There were some great places to stay overnight for €15. But just two weeks after we went (so by the end of March), everything including the lifts were closed. So get there while it’s cold and snowy.

How you can also get to the wrong mountain:

Getting to the ski resort from Prishtina is a little tricky. We got the early morning, 7.30am bus from Prishtina to Ferizaj (timetable says there’s one every 15 minutes, but that seems to be a theoretical/hypothetical timetable and does not reflect reality). From Ferizaj we would have had to wait until midday so we got a 40 minute €20 taxi. Getting from the resort we thought we could walk back to Brezovica town, but it’s 8km so we found some nice men to give us a ride. Then it’s bus back to Ferizaj and then Prishtina (costing about €6).

But if you do think of walking the 8km – it’s a very pretty trek. This is Marie running away from me:

Pretty trek

With some investment, the ski resort could be a real tourist attraction for Kosovo. Brezovica town itself is deserted. It used be where the Serbian tourists would come in winter for some skiing. They don’t come anymore and we saw quite a few empty buildings. The lack of people is also a factor for bus companies who don’t see the point in running buses from Prishtina to Brezovica.

On a slightly related note, I found a website with some very cool photos of Kosovo. You can check them out here

April 7, 2011

International Women’s Day 2011 in Kosovo

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March 8th was a very big deal for us here in Kosovo as, not only was it International Women’s Day, but it was our first as part of the new UN gender entity; UN Women.

Our motto of the day was, “We don’t want flowers, we want health insurance”. Women in Kosovo generally get flowers for IWD, this year they were asked for something slightly different; a public health insurance fund, and an overall higher standard of health care as well if it’s not too much to ask.

Together with a group of gender actors in Kosovo, we wrote a letter to the government and there was quite a rush to sign it:

Signing the letter

Speaking on the day was the head of WHO in Kosovo and Ms. Igballe Rogova, Executive Director of Kosova Women’s Network:



Some other shots of the day:

Some very happy international women

Head of WHO addresses the crowd

Getting the men involved

Local actor performing a monologue

Exhibition of women artists at the National Theatre

Reminder: We want health insurance

Even though we didn’t want flowers, we had to admit they were looking very nice on the day:

They're quite lovely

Even the local statues got some flowers!

Flowery statue

To keep all things on Mother Teresa Boulevard to the flower/anti-flower theme, the art for sale on the street also got on board:

Street Art

It wasn’t all flowers and art work, on March 7th we got the celebrations off to a ‘roaring’ start with some (what I think the kids call) drag racing. But as we only had one car there wasn’t so much racing, but we did do all the things my mother would never let me do in her car like 360′s and handbrake turns. This was all done in a safe, controlled environment under the watchful eye of the Kosovo Police. The aim was to show how women can do all the things traditionally associated with men. And as there were TV cameras in the cars those 360 maneuvers were being carried out in, I hope the word spread.   To further prove a women’s ability with these sorts of tasks, the deputy chief of Kosovo Police whipped out a gun and fired 5 bullseyes in a row at their training range.

That’s some serious girl power.

This machine made our vehicular antics possible:

Must get me some of those extra wheels

To keep up with our events throughtout the year, you can follow the Security and Gender Coordination Group (that we chair) on Facebook here.

Hope you had a great International Women’s Day, I’m always interested in hearing what others got up to (so I can steal your ideas for next year) so let me know.

March 9, 2011

My First India Video, Shillong 2005

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Football Team

In 2005 I made my first trip to India. To prepare for my first trip east I had my brother ship home a video camera from America, a Sony Handicam, and on my return convinced my parents that I really needed an Apple laptop if I was ever to become a film maker (I was also helped by some insurance money – so thank you to the young fella who stole my car).  2 weeks of 12 hours a day in front of the laptop produced two videos, the first is below.

Have to say a special word of thanks to the three people I travelled with Sharon, Ciara and Jody for not hitting me over the head as I filmed their every move. And they even agreed to their mini interviews, which involved a bit of acting. Jody says at one stage, “We’ve just arrived….”. That was filmed on our last day, but I needed it for my film!

When I left Shillong that summer I spent 3 weeks in Kolkata. I thought I should be extra careful with the tapes from my Handicam and so I took them out of my bag and left them on the table, in our sauna-like room. I once left a cold bottle of water outside. An hour or so later I poured some of the water in that bottle on my arm and burnt myself. We used wake up at 5am from the heat and have to drink the heated up water until the shop opened at 7 to get some cold water. We devised a strategy to get cold-ish water; we filled a bucket with cold water from the shower, put our bottles of water in the bucket and the shower water cooled them down a bit.

So in short, it was hot!

And in this heat, my little tapes didn’t stand a chance. They melted, and that’s why the footage is a little bumpy in places.

The video is 11 minutes long. If that’s too long for you skip to the last 4 minutes for a great tribal dance and some tin whistling (I was new to teaching when I thought giving tin whistles to 40 children was a good idea…..).
The school has changed a lot since then. More up to date videos can be seen on the IIEF website here.

I’m returning to Shillong in July this year. I hope to make a new video and I promise to lay off on the Bollywood music this time.

Providence School, Shillong – 2005 from Claire Ní Chanainn on Vimeo.

If that video is taking too long to load, you can see it on YouTube here.

Providence in a school with 250 students that has shaped its curriculum over the last 11 years to suit the needs of its students. The director of the school saw how the average primary school education was not enough to get a person a job, and many children from poorer backgrounds only get a primary education. So it made sense to pack more into the primary years.

Providence teaches them trades such as cooking and carpentry, as well as academic skills. It addresses the issue that people, in any country, with only a primary school education are unemployable. To date one class of students has graduated from Providence and they are all working in skilled professions such as hairdressing, beauty care, carpentry and cooking. You can read more about the school on it’s website here.

Your views on my film making are very welcome!

January 24, 2011

Review of 2010 & Plans for 2011

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Helloooo 2011!

2010 was a funny year. The first half was spent popping 30 pills a day trying to get my left eye working again while politely asking teenagers to sit still for 40 minutes (the eye gig was easier) and in the second half of 2010 I settled into life here in Kosovo. I have been working on a few projects that will hopefully be developed in 2011. I’m going to copy many other bloggers and publicly state what my plans for 2011 are so that I’d be too embarrassed not to make them happen.

India Project: 2010 saw us become a registered charity in Ireland and adopt the name Ireland India Educational Foundation. I have been pretty absent from this but the team in Ireland have been keeping it ticking along nicely. The project has such a fancy pants name because we’re going to be handing certificates to students one day and I wouldn’t want them going to a job interview with a certificate from Claire’s India Project (might have a few other objections to that name also….). We were a bit nervous about using the word Foundation, as it might sound like we have money and are the ones granting it to other people, but the wonderful Preda Foundation in the Phillipines use it so we think we’re ok.

Our plan for 2011 is to run our first set of exams. The school has shown that even a few years in a dual education school can greatly increase the chances of gainful employment for its graduates, but now they need a certificate to prove their achievements. We’re  in talks with an Irish educational institution that may be backing us on this, so as to give the qualification more credibility.

After that it’s time to start work on the next school. I think it’s too good an idea not to spread it around. The 2010 report was written by the school director and made into a newsletter. This was distributed in Ireland to our supporters who have pledged a monthly standing order contribution (of only €5, if you’re interested…). The newsletter can be downloaded here: Providence Newsletter

Peruvian Project: This was the shock of 2010, I threw up a website and within a few days got inquiries from people wanting to go and spend time living with my friend Kelly in Peru. Right now she has a lodger staying with her, and she is expected to stay until at least March or April 2011. I’ve also been contacted by some group tours in Peru who may be interested in making a home stay in Lima part of their tour.  For that we’d need to round up a few more families and ask if they would like to take in some roving travellers. From the people I met there in 2007 I think they’d love to have some visitors and also supplement their income.

Travelling: For once I don’t have many travel plans. I’ll be living in Kosovo until May when I’ll finish up with the UN, so will hopefully get back to Macedonia and Albania, and I’m always tempted to jump on the overnight bus to Istanbul. I will be visiting India in 2011 for sure, but right now I’m more concerned with getting  two friends from there over to Ireland in June 2011. I’m going to enjoy being a tourist in Ireland for a while! The visa process is incredibly frustrating but hopefully we’ll get through it in time.

Translating: This is something I started in 2010. Decided to start small (!) with a 33,000 word translation of a book on language learning from English to Irish. I’ve got a few more jobs here and there, including a ‘disaster check’ for a German supermarket who are selling products in Ireland. They needed to make sure none of their items names meant something dirty in Irish. But in general, the rates for translation have gone so bad that my dream of living on a ship and working remotely has been put off for a bit.

Resolutions for 2011: I’m not really one for resolutions, but I’ll make the

same one I made last year seeing as I didn’t keep to it so well. That is to write on my blog more often! Also, in 2010 I managed to get a whopping one article published in a newspaper. I may try to double, or even triple that total in 2011. Lastly in the writing vein, I was laughed at last year when I said I was entering an Irish language biologically themed writing competition. In the end I ran out of time and didn’t enter it. 2011 will be my year.

I also resolve to (can I use the word like that?) work hard at getting the house my grandfather built back into shape so that I can live there when I’m back in Ireland. It needs a few little things like heating and electrical sockets – I’m sure Google will guide me on that little bit of DIY. I’m even planning on starting a whole new blog just to chronicle my house achievements.

Another reason for writing all this is that so far writing about plans has helped me find people to work with. The very kind people at Minerva Financial Control have offered their support on the administration side of the Ireland India Educational Foundation. My good friend Conor Savage has come on board as our web consultant and graphic designer Tag Barry kindly did the IIEF logo for us!

I hope you all have a successful and peaceful new year.


January 7, 2011