Thursday, 22 May 2014

Schooling on the go!

Muscle cell models on the beach in Bali, In Flanders Fields in the cemetery where it was actually written, presentations about caves based on a tour underground, educating others about poverty after living in a village in Africa and learning about the life of a fallen soldier by retracing his steps.  These are among the many educational opportunities Ally and Meg have had while on the road this year. 
This is Ally reading in the hammock, schooling on the road sure is rough!
The Marble Arch Caves Geopark - the girls prepared a lesson that Mark could share
with his students. 
The girls working on reciting the poem In Flanders Fields, as they sit where John McCrae did many years ago when
he wrote the poem.
One of the things people are always interested in knowing about our year-long trip is how we handle the girls’ education.  Once they realize that mom and dad are their teachers, they have lots of questions!  The funny thing is, that Mark and I feel more like facilitators of the girls’ learning rather than their teachers.  We provide the opportunities, guidance and tickets to the world’s varied classrooms and the girls take it where they want. Compared to the two small spaces that we used to teach about the world, in Hamilton, the girls’ classroom has grown tremendously in ten months!
We visited the Green School in Ubud, what an amazing learning environment.  This is the grade 2 classroom.
It looks just like mine at home!

Look at this space!  I'm applying to teach here!  Considering that they get 250 or so applications
a week…I don't think I'll give up my day job…YET!
I got to meet the grade two teacher working there, awesome!

The girls started their studies the day we left on our trip, two months before their peers.  We planned to devote time each day to education, probably in the morning, and spend our afternoons seeing the world.  As most plans do, they changed!  We soon realized that there were days when we wanted to head out early, and finding time for schoolwork was challenging.  We had built in some flexibility with starting early, so none of us were too concerned.  What we found worked well, was to take what we called down days and weeks.  During these periods of time we stayed put, and allowed the girls the time they needed to devote to their schoolwork. Ally and Meg were motivated, as they didn’t want to fall behind their peers; although, they still needed reminders to hit the books.
Negotiating with Ally to get some work done, she'd much rather go back to the pool…and I don't
blame her!
The girls have taken every opportunity to learn and broaden their knowledge while we are on the road.  Unlike their mom, their young minds allow them to remember persons, places and events with great detail.  They are like little sponges taking everything in.  Mark and I have said countless times, what a wonderful age it is to be travelling with the girls.  They are old enough to be independent, and young enough to still think mom and dad are pretty cool.  A little crazy at times, but pretty cool all the same!  The learning they have demonstrated this year has exceeded our expectations.  Sure Meg isn’t quite finished her math curriculum and Ally hasn’t written her English essay yet, but what they have done is pretty amazing. 
A visit to the Spice Gardens, learning all about the history of the land and world trade.
A visit to a coffee plantation and the rice paddies.  Did you know that Honda means main rice field, and
Toyota means bountiful rice field.  It was so interesting learning how important rice is to the world economy!
Meg chose poverty as the theme for her English assignment and was able to integrate her experiences while living in the village of Mauko, Kenya into her Powerpoint presentation.  Both girls researched a number of Hillfield’s fallen soldiers and wrote historical letters demonstrating their knowledge of the battles and experiences the men had during the war.  Ally built a muscle cell model on the beach using garbage she had collected, for science.  After the construction, all the rubbish was thrown in the bin allowing for even further benefit for the beach creatures (including us).  Meghan learned to play the tinglink, a Balinese instrument made of bamboo and Ally took art lessons from a Balinese artist.  They have Skyped and emailed with their teachers at home, and sent assignments and assessments through the web.  We have tried to tie as many experiences as we could back into the curriculum at home.

Meg was in her element with the kids in Kenya.
Anytime is a teaching moment.  Mark is showing our friend George where we
live, and where we have travelled so far.
School supplies!
Ally's muscle cell model on the beach.  She added labels using notebook and created
a proper scientific diagram to send home to Mr. Hannah, her favourite Science teacher!
Currently we are in Batu Feringgi, Malaysia and the girls have been immersed into the cultural melting pot.  The population is made up of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures.  The food, places of worship, and clothing all reflect the diversity here.  We can hear the call for prayer four times a day from our apartment; we have tasted the spicy and flavourful dishes from far off lands and were surprised to see the women swimming in full burkas in the ocean.  The island has Chinese and Hindu temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches. The pace of life is certainly different from Bali, where we rose with the roosters, hit the morning market by 6:30 am and started the day off with yoga.  Batu Feringghi sleeps until well after lunch and at 6:30 pm the town is finally awake and alive!  Even the mini-marts and internet cafes are closed until well after lunch.  With everyone sleeping so late, it has allowed the girls to get caught up on daily exercise and schooling. 

ART - We took a tour around Georgetown to see the street art.

Another of the street art pieces.

Mmmm, Indian tonight!
Ally's favourite, noodles! 
A beautiful Chinese temple, amazing! We are headed to the Hindu temple tomorrow, it is supposed
to have the biggest buddha in Asia!
Mark and I think they have done well, but how did the girls feel about this educational journey on the road?  I asked the girls and their answers demonstrated another level of learning.  Meg said that it has improved her motivation.  She had to persevere and do her schoolwork even though she didn’t want to sometimes.  She felt what she had learned would stay with her longer as she was experiencing it, not just reading about it or watching a movie.  Meg also felt that she had become more independent this year, working at her own pace.  WOW, independence and motivation – those are two pretty important characteristics that are difficult to teach!  Not to mention her increased willingness to engage in conversation with adults and her increased self-confidence.

Talk about motivation, this is Meg doing school work at the beach!

Ally was proud of her projects and loved having the freedom to spend as much time as she wished focused on one thing.  Ally felt that being able to experience things and places, such as the war memorials and battlefields, allowed her to learn much more and make more connections.  It was truly amazing to see Ally immerse herself into her studies. She is a driven and dedicated learner.  She has also logged over five hundred hours on her Kobo, not to mention the paperbacks she has lugged around!  Ally did say that she missed the opportunity to work with others (Meg was the only partner to work with on a couple of assignments). Both girls felt that what they had experienced this year had enriched their lives and allowed them to grow in so many ways.
Ally telling a friend about her Kobo and how it works.
Snacks and a good book, what could be better?

As parents and teachers we couldn’t be more proud of our girls, and this year has certainly taught us a lot as well.  Our experiences have been diverse and will certainly stay with us. While out on a run this morning, Mark and I chatted about how the trip has changed us.  It has certainly enriched our lives and allowed us to experience so many different cultures.  Fundamentally, we are still the same people we were when we left, but our experiences will definitely have had an impact. Our patience and tolerance has been tested, our appreciation and respect of our own country and others has increased and our love of learning has strengthened.  It is hard to list all the things the trip has done for us, but they are certainly positive.  We remain healthy, happy and content and really have been since the day we left.  The end of our trip is rapidly approaching. I can tell because I am starting to make lists of the things I have to do when I get home, somethings never change!  Although we are all thinking of home a little more often these days, we still have a month and half to go, and none of us want to miss out on the learning yet to come.

It certainly isn't hard to be happy, healthy and content when this is the, loving and
 learning every moment!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Three Cremations and a Birthday

The Balinese people believe in ruwa bineda; it means that every situation has two sides.  This was another of Aji's lessons on Balinese culture. For example, when a baby is born, the family is happy and joyous, yet the baby might be crying.  On the other hand, when a person dies, they may die at peace, happy, after living a long and fulfilling life, yet the family may be devastated and grieving.  There are always two sides in every situation.

We experienced ruwa bineda first hand during our time in Ubud. The day that inspired this post, happened to be a good day in Bali.  Good days and “not so good” days are dictated by the Balinese calendar, called the Wuku. The Balinese calendar has 30 weeks of 7 days, each with it’s own meaning. It is a complex calendar and Aji spent 30 minutes explaining the basic facts to Mark. Perfect understanding and interpretation of the calendar is left to the priests. Being a good day, made it appropriate for a cremation ceremony. When a Balinese person of Hindu descent dies, the body must be cremated.  Sometimes the family must wait until they have saved enough money for the ceremony, so the body may be 'temporarily' buried. The burial could occur for a short period of time, or in some cases, years. The ideal is to be cremated as close to the date of death as possible; however, it must occur on a 'good' day. Today there were three cremation ceremonies at the community temple and it happened to be Ally’s birthday; today was a good day indeed!  We were invited to attend Aji’s aunt’s celebration, and we were a little skeptical at first.  Attending a cremation on a birthday would not likely be considered a desirable learning experience at home, but we considered it an amazing opportunity.  Ally’s 14th birthday turned out to be a birthday that she would never forget!

After our morning yoga and breakfast with our Families on the Move Facebook group, we rushed home late (somethings don't change) to dress for the cremation ceremony.  It is a good thing that Bali operates on jam karet, which translates into “rubber time”! We were required to wear traditional Balinese clothing.  Ibu, (Aji’s wife) outfitted us for the celebration.  We wore sarongs on the bottom and a kabaya on top, which is similar to a long fitted blouse, often made of lace.  Tied at the waist was a sash.  Men wear a regular shirt and sarong, but a second sarong called a saput is layered on top and is slightly shorter than the first.  Men also wear a hat which is called an udeng. After we were outfitted, we headed off to the home of the deceased.

All dressed in our temple clothing!
Aji’s aunt had passed away ten days prior and her cremation was very quick in terms of Balinese culture.  In this case the body of the deceased remained at the family home until the day of cremation, and there was no need for a temporary burial.  Following the blessings, she was paraded through the streets in a tower called a bede.  The family lead the tower through town to the temple, and members of the community carried the bede and followed along.  The tower often represents the financial well being of the family and in Aji’s aunt’s case, the tower was quite ornate and very tall.  So tall that men had to push up the hydro wires with long bamboo poles to allow the tower to pass through the streets.  Mark cringed as the tower leaned, at risk of toppling over completely, not to mention that it made contact with the wires several times.  The walk to the temple was similar to a parade with live music and a brisk pace.  Considering there were three live people riding on the tower, the deceased, and the weight of the platform alone, the porter’s urgency was understood. Once the tower arrived at the temple, the deceased’s body was removed from the coffin and placed inside a decorative bull statue, called a lambu.  Tradition calls for the eldest daughter to sweep out the inside of the lamb with her hair, and prepare it for her mother’s body.  Once complete, the body was then covered with sarongs, other items of clothing, and offerings which had been given as last gifts to the departed.  Finally, the lambu was set on fire with the crowds watching.  As you can imagine, the cremation process takes a while and all but the family move back to their homes.  This was when we made our quiet exit as well, and left Aji to remain with his family.  To complete the ceremony, the ashes would later be collected and formed into the shape of a body.  The priest would bless the ashes along with offerings given from family members and the community. Finally, the ashes would be scattered in the ocean. It was quite a spectacle to behold.

Transferring the body from the bede to the lambu
Although people were in mourning, the event was quite celebratory.  Tears may have been shed, but they were not shown in public.  Never would you let your tears fall on the deceased as this is believed to be bad luck and create bad karma.  I have loved learning about the Bali-Hindu culture and traditions, where karma is held in high regard.  As Aji explained to us, one strives to become one with God, which is quite difficult.  You must always be aware of karma. He explained that if you are walking along and you step on an ant, it is considered to be bad karma.  It is believed that if you ‘do good’ during your life you will be reincarnated into a person and have another chance to become one with God. If you ‘do bad’ you will be reincarnated into an animal, which is not considered a desirable reincarnation.  You must always try to ‘do good’.  Becoming one with god is the ultimate goal and is called Moksa.

The tower on a lean, trying to pass under the hydro wires.
It was quite a celebration with a professional photographer capturing every moment.  It
reminded me more of a wedding rather than a funeral.  Everyone was taking photos and video with their smartphones.
You can see all of the layers of sarongs, and the lid of the bull is placed back on top. 
The community all leaves with the exception of family which has also moved a little further away due to the heat.
This was the third cremation procession that we saw.  As you can see the tower is
still very ornate, but much smaller than the previous.  It certainly made travelling through the
streets with the hydro wires much easier.
As is the case with ruwa bineda, there is always two sides. Despite having just attended a cremation ceremony to celebrate a death, we had a 14th birthday to celebrate! Luckily for Ally, it was a good day!  As it goes with Canadian birthdays, Ally had a few requests.  She asked for a jar of peanut butter, Nutella and toast, to relax and read in the afternoon, and to have pizza for dinner.  An interesting selection of items, but a perfectly sensible order for a teenager on the road, I’m sure!  So, after picking up some birthday treats, that was exactly what she got!  It was certainly a birthday to remember and a good great day in Bali!

Some of the items a 14 year old traveller requests on her birthday
A Tree of Life pendant for our daughter who is full of life. 
Pizza dinner! 
Mark met this amazing artist while out on a walk, and he agreed to give Ally some lessons.
She was thrilled with this birthday experience! 
She was to choose the subject and decided to paint a photograph that we took
while in South Africa, on safari in the Addo Elephant park.  


Saturday, 3 May 2014

Peace, Love and Sweat

A beautiful Indonesian family has adopted us.  Don’t be alarmed, it is quite a common practice for Indonesian families to accept strangers into their homes and treat them like family! Almost every family villa in Ubud, has a sign out front advertising a home stay. Most families in Ubud are Balinese Hindu, and along with those home stay signs out front, are daily offerings welcoming you in.  The offerings are gifts and are a very important part of their religion. It took us awhile to get used to these beautiful little bundles of flowers, food and decorative greenery, scattered about, but it is a common practice to leave offerings. Trying to avoid stepping on the offerings, while travelling from place to place, became our morning workout routine.  Dodging the offerings, combined with Yoga has certainly allowed us to work up a sweat.  Actually, we are sweating all the time here, regardless of whether we are working out or not.  Love, peace and sweat, I think that is what life in Bali is all about.
Our Balinese family in Ubud.
The words Aji and Ibu mean father and mother in the Balinese language.  Our friend Claire introduced them to us as such, and the names have stuck.  Aji has retired from teaching and was the former head of education in Bali.  He has become our number one resource and official tour guide, taking us on walks to the rice fields, the early morning market, the art museum and to community events and ceremonies.  Aji is a remarkable and humble man, who enjoys teaching about the Bali-Hindu culture and traditions.  He is an accomplished artist, musician, and leader in the community.  He has taught music lessons to Mark and Meghan on the tingklik and can be heard playing it throughout the day.  It is such peaceful and beautiful music.  In his retirement, he has established a pre-school in Ubud, continues to take part in teacher education programs while hosting American students, and plays an integral role in raising his grandchildren. He is a wonderful man and continues to live his life everyday, striving to be at one with God.
An early morning walk with Aji through the rice fields.

A trip to the market, we went very early before it turned into a tourist market.

Mark learning the tingklik.

Aji, a teacher through and through.

Cooling down with a beverage at the Museum of Art.

Ibu runs the household and has treated us like a mother. She made us beautiful breakfasts each day, offered us her many contacts in the community for restaurants, transportation, laundry services and has also been responsible for outfitting us in Balinese temple clothing.  Together, Ibu and Aji have raised three children.  Their daughter Kris has married into the royal family in Ubud and we had the pleasure of touring the palace and having tea with Kris and her son Jayden, a Balinese prince.   Their son, Ngurah lives in the family villa with his wife, Tutik and two sons, who are absolutely adorable.  Although the boys speak little English, they were able to request that I bring up YouTube on my computer! We also met their other daughter Artati, who is married to an architect.  Aji and Ibu are very close with their children and grandchildren and it was great to see the comings and goings of family around the villa.  It reminded me of a weekend at the Mitchell cottage. They also refer to our friend Claire as one of their daughters.  Claire was one of the first students to stay with Aji and Ibu back in in 1986 as part of her education. She encouraged Aji and Ibu to start their home stay business and they have been family every since.  We were welcomed with love and certainly felt at home. 

Beautiful Ibu preparing the offerings.

The preparation for the upcoming festival begins weeks before.

Aji's daughter Kris and her son Jayden.  In order to visit the palace we had to be dressed in
temple clothing. 

Aji's daughter when she used to perform in ceremonial dances.
The Balinese people are kind, accepting, and outgoing people.  They have created a peaceful community and most citizens extend a greeting to everyone that they see.  The community is also very spiritual and most days  include ceremonies and offerings that can be observed on a walk about town.  One sign said ‘Life is an Offering in Bali’ and this sums up our experience.  Small woven baskets containing gifts for the island’s spirits are left outside of homes and businesses each day.  Some are also placed on material items of significance.  The gifts express gratitude to the ‘good’ spirits and appease the bad ones.  Often we saw women preparing and blessing spiritual offerings, people collecting holy water, people attending the temple dressed in temple clothing, dance performances, and cremation ceremonies.  Currently, Ibu and Tatuk are preparing offerings for a celebration of their temple next week.  Aji has taught us a great deal about the Hindu beliefs and shared many cultural stories with us, through his artwork. He has also told us about what Ubud used to be like many years ago.  In many ways it is sad to see what the heart of Ubud has become, yet on the outskirts and intermixed between the shops, restaurants and motorbikes, the culture and traditions are still very much alive and evident.  I suppose that is why they say that Ubud is like no other place on earth.

A typical offering

Offerings at the morning market

The entrance to a villa signifying a wedding
Preparation for a cremation ceremony
One of Aji's pieces similar to our compass rose.  Each direction is represented by a God.
Yes, Ubud is amazing but I can honestly say I have never experienced the volumes of sweat that I have here in Bali. It is hot, hot, hot!  Unlike many of the tourists, we are living without air conditioning or a pool, and are slowly but surely adjusting to the heat.  We thought it quite odd to see our bed having only a fitted sheet, pillow and a sarong as a blanket, but we soon realized why.  There was absolutely no need for duvets, blankets or even clothing for that matter!  In the past, people didn’t wear clothing as it was expensive, and there was also no need for any warmth.  Even in the evening, the temperature does not really drop that much.  The locals say it does, but the only thing we noticed when the sun went down was the arrival of the mosquitos!
Beautiful scenery

The workers in the rice field on a lunch break

The ridge walk in Ubud

I captured this photo on the way back from the market one morning.  Right before I snapped the photo
the little guy had been holding onto his big brothers hand.

Ubud is stunning and we have experienced so much here, thanks to our wonderful extended family.  Peace, love and sweat, yes that is what Bali is about and I’ll take that any day!  

Our beautiful Aji and Ibu.  Thank you for making us feel so welcomed and at home.

Aji presented us with this gift on our last day in Ubud.  It is a copy of a painting he did of
the Balinese Calendar, a gift we will cherish forever.
Thanks so much to Claire for putting us in touch with your beautiful family in Ubud. Aji shared these photographs with us which were taken during Claire's first visit, back in 1986! 
Aji and Ibu's children, taken in the lane outside their family villa.

Aji's daughters with Claire and her sister