BACK from India (first draft)

Hello home!
I arrived in freezing Edinburgh on Tuesday, 16th of November. My attempt to write some stories on the way in India failed. Our one month stay in Mysore was accompanied by uncomfortable internet cafe's with half-working keyboards that are a writer's nightmare. When we travelled on to the Sivananda Ashram, to Varkala Beach and Fort Kochi there was not much time to spent in front of an electric box. The sun was luring us out, or in the Sivananda Ashram it was the neverending daily schedule of Satsang (singing repetitive Hindu songs), Asana classes, food intake breaks and meditation that kept us busy or bored.
Looking back now while sitting in a cold room with dark clouds passing by the shivering windows I'm filled with strange memories that could well be of a dream. But the time was real! The sun was real, my skin is brown! The colors were real and I brought stacks of shawls with me home to wrap up in an array of rainbows to sink back into warm memories. The sounds were real and I get sentimental hearing Kedars (my flatmate from India) Bollywood tunes.

Now it's time to tell the stories that me and Tove encountered during the rest of our travel, after we survived the monsoon in the Himalayas and escaped back to Delhi and from there jumped on a 33 hour trainjourney to Bangalore with the Shatabdi Express. Torkeling out of the station to hitch the first bus that crossed our way with a man screaming MYSORE MYSORE MYSORE!

Finally we arrived in the yogi capital for Ashtanga students. The city of palaces with the loudest honks in India. We arrived at the Patanjali Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga shala of Sheshadri and opened the heavy blue gates to wait for our guru. On a bicycle he came, jumped off and was a head smaller than me! A tiny robust man with a strong grip and sparkling piercing eyes welcomed us to PAVY shala. We looked at our wee apartment, nice big kitchen, a big room with a big bed covered with a massive mosquito net and a tiny bathroom out the back. Luckily Diego just finished his pranayama class when we settled down in our new comfi simple abode and he took us out to the local restaurant, Mahesh Prasad, then to the local vegetable stall that doesn't cheat with tourist prices (papaya for 10 rupees..yes) and the nearest supermarket, Big Bazaar. This was our home quarter, Krishnamurtipuram, for the next month.

Proud puri maker at Mahesh Prasad, the best local restaurant! Veg Thali for 35 rupees, free refills and yummygoodness!

Unfortunately I caught a massive flu on the AC train ride and was pretty much bed-bound the next days and missed the first yoga classes. Tove came back sparkling and superhappy and thus made me recover quickly with ginger and tulsi brew. Finally I could join her when my nose stopped dripping and my head pounding.
Amazing teaching by Sheshadri! My bones hurt for days before the muscles adjusted and the hips were opened. I couldn't believe how much I was able to bend, and how good a daily 2 hour intense practice felt. But my body wasn't used to so much work out and my cold returned with another week of running nose. Meanwhile we learned some new breathing techniques in our overpriced pranayama class and laughed our heads of in tiger breath pose.

Sellers making long flower ribbons very fast.

Mysore city centre was not our favourite destination, too loud, too busy. But when we made it and entered the maze of markets with all the colors and smells of millions of blossoms, colored powders, fruits and spices we were just overwhelmed!

During Dasara Festival we finally saw the massive palace lighted by some 80000 lightbulbs and enjoyed free Sitar concerts in front of the Maharashtras home!

Sitar band with all females! Super good!

We extended our originally planned two week stay to a proper month and in that time met great people, explored the region and got well into our yoga stretches with Sheshadri and his shy son Harish.

Highlights of our stay include our occasional balcony dance nights with Yoyo and Karine, our neighbors, or imitating the street vendours in their way to early shouts of OOOHH SAAAPOI! Very memorable are visits to Chamundi hill and Nandi the massive stone cow as well as shopping sprees to Fabindia. We managed to hitch a bus to get to Brindavan Gardens where Bollywood films are shot regularly and the nightly lightshow with all the fountains is quite magic. We also ventured to a nearby birdsanctuary to watch the crocodiles swimming around our boats and the massive bats hanging in the trees. The best trip out of town was to Srirangapatna, an old fort/island with the Tippu Sultans summer palace and the Cauvery river where we watched Hindu ceremonials by the ghats (steps that lead into the water). It was a magic atmosphere and people were completely hypnotized by their ceremonies, preparing little floats of banana leafs filled with coconutshaves, red and yellow powders, yasmin flowers and incense sticks. Monkeys were fighting in the trees while women were bathing in full dress. It's hard to put in words. To be able to observe those ancient traditions so close by was completely stunning.

Suddenly a calm month in Mysore was over and we had to say good bye to many dear friends that we found along the way. Valeria from Spain who is volunteering with a community of sex workers, Kfir who played amazing guitar tunes on our terrace with Yoyo from Indonesia. Karine and Anaelle stayed a little longer with Sheshadri but we met our crazy French girls in Varkala again.

Off we went on the day the colorful elephant parade was scheduled in Mysore. We had to give it a miss, our bus was leaving from the brand new bus terminal, 13 hours of mountain drives through the western ghats all the way down to Thiruvanantapuram or in short Trivandrum. The night was accompanied by some 80ies bollywood film and snoring Indian guys. The first thing we managed to do upon arrival was a proper filling with dosa and awakening coffee at the quirky Indian Coffee House in an old red brick twisted tower. On the road again to the Sivananda Ashram to get our heads into meditation and our legs into knots without pain. We entered the mountains again, forests of palm trees and banana trees as far as the eye can see. Magic magic! But also crazy busdrivers as usual, it seems as if mountains attract a suicidal breed of drivers.
Kerala is plastered with Hammer and Sickle signs, the communist party is ruling the county! But it was only one week to the next election. The lamp posts, walls and trees were plastered in posters, with a surprising high amount of women trying to catch peoples votes for the election. I liked Kerala already. Childhood memories of my communist pasts were digged out but the colorscheme of murals was much more up to date and a proper neon rainbow overdose.

Election days outside the ashram (c)Tove

Ashram life was strange for us after our lazy Mysore days. Suddenly we had a strict daily plan that started at 6am with singing and ended at ca. 10pm with, yes, singing! Inbetween an array of asana classes, lessons (or more singing) and a short period of Health Hut niceness with fresh fruitsalad and the best banana lassi. Though the regime had it's pro's we were just not made up for it and I especially felt uncomfortable and observed to obay their partly overstrict rules. I felt treated like a stubborn child if I chose to miss a class in order to read a book on yoga. The western people that were running the ashram at that time seemed almost paranoid if someone missed a Satsang.
We decided to leave earlier than planned and said goodbuy to some lovely new friends. The only thing we would miss was the stunning gardens/forests of greenery with massive jackfruit trees. The silent walks in the morning or evening (with full moon beaming) were the highlight of our stay and we take some meditation advice with us, knowing for myself that crosslegged awkwardness is not my way to enlightenment nor am I sure I actually want to be enlightened at all.

THE BEACH WAS WAITING! Karine who was supposed to meet us in the Ashram changed her mind after exchanging some poignant text messages that we managed to send from the no-mobile-prison aka ashram! So she waited for us on the golden sandy beach besides Varkala cliff and waved from the wavy waters of the Arabic Sea.

A week of splashing fun, pineapples, Lassi's, Baracuda, Butterfish and Kingprawns was ahead of us! Starry nights at a tiny fishing village beach with scared speedy crabs running around. Lightning from thunderclouds in the distance, swaying palmleaves and a cold Kingfisher beer. We were in paradise! We lived in a cheap second floor bungalow with Karine as our neighbor again and we went swimming after our healthy fruity breakfast and went swimming after momo lunch and before fish dinner. Inbetween a lot of bargaining with the local shops, jewellery, shawls and FINALLY skirts and shoulder free shirts! This was maybe not the real India but it was a necessary time of peace, fun and sunshine nearing the end of our journey.

View from our terrace (c)Tove

Again we met great folks to hang out with, got lots of tips from the holland guys Harm and Camille, swimming with Sanjin and Niccolo our italian friend we met at Navdanya farm in the north. Banter with the ashram girls that followed our escape! Blue sea endless, thin horizon with a pearl necklace of fisherboats, dreamy purple pink skies and low fi indian tunes. A trip to the maze of the backwaters was equally stunning and relaxing, on a canoo passing the normal Indian lives of farmers and fishermen, housewifes and schoolchildren.

We ignored the rats that ventured through our hut at night. By the end of the week we were glad to leave them behind though. A new place waited for us to be discovered! Post Portugese Kochi was next on the list and the most stunning train journey yet was ahead of us!
Train journeys are like nothing else in India. Staring Indian guys, shy colorful Indian women, the interior wonkiness of age old trains, old school wind fans, chai vendors shouting and shuffling through the corridors, naked feet dangling from luggage racks that are used by people to sleep on! The trains are a different universe and one of the experiences that make India the India I love!
Train journey to Cochin through forests of palm trees!

Ernakulam Town was our station but the place looked more like Manhattan after an earthquake. Glitzi glassfront towers next to brittle shags, next to rikshas, next to posh cars. Ernakulam is bustling with business opportunities and is as dirty as the rest of India. We left quickly into our overpriced riksha and escaped to the calm oasis, a walled maze of family homes and tropical gardens called Fort Kochin.
Our homestay with the christian Jojie-family welcomed us warmly with sparkling clean rooms and the poshest shower I ever encountered on the sub continent. The water was still as cold as everywhere else. But who cares about that if the temperatures are reaching 30 degrees every day!

The biggest surprise was that we met some Swedish friends again which we have last seen in Varkala Beach. Soon the next days were planned together and it was great to fall back to some group activities in a new place.

Ginger market in Fort Kochi

Fort Kochin is beautiful with it's many cute spice shops, antique shops and the ever looming cheaky kashmiri fabric shops. European look mixed with Indian traditions, Christian churches with Hindu temples, cows with crazy busses. No matter were you go in India, some things just always stay the same!

A trip to Munnars teaplantation was another highlight of Kerala. Lush green hills with fingerprint-look alike labyrinth's of teaplants, high up in what looked like Scottish Highlands Indian style. We hiked up to 2000 meters and watched the wild elephants below in awe! Unfortunately we were the unlucky ones to experience the not so lush monthly spraying of pesticides which refrained us from shopping Munnar tea in the thousands of stalls. The beauty of the place got spoiled when realising that after all this is a highly industrialised monoculture, kept alive by cheap workers who spray the chemicals without any protective gear. 

The end of our trip is near but now I need some food first!


INDIA! First impressions..

Since 11 days I'm roaming through India, Uttarakhant just now, with Tove!
It has been an amazing journey so far. 2 days in Delhi to get the Main Bazaar overkill: too many people, too many honks, too many shops, too much rain/dust. Left north to Rishikesh. Wow, what a place.. two huge hanging bridges over the fast flowing massive Ganges, Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula (sorry for misspelling), pilgrims in colorful raincoats everywhere and tempting stalls with necklaces, singing bowls, fabrics etc. A cosy place to stay at Mount Valley Mama Cottage where Mama made delicious Talis and Chai.In her living room the travelers gathered, meeting new people, meeting with life in India too! A hike next day to the woods near town, finding a waterfall, a cool shower in the sweaty heat. Walking back to town getting hit by a KRASS monsoon shower that soaked us thoroughly within seconds. Survived with Chai at the Cafe (and one of the many German Bakeries) overlooking Laxman Jhula.
Further to Navdanya Farm with bus and vikram. All of a sudden: SILENCE! no honks, no smells, just green colors of amounts of different plants that grow so plentiful here! Learning about all those crops, growing together: Okras, Amaranth, Sesame, lots of rice, turmeric, ginger and many more. Eating guavas all the time. Dinner bell rings promptly at 8am, 1pm and 8pm. We work with the women in the fields, mounding the gingerplants or harvesting okras for seed keeping. The seed bank here is a work of magic! More than 500 rice varieties are grown here to keep to many traditional indian varieties from dying out under corporate monocrop systems. Having just met Vandana Shiva for a few seconds before she ran off, I was still so happy having seen her at all! What a charisma this woman shines out! To be here and see all those achievements, talk to Jeet and Chandra about neem and millet varieties, about suicide farmers in India, monsanto madness and wild chickens in the nearby forest, I feel like being in the perfect place!
To make our stay a bit more exciting we spontaneously joined William (a fellow film maker and great soul!), Kumiko and Nicolo on a 2 day trip (well, not quite in the end) into the mountains, Shivalik mountain range along the ganges, Devprayag, Srivalik, Souri - the small village where Chandra grew up and lives with his wife and two kids, Tipika and Deepak. Off we went in a Jeep with a young and crazy driver who send numerous shivers down our spines, potholes AND the death-fear causing overtaking maneuvers on the snaily road that was carved into the mountains. Up to 500 or more meters deep on the right side of the jeep, and more than 2000 meters up they go on the left, those green oasis' of humid and warm mountains, some are terraced with rice patties, some are hosting amazing colorful cities, houses like lego-stones attached to the steep mountain fassade, all embraced by numerous trees and bushes, a jungle of all things green. We survived the trip well, arrived after more than 250km and 10 hours later (not the proposed 5) in the tiny village with a much slimmer yet still furious Ganges gurgling passed, so loud that it was impossible to sleep without my BELOVED earplugs! Chandras wife served food and hot chai, great to arrive there! All night rain, so heavy that the river swell even more, so heavy that the mountain came sliding down! Like avalanges the stones and mud crushed streets all over the area. We heard about school children that were swept away by an outburst of water from the sky! Scotlands rains are nothing compared to the intensity of the monsoon. Delhi has now a serious flood problem!
But we got up despite the continuous drums of water splashes, had a lovely breakfast and more sweet chai, and decided after all to hike up to some tiny villages that are now using the organic farming methods of Navdanya, selling their surplus produce to the Navdanya organization who have shops in Bombay, Delhi and other big towns all over India. We managed the slippery tiny rock-stairs, riverbeds that watered our feet, cooling wet and arrived far up with departing clouds. Rain stopped after 12 hours.
The women were curious, smiling, asking me about my piercing in sign-language, showing us their fields of intercropped varieties of millet, rice, ladyfingers and other crops. The houses were beautiful, a big central doorframe with carvings mostly in a bright  red or green, a symbol of shiva or ganesha in the middle on top. Balconies that act as outdoor hallways are connected to stairs leading up and down. Succulents are growing in pots on the flat roofs. Chandra the coordinator in this area talks to the women, all of them are farmers whose husbands are working in the towns in the daytime, some are gone for weeks on end. We see beautiful old ladies with curious eyes and warm smiles. Sari's in bright colors, jewellery in gold and plastic flip flops all over the place. We then learned to make chapaties, taught by the old giggling women sitting around a woodfire in a tiny cramped stuffy room. Clapping and flapping the dough in our hands to make round flat disks that got fried in the pan. WOW! so amazing! And we did not too bad for our first trial but oh my, those hands of the woman were fast and precise in forming perfect circles of millet chapaties.
Walking around the mountains we finally saw the snowcovered Himalayas above the green peaks shining through the clouds, how high they must be! Still a while away the reach over the already 3000 meters of our village in the distance, 20 km away from the Chinese border we were.
Evening meal and another night in our little room and the terraced house, talking to Lovely, a sweet young girl who studies botany and geology in a nearby college who lives with her family next door. Every day she wore a new Salva Kameez in bright colors with amazing details woven into the fabric.
Another day arrived, time to leave! Chandra asked us to stay on but William needed to go home and the rainfall was so intense the last days, that we feared the roads will be getting worse. So we got a jeep despite knowing that we might have trouble getting through to Rishikesh. We hoped that by the time we get to Devprayag, the roads would be cleared of the rubble.
We got to Srinagar without problems, there we jumped on another bus to Rishikesh, crossed the bridge and soon found a massive traffic jam in front of us. Slowely the message triggered through that more landslides came down and the road will be closed for DAYS! We were stuck! We got off the bus who couldn't turn around there, walked a bit to finally hitch another bus back into town. William happened to sit next to a man with a blue turban (?). Few minutes later he asked us if we were alright staying at a Sikh temple for the night! Of course we were! Through the streets we marched following the santa-clause-lookalike but with a turban instead of a red hat and with a friendly smile, all the way to the temple. We covered our heads with the shawl we are now so used wearing over our shoulders all the time. Looking curiously around, being looked at even more curiously by all the Sikh-men with their turbans, beards, silver bracelets, wee swords and long robes. Oh dear. Bit weird this all felt but soon it became so normal to walk around in the temple. We shared a room with a few mattrasses with Mr. Singh and his wife, went downstairs, sitting cross legged to receive chapaties and dalh, a bit of pickle and veg curry, water and chai flowing. An amazing hospitality and an interesting new experience in my life to hear from the kind man about the Sikh traditions, their history in India, their ideals of protecting the poor from the powerful. After our splendid meal we went out to the streets once more, discovering a much less busy, less loud town, roaming in sari-shops, book shops and finally finding a decent umbrella for 75 Rupees (one pound) to prevent any further monsoon-soakings on my travels!
Back at the temple in the evening we went to the hall to listen to the praying and mostly music they played. WOOOOWWW!! I can't put in words the atmosphere of all the women and men that gathered there watching and listening to the men singing, drumming and using this strange mini-organ/harmonium-instrument. Every two or three songs the musicians changed and suddenly a wee boy appeared amongst the bearded men with their orange, blue or white turbans and he started singing in the most emotional, most clear voice every Heintje fan would dream of! I was so touched by his grace and emotion he carried in his young voice! We watched the holy book being opened, listened to prayers we couldn't understand, imitating the habits we encountered.
Sleeping peacefully in the temple, waking up at 5/6ish without a trace of tiredness, seeing clouds crouching around the morning mountains, lifting mists revealing blue sky. Relieved about the fact that it hadn't rained more, hopeful for an open road home.
Enjoying the hustle and bustle of temple morning life, women giggling, trying to talk to us with hands and feet, lots of smiles and still some staring curiosity anywhere we went. After breakfast we tried our luck, back to the main road, found a bus, hopped on, waited. And waited. And waited. chatted with the so called tourist police who again said the roads are closed. BUT our friendly Sikh-man came to look for us and found out that a detour through Pouri could work to bring us to Haridwar and from there to Dehradun. So we tried our luck finding a Jeep that would take us via Pouri through a different valley. Finally an Indian IT-youngster who also needed to get to Delhi was willing to share a jeep with us. Off we went, crossing fingers and toes and looking in awe across the mountains where so many landslides blocked roads or covered houses. I found plenty of Jatropha bushes on the way, memories of Malawi. We saw more mountain villages in their colorful lego-optic scattered over the hillsides, we saw the cruel devastation of rocks and sand that crushed down from the steep hills, covering the roads, our breath stopped several times when the tires slitted along the very edge of hundred-meter deep cliffs, honking before each curve. This time our driver drove calmly and stable, no need to fear much and by the end of this amazing sunny valley tour we reached the town that had the bus to Haridwar ready to leave! Happy we were! Home almost in sight, we thought! How wrong! The driver must have been an ill-natured maniac who besides his skills of driving curvy had the most ridiculous notions of attempting suicide with our bus. Not only did we take a detour through a bumpy dirtroad/mudpuddle of at least 1km length that nearly broke our spine and sit-bones, but also drove this bus at a speed that was absolutely terrifying! When we reached the main road again the fun wasn't over! Over-taking maneuvers were creepy! Big trucks we passed in the darkening evening light, vikrams and motorcycles we sent into ditches while racing past the TATA trucks with millimeter-precision! I was so so scared for an hour and a half. I tried not to look out of the front window and I was screaming most of the time! We did experience some crazy driving in India already but this was topnotch idiocy! Finally at 10pm we knocked on the gates of Navdanya farm, lightning around us, no rain this time, just blackness, heat and flashlights in the sky. WE WERE SO HAPPY! with last powers me and Tove enjoyed another bucket shower washing of the dirt and SMELL of 4 days traveling in the mountains with only 2 t-shirts (guys it is so hot and sweaty that two t-shirts are soaked within hours! imagine the lovely stench! haha).
Today, after having slept deeply a nice yoga-morning on our wee roofed terrace was waking us up, watching the big turmeric leafs in the breeze, the clouds over the mountains that we escaped bravely!
We did some not so tough okra-harvesting, chatted with Bindu, one of the farming-ladies, chatted more with William, the greatest American I have met so far, I should add he is from California and I know of some lovely souls from that part of the world. More inspiration floating in my humble veins and relaxation of another 4 days at Navdanya setting in! Tomorrow I want to find the herbal specialist here to chat more about Neem and its healing properties, about Moringa and other plants. I will do more yoga on the terrace, paint a few more leaves, write down more names of spices and plants and read another few pages in exciting Shantaram.
I'm so happy I came here and soon it is time to leave and learn some proper yoga lessons with Sheshadri and his son Harish in Mysore, before that a 40 hour train journey in a nice sleeper AC class will await us!

I hope to post more news from down south, Karnataka or Kerala!
Please take all best care of yourselves and please go travel and see the world! This is such an amazing adventure and was one of the best decisions I made while running crazily around a coffee machine and cinnamon buns. How far away this world is now. So normal India seems already that it is hard to believe 11 days have past.

Good luck on all your life's adventures!


A day in the life...

Dear people,
today I had one day off of my cafe-job at Peter's Yard. A great opportunity to organise many important things. And as the day unfolded, I realised how many great moments it contained. Those I think are share-worthy!
First I pedaled down to 66 Rose Street to apply for my Visa to India! That was exciting though I had to pay more than I thought. A funny poster of a tiger reminded of not so friendly Indians. mmh, we'll see if they only mean the tiger with that ;)
Then I caught some raindrops on my way to 5 Rose Street, the Melting Pot, to meet friends to chat about Malawi and how our film about Joseph is going to be shown in the coming months! An exciting opportunity arose to decorate an installation in the Botanic Gardens about the Janeemo project. I hope I will find the time in the coming weeks to create a rough plan for that.
On my way to ECA I again managed to just escape more raindrops, cycling through busy roads with dirty busses and too many visitors of our festive town. At ECA I got all my tapes and DVDs of all the films I have made there including a big production file that will now start to catch dust on my shelf for 2 weeks before I have to move out. Strange memories of times in confined editing suites came up!

Back in fresh air, rainy autumn air, I went on my bike, this time to Napier University's Screen Academy to get a digiBeta copy of Joseph's Road for the Africa in Motion festival, where the film will be shown in October.
Before I reached the university I bumped into Simone and had a lovely chat about herbal medicines to take to India. Napiers (not the university) is a lovely place where I get my tinctures and ointments, all hand made in Edinburgh!
After copying the tape on a ancient looking machinery in the Screen Academy with lots of humming and blinking I travelled down Bruntsfield to stop at the Chocolate Tree to again escape one of the many rainshowers. Here I indulged on a vegan orange-ganache-truffel and a delicious vegan hot chocolate. I was using this bit of free time to write a letter to Joseph who will soon get a visitor to his village that will bring the letter. I miss the heat and dusty air of Malawi, the colorful village-women with the heavy water-cans balancing on their heads. I hope Joseph and Manuel are well and are not struggling too much in the upcoming dry season. I also hope Joseph will finally get a new bike sponsored by us, so he can travel to his school much easier.

Fast fast home, down hill, up hill, packing the yoga mat quickly and back on the bike to the West end. This time I was not lucky at all, a downpour! I arrived drenched in water but the calmness and thick carpets of Mulberry House made up for the struggle through stormy rain. Susan's class was another yogi's delight! Flowing from breath to breath into stretch to twist. No more rain could bother me after this class. And so I was lucky to arrive home dry and happy.

Now is time for sleep but my heart is beating in excitement of having finally written an email to the most amazing woman on this planet! Lets cross fingers and hope that my journey to India will be a fruitful one! 2 1/2 weeks to go and I have no idea how to manage packing, moving out, designing a logo and an exhibition stall, writing numerous letters, working full time and enjoying the tiny pleasures of life in this short time!

Here some impressions of my window decorations for Q5, the take-away unit for Peter's Yard.

Flying cups.

Coffee spill

Tea time.

Crispbread and Fig jam.


Heavenly cookies
Hanging cones.


Production stills for Tali Yankelevich's new documentary

I had the great opportunity to take production stills for Tali's MA documentary "The Girls and the Mirror" (working title). Using a Canon 5D (by courtesy of Lukasz) it was pure joy to follow the girls while filming!


Janeemo DVD on the way

On Wednesday the 30th of June the Janeemo DVD with both films, Joseph's Road and the Janeemo Film will be launched at the ECA. Many people will come to this event, including my parents and two friends from Germany. But maybe that has rather to do with my birthday that day?

From autumn the DVD will be used as teacher material in Scottish schools to educate children about Malawian culture and climate change.

ECA degree show finished

Joseph's Road was shown at the ECA degree show until June 20th.


JANEEMO Project - Making a film in Malawi

After finishing the first year of my MA course I went straight to Malawi with Julian to shoot two documentaries, one informational film and one character driven story about Joseph, a secondary school boy from a small village in Southern Malawi.

When we won the competition to go to Africa we had no idea what to expect!
We went for a two week journey in July and then for a whole month in September. We met many interesting people, lived in a village without electricity, running water and pavements. It was the most basic living and as such had its beautiful and also harsh sides. The weather was mostly warm and sunny. But in September, the dry season, it was often unbearably hot to go out of the house during noon time. It felt like our brains were instantly cooked with the sun burning into our pale skin. Nice tan though after one month!
During our stay we were hiking in the Thyolo mountains to find a band that played on self-build instruments, a guitar made from a huge olive-oil can, drums made with goatskin and a didgeridoo made from a pipe. Also the school-life was great to observe. Nearly all the kids have a mobile phone by now and their little pocket money is invested in credit for the phone or for charging it in a nearby town that has electricity. Every morning they gathered in their blue shirts, some are worn out and hastily stitched together.

Joseph with his sister on his uncles motorbike
The means of transport are basic too, local bike-taxis bring you to Fatima, the nearest town with electricity. The huge old-school cycles had a nice cushioned seat on the back and some footrests by the wheels. Hilarious how many people and goods can fit on a single bike! Even goats, pigs and massive sacks are tied to the front or back of the bike. Not very animal friendly sometimes. The usual public transport are trucks, loaded with goods from the many farmers in the valley, they stop at hitchhiking people and are crammed!
I was particularly stunned by the markets! An overwhelming spectrum of colours and goods, e.g. tomatoes piled in neat order on mats or stalls. People sitting patiently, young kids running around with large woven trays filled with nut-cookies or fried breads. The women wear the most colorful skirts, large pieces of fabric skillfully knotted around their waists and heads. Yelling kids with their frozen juice-ice sticks, smiling sellers behind piles of pulses, beans, rice, sweet potatoes, millet..., the butcher, dried-fish smell, goats screaming, sewing mashines rattling away, the cracking noise of a movie theatre that plays kung-fu films and is only visible by the large soundsystem piled up outside of one of the houses. Meat is being cooked in dented metal bowls, plastic bags flutter from a stall, chicken sit in the shade, breathing fast in the hot air. It's a quirky atmosphere and of course the attention you get as an Azungu (a white person) is a bit overwhelming at times. Though people everywhere are super friendly and welcoming! Everybody wants to know who you are, where you are from and they want to share their maize cobs, nsima or papaya (popo) but mostly they want to sell their goods and often we discovered that there are Azungu-prices too ;)

 our neighbours, the goats, early morning
At home Maxwell was preparing dinner for us every night, waiting eagerly for our arrival. Often we came late. The tour from Taboa to our home took longer than an hour. And the roads are not made for fast driving, very bumpy. After one month we knew the bumps, dry riverbeds, curves and rocks by heart. It was fun driving at night, but creepy to see the hillside burning, a long line of fire eating through the undergrowth along 40/50 km of the Thyolo mountains.
A welcoming distraction was the Obama Bar, loud blaring sounds awaiting us, a few drunkards torkeling around and a cold carlsberg at hand. Still in a t-shirt at night, the sound of the crickets was surrounding us. It was mostly pitch black after 6pm. Small lights peaked through tiny windows from village houses. But when the moon was full, it was like a lantern hanging high up above us. The light so bright you could see shadows, the milky way, usually clear and bright was swallowed from the pale face of the moon.

kids watching the dancing, Thyolo mountains

Looking back now it has been an amazing adventure, getting to know beautiful people, learning about the environment, different cultures, African village life and music!

filming at Manuels house, Nyangu Village

Now the two films are almost finished. Editing is in its final stage and soon both films will be used in Scottish schools to teach children about different cultures and climate change!

The film about Joseph will hopefully be screened at several festivals and you'll find out here where to see it!
The informational film about the Janeemo Project was already screened at the COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 in an accompanying film festival.

The Janeemo project itself is explained in detail here. It is a great project and I hope the villagers will use their knowledge and training to benefit from the plants.

"Turning" finished in August 2009

My MA film "Turning" was finished in August 2009. It was screened at the MA-exhibition at ECA end of August. In December it was also shown at the Film festival accompanying the COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen. Now other festivals will be conquered! Watch this space for more news.

Sabine Hellmann sets out on a journey of discovery into the Lammermuir Hills of East Lothian to explore the recent hype of wind farm constructions in Scotland. Infecting us with her passion towards environmental issues we are challenged to question our mindsets and, by accompanying her on her cycle journey, we will discover life in the countryside between a nuclear power station and a newly constructed wind farm. But is the wind farm as eco-friendly as the industry and government want to make us believe? Sabine soon discovers aspects that shake her beliefs and drive her to an unlikely conclusion.

If you are interested in the film, write to me and I can supply more information!

The beautiful poster was made by anna!