A year on the roadA year on the road

It's been exactly one year since we packed our lives, put few things in our luggage and left what we called home. We went on a journey that took us to India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Singapore Read more

Portraits from Uganda

A woman living with her 3 year old daughter in a small house. She left her husband and 6 kids behind because he threatened to kill her. He bet  her, and her kids so she left. She now Read more

Ellora & Ajanta

If you decide to visit India, Ellora and Ajanta should most likely be on your list. Of course, it depends on how much time you have, but they are not too far from Mumbai and quite easy to reach. Read more

Inner peace

Traveling around India takes pretty long hours and gives me plenty of time to think about what I've experienced so far. What keeps coming up, is that I can't find a word. There are too many contradictions to concentrate Read more

Lost for words

Day 3 in Mumbai. People ask for first impressions, here they are. Remember this: my blog, my rules. I believe in freedom of speech and I don't have to like everything around me, or share only the beautiful things. Read more

A year on the road

Taj Mahal

It’s been exactly one year since we packed our lives, put few things in our luggage and left what we called home. We went on a journey that took us to India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and China.

Twelve months, thousands kilometers, a million people crossing our path, beautiful places, humanity at its best, humanity at its worst. A journey where we both learnt heaps, mostly on ourselves. As I mentioned many times to family and friends, the word that keeps resonating in my mind is gratitude. For who I am, all I’ve got, but moreover for what I could become. I could choose whatever path I want to follow, a luxury not everyone has.

Trying to remember everything of the last twelve months is not easy, but I want to give you an idea. These are the memory I will take with me forever, because they are the ones worth remembering. For the emotions, conversations and restless questions coming out of each situation we lived. Hopefully, the gratitude I felt in every single second of the journey will never leave me.

​​So here we go…

A garbage collector wondering around Beijing, picking up rubbish with the biggest smile on his face.
An old lady in the street of Chiang Rai cooking the best pad thai ever. For less than a dollar. She had a beautiful smile too.
A group of Indian women with whom I had the pleasure to sit for a while and chat, using approximately ten words of my Hindi vocabulary.
A Muslim man that walked us around the Bhopal Mosque. He told us everything about his life and was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge.
The owner of a hotel nearby Jodphur. He offered us Chai tea and then shared his view on modern India.
The two guys we spent our first days in Mumbai. We talked about religion, humanity, world problems through the nights. With the best Chai Tea to date.
Jaisalmer. Everything about it. A wondrous place everyone should visit once in a lifetime.
The Taj Mahal. See above. Sit down at least an hour, whilst listening to The Dark Side of the Moon and paint or meditate. Your choice.
The boat driver in Phi Phi Island that left us in the open sea and nearly killed us. Story alert, maybe with a nice glass of wine.
Maya Beach at 6am. Deserted.
The greenest rices field and terraces in Sapa, Vietnam. Rent a scooter and end up with no fuel on top of the hill.
Wear a sari at the most memorable Indian wedding.
Riding a bicycle in Phnom Penh.
Swear at the locals for how they drive in Phnom Penh.
Watch a peaceful demonstration through the street of Phnom Penh to welcome back the opposition leader.
Angkor Wat.
The best massage in Koh Samui.
Paint a kokeshi doll in the factory where they make them near Tokyo.
Japanese courtesy and friendliness.
A group of people inviting us over for lunch in the middle of Gujarat.
Feel the need to wear a burqua. Understand why many women do.
Fear for the safety of total strangers like they were old friends.
Spot a dead body surrounded by curious people.
Being cheated by a fake Indian guru who managed to spill a lot of money for the worst half an hour of meditation in history.
Bath in the Ganga during the last day of the Kumbh Mela, with another twelve million people.
Pois. A woman with a a little kiosk in Chiang Mai, cooking the best BBQ pork. And she loves Bob Marley.
An Australian lady that works with humanity at its very lowest.
How difficult is to breathe in Beijing.
Cardamom lassi in Jodphur.
The Great Chinese Wall, till the eye can see. And the awareness that human beings can create the most amazing things. When they want.
A lady in Seul giving us her mobile number to take us around during the weekend.
Sleep in the Indian desert underneath a billion stars.
Wear a kimono.
Share all this and more with the most important person in my life.

This is what I have stamped in my head, fixed into my eyes. Maybe it will change over time, things will be forgotten and others will come up. There is one thing I am totally certain it will never change, never fade: this trip has been the most enlightening, wonderful, exhausting, unforgettable and genius thing we could ever do. So here my advice: sell your stuff, get your loved ones, pack few things and travel. Three, six, twelve, eighteen months. It doesn’t matter. The immensity you are going to gain is simply infinite!

Love,
Lilac x

Portraits from Uganda

Woman1 A woman living with her 3 year old daughter in a small house. She left her husband and 6 kids behind because he threatened to kill her. He bet  her, and her kids so she left. She now works on her brother’s land, growing crops, bananas, millet. We asked what was her dream for the future, she said she wanted to sell old clothes at the markets. A family living in a big house. Five kids, all going to school, one is becoming a nurse. They had a kitchen with a very clever cooking system, a drying rack to dry washed stoves and food, turkeys and beans drying in the sun. A widow, raising her kids. They all go to school, one of them is becoming an engineer.  They had quotes on the wall “Both boys and girls can build a family”. When we asked her “What are you most proud of?”, she said “Mary!”, and what they achieved together. Veronica Veronica, my favourite! She is a 60 year old widow, she lives alone and looks after her grandson. His parents thought she was lonely and needing help, so left him with her. She pays for his school fees, also work the land and does mats for local art and crafts markets. She has the biggest soul coming out of her eyes. Mary&John Mary, the rockstar of the Hunger Project Uganda. She embraced the true spirit of change, through empowerment, training and work. She started asking a small loan, then another one, then another one. She has now two houses, and an even bigger one under construction. She has a garden where she grows spinach, eggplants, tomatoes, beetroots, avocados and more. She has her own storage room (most people don’t and often food is damaged by rain, animals or stolen by others) and a very big kitchen, with water and soap outside to wash her hands before cooking. She traveled to Kenya, Tanzania and  Sudan, to train people, to explain the Hunger Project and to make them understand the immense potential every single human being has. She has a very proud husband, who stood in front of a crowd and told everyone how hard she works, how amazing she is, and how much their life has changed since she started with the Hunger Project, only six years ago. “She’s my Queen” he said, with teary eyes. There was so much love and respect between the two, I will never forget it.

Not every encounter was so heart-lifting though. A few years back I was reading a review of the movie Blue Valentine. The journalist used a phrase that got forever stuck into my head, saying that the movie would “Lift your heart, and crush your soul”. There is no better way to describe what I experienced next than by quoting this now.

A grandmother, about 70 years old, with her three grandkids. She doesn’t have money to eat, feed her family or send the three boys to school. She has a land but is too far and her boys are too young to help her. They did not share one, single, smile. Not even when we gave them lollies. Not even when a loaf of bread and bananas came as a gift from us. They eat every second day, usually one banana or porridge for dinner. They don’t have water, and we couldn’t see a single spark in their eyes. Someone said they were dying: maybe, most likely. Quite possibly training is not going to save them now, but life is unpredictable.

It is just devastating to realize that these people hardly knew any happiness, joy or that feeling of quietness that you get from a good night sleep, a meal or just a hug. That sadness for being alone, with no food, no clothes, nothing and no one that is going to remember you, save you, love you. Until this day, I have shared my stories, pictures, my thoughts about this beautiful country and its people.  I told as many as I could how human spirit can be incredibly powerful, but also so very afraid of the change and most of the time terrified to commit. We often forget that not everyone is as lucky, beautiful, smart, talented, well accepted, healthy and loved as we think. Not everyone has water, electricity, food, somewhere safe to rest for the night. These people craved not only mere supplies, but hugs, human touch, knowing deep down that someone will remember them, will remember their kids when they are gone, to support them, love them, empower them. To lift their hearts, and crush everything else.

 

x Lilac

 

Note: This post has been written a while ago, for some reason it always seemed not good enough to be published. I feel I cannot delay any longer. These stories deserve to be told, over and over again, to as many as possible.

Ellora & Ajanta

Ellora Caves Details a

If you decide to visit India, Ellora and Ajanta should most likely be on your list. Of course, it depends on how much time you have, but they are not too far from Mumbai and quite easy to reach. We are traveling on a small budget, so I am sure for most of the following tips, there are more comfortable and easier options than the ones we opted for.

Your starting point should be Aurangabad and you definitely need one day to cover Ellora and one for Ajanta. We didn’t spend time in Aurangabad, but that’s up to you to change. Remember that Ellora is closed on Tuesday, and Ajanta on Monday.

Let’s start with Ellora!

Ellora Cave16c

Commissioned by King Krishna I in the 8th century, Ellora is a group of rock-cut caves carved out a huge rocky cliff. There are 34 caves, divided in three groups: 1-12 Buddhist, 13-29 Hindu, 30-34 Jain. Our favourites: number 16 is magnificent, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and number 32.

Ellora Cave16b

Ellora Caves Details b

Ellora Caves Details

Ellora Caves

If you can plan your visit, consider getting there so that you can enjoy the sunset. It is truly spectacular, also there are less people around and temperature cools down a little.

Ellora Cave16d

Ellora Cave16e

How to get there: Ellora is about 30km from Aurangabad, and instead of taking a tuk tuk (they can ask between 350-700 rupee), we jumped on a bus from the Central Bus Stand, for 27RP each. A lot more fun, it gives you also the opportunity to spend time with the locals and look around.

To come back, we shared a 4WD (30RP each) but the bus would have been a better option. We were sitting in the boot, with 4 more people and were a little squashed. In total I counted 12 people on the car, but it could have been worse.

Notes: Entry is 250RP each, if you can read something before hand, save a map of the site on your mobile, please do so. It is not worth to spend 100RP for the guide they sell at the entrance, which has very little information and no map at all.

Next day, Ajanta!

Ajanta

Ajanta is another UNESCO World Heritage site, there are 30 extraordinary caves cut in the rock, overlooking the Waghora river gorge. We absolutely loved Ajanta!

There are two groups of caves, the ones from the Buddhist period built around the 2nd-1st century BC, and the second from the Mahayana period, 5th-6th century AD. They are all beautiful, for the structure, the paintings and murals, which Ellora didn’t have, the intricacy of the vaulted ceilings, the way sound echoes through the pillars and walls.

Ajanta a

Ajanta b

Unfortunately Ajanta is very crowded, and crowds not always behave. Experience silence, to appreciate this ancient space around us, would have been awesome, but we had very little of that. We were able to sit down for about five minutes, in cave 19, just the two of us. We started chanting a melody and thankfully no one interrupted us. It may not be easy, but try to find a little cave where you can sit and close your eyes, even just for a minute… you will love them even more.

Ajanta c

Ajanta cave19

Time to visit, probably first thing in the morning as the sun will light the inside better than the afternoon. We were there at sunset, and it was beautiful too. Maybe avoid the middle of the day as it can get very hot.

How to get there: again, we jumped on the bus from Central Bus Stand, the bus is 55RP each. Bear in mind the distance is around 110km from Aurangabad so it can take a couple of hours to get there. If your bus breaks down, as it happened to us, it may take longer. If you are thinking to visit both Ajanta and Ellora on the same day, consider that these things do happen.

Notes: Entry is 250RP each, plus 10RP they charge at the entrance, not sure why, and another 10RP for the bus to take you to the caves (plus 10RP to come back). If you prefer air conditioned bus, that is 20RP.

If you’d like to know more, feel free to ask. They are both spectacular sites, very much worth the visit.

Lilac x

 

Note: Site information and history thanks to Eyewitness Guide.

Inner peace

20130220-113826.jpg
Traveling around India takes pretty long hours and gives me plenty of time to think about what I’ve experienced so far.

What keeps coming up, is that I can’t find a word. There are too many contradictions to concentrate this country in one simple concept.

There is the beauty of a very old land, with amazing traditions, stories of inner goodness, peaceful journeys, yoga and meditation.

Yet now, there seems to be no space or time for any of that. There is not much kindness, silence, space to find your inner self, privacy.

Maybe the increasing population can’t possibly give you privacy, nor space; the number of people constantly asking for money, to take you somewhere, to sell you something, to push you away
from the queue so that they can be first, makes it even harder on our souls. We are constantly readjusting what we know and how we behave with others around us, because our way clearly does not work here.

When someone ask for something, you are told to ignore them. Ignore them all, no matter what happens, even if they are dying, suffering, somehow asking for help. How do you turn away, and be ok with that? There are 1.2 billion people in this country, you can’t possibly ignore them all.

So here I am. Walking my way through the cultural shock, as they call it, trying to get an understanding of what I am experiencing, still I know there is something I’m missing. Not sure what it is yet, but I know it’s there, somewhere. My nirvana… I’m sure it will get to me before I leave this crowded land.

20130220-113856.jpg
Note: the pictures above are from a very beautiful place called Ajanta, not far from Aurangabad. Here, my hubby and I experienced the true beauty of peace. We sat on the floor of the empty cave 19, and sang. Our voices echoed through walls, pillars and meditating Buddhas… Away from the noise, the burning sun, it was just us.

Lost for words

Day 3 in Mumbai. People ask for first impressions, here they are. Remember this: my blog, my rules. I believe in freedom of speech and I don’t have to like everything around me, or share only the beautiful things. I don’t want to write a fluffy blog. There is nothing fluffy about Mumbai.

The noise, the smell, the crowd, the lights of a city that seriously never sleep. Walking around is a deprivation of privacy. Eyes that never stop staring, hands touching.

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing tonight. Today has been the most disheartening day in a while and the word in my head, the one that looks like a giant neon light, is anger. I had it since this morning when we visited Haji Ali Dargan and on the way, little kids bagging for money. Little meaning 2 or 3 years old. All day, sitting under the sun, on concrete, no food or water.

I am totally disgusted by those who instead of taking responsibilities and look after their children, use them to make a living. We can agree or argue all we want, but I personally feel that no human being should be put through that. Animals don’t put their offspring through suffering so that they can get something in return. It is a very human thing, that I struggle to understand and that leaves me with anger, disgust and frustration. Here, I said it. Now let the debate begin.

Ps. There is some light, even in the darkest days… A lovely man who out of no where, said to me “if the world does not change, you change”. I guess we’ll need to take up the challenge…

The simplicity of human kind

At the end of each year, I usually write down dreams and goals for the months to come. What I want to achieve, do, have, leave behind.

This year, I don’t want to do that. I know next year is going to be awesome, regardless of what’s going to happen. My lovely hubby and I are going on an adventure, one that we will never forget. After selling everything we have, we will leave Australia to go on a journey that will take us to Asia for a few months, then Singapore to start all over again. Why?

I can tell you that I want to go to the Taj Mahal, sit down and quietly paint for a few hours. I can tell you that I cannot wait to walk on the Great Wall of China, cycle in Vietnam, or dress up like a geisha in Kyoto. I cannot wait to do all those things and many more, but that’s not the point, that’s not why we are going. We are going because we want to feel alive again. We want to shake off all the commodities, everything we take for granted and remind ourselves that life is very simple. We don’t need 90% of what we own and we can survive, no actually we can fully, beautifully and spectacularly live just by embracing the magic in this world, breathe it until our lungs are full of colours, joy, sounds, and then be at peace.

Getting ready for this trip made me realise once more how silly we are, for the things we buy, for all those times we say “I need this”. Really? Did I need another white t-shirt on top of the 5 I already had? Maybe not. So no resolution for next year, no promises that I am not going to fulfill, just one big desire. Feel, alive.

What is coming next, I do not know. But for once, I am not going to stress about it.

Happy 2013!

Lilac

The things you don’t know

I have been back for over a week now, shared my stories about Africa only with few friends and it hasn’t been easy. To the question “how was it?”, there is no one-word answer, the best I could come up with is life-changing. I will never forget it and I don’t want to. I want to share, even if it hurts, even if people really don’t care or don’t listen.

First consideration, people have no idea. How lucky we are, how much we have and we take for granted. Yes, we know there is poverty, we know people die of hunger, but in a way we don’t really metabolise the idea, we don’t make it real in our minds. So when I talk about a grandmother with her three grandchildren close to the Mbarara Epicenter, and that they eat only bananas once every two days, people look at me in disbelief. Can people live on bananas? Can kids grow with so little food? No, they can’t, but they do nonetheless.

Experiencing hunger and poverty, looking into the eyes of people that don’t have anything to eat, drink, sleep on, witnessing how they live, gave me a whole new perspective. There is no turning back now, there is a whole world of possibilities out there, things to do, things to change.

Uganda gave me beautiful stories of courage, resilience and empowerment, stories that I am going to share over and over again. Mary, Annette, Veronica, John and everyone we met, can not only change their lives, but those they directly or inadvertently touched as well. It is part of human nature to find the bright side, to hold onto hope, to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We were lucky enough to meet these shining stars during our time in Africa, and I want you to know about them, remember them, make their story yours.

One at the time, so that you can fully appreciate their awesomeness.

Lilac x

I bless the rains down in Africa …

Africa is a magic place. It finds ways to get under your skin, the burnt smell in your nose, the blue sky, the clouds, the rain, the red land. Time moves differently, in a way that you can live two days in one. You can come home, but you can’t get away, you cannot forget.

Here I am, after two weeks in Uganda, going around local villages, talking to people, making my way to the jungle to see gorillas, spending countless hours on the road, looking outside, watching Africa passing by.

With the Hunger Project, we have met amazing women, women that can change the course of their lives, and those of the people around them. Women who do not stop just because someone says no or is not interested in what they have to say. They keep going, regardless of the rain falling, their husband beating them, their crops ruined, their children sick. They just keep going, not a hint of complaint or hesitation. They are proud of who they are and what they do, they believe that hunger and poverty can end, with such certainty that I have never seen before.

This is what I learnt in two weeks, what The Hunger Project does. It changes mindsets, it changes lives.

Back home, I find myself looking around, a little lost. The other day, I stood in the frozen food section at Woolworth, overwhelmed by the food, the space, with tears running down my face. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps because I have water, electricity, fresh food… everything is here, whether I actually need it or not.

So yes, I won the birth lottery, but does where I live determine who I am? Maybe not, maybe is what I do that really matters.

The place to be

Since I started this blog, I always wished it could be something more, something people would talk about, care about, follow and come back to.

I am no fashion editor, I have my own style usually in line with the moment, but I rarely wear something groundbreaking or breathtaking. I am in no position to comment on what is not so amazingly fashionable, as I always like to talk about the good stuff, which could translate in boring. I am an aesthetic lover, the bad and the ugly are not for me.

I love design, furniture and decor, but I guess against the Design Files of the blogosphere, my limited time translates in being the last one to talk about everything. Again, not so interesting.

So what can I do with this blog? What is its place in the world? I don’t know. Not yet… maybe because I don’t know what to do with myself to start with, and that is kind of the issue. I know there is something I am supposed to do, meant to do, destined to do, I know somehow that it involves me, people, goodness, love and smiles, and a good amount of determination  to show that things can change and do change, if you really want it.

Starting with myself, taking responsibility for what I do, act and take that little bit of craziness to the next level. So here I am, about to embark on a journey that will lead me to Uganda first, then to Asia for a long time. What to do with all this? What are the lessons coming out of all this? Maybe that is exactly what this blog needs to talk about. Maybe the only way for this blog to find its true soul, is for me to find it first. And if that is through the struggle, the hard time, the amazing places, the sun, the rain, the kindness and rudeness, the tears and the smiles that I am going to experience in the next year, then I promise, I will share it all with you.

Love,

Lilac

The Lilac Project’s next step

Lilac Project T-Shirt

After four months of cakes, tarts, quiche and muffins (with a wedding in between), it’s time to change our approach to raise money for the Hunger Project. There are many initiatives that someone can carry on, but I guess the best thing is always do something you’re comfortable with.

The idea came to me a while ago, many sell t-shirts online so this had to be very special… I wanted to represent women’s beauty, strength and courage and had a very precise picture in mind.

It took quite a bit of time, research and negotiation to become reality. The most beautiful gift came from the designer, Cate Parr. In about 15 minutes she designed the most beautiful illustration, representing exactly what I wanted!

So here they are, 100% organic cotton, made right here in Australia, using renewable energy. They are beautifully soft, elegant and very special. Would you wear it? An incredibly fashionable friend of mine pictured it with skinny jeans, stiletto and a tuxedo jacket… I am in love already!

If you would like to buy one, they come in small and medium, retail for $45 plus postage (about $10 for express post in Australia, need to check for overseas orders), so if you are interested please donate the right amount on my Hunger Project page, and email me your address, size and any special delivery instructions on lilac[at]lilacandyellow[dot]com so that I can post the t-shirt right away.

Also, would you share a picture of you, wearing the t-shirt? It would make a wonderful facebook campaign!

With Love,

Lilac

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