Tag Archive: People


Welcome to Sega

So while we were at Sega I was scribbling away in my notebook making comments and illustrations, so I thought they would make a decent blog entry in themselves… In case you haven’t already realised, if you click on each image it should open in a bigger size for your pleasure. Maybe when we get home I will crop them in some cunning piece of software, but for now you’ve got the notebook, ringbinding and all.

Ljuvelj Ljubljana

My mum says that we sound grumpy and ready to come home, and while she is right about the second part, we have been having a rather lovely and relaxed time for the past two weeks. Some might even call it a holiday… I have been working on an alternative format for the blogs about our time at Sega – its a house and garden, not a game console – so as soon as we have the opportunity we will upload these.

But first, Ljubljana. Josh had been here before, and given that it rained for the entire time, he had not had such a great experience. However, our joint perspective on the place when we visited a week ago was very different. It is now one of Josh’s favourite towns from the trip. When the sun is shining, you can truly appreciate its beauty. So much of the centre is accompanied by river, so there are a lot of chilled out spaces. Quaint yet also active, there is a studenty buzz about the place.

The fort is a strange mixture, unlike any other town ’castle’ we’ve visited. While it was renovated in a kind of dodgy nineties cafe-style and so the actual fort itself is odd, it is used as a space to exhibit local artists. This means that it hasn’t been turned into a tourist attraction for the sake of old forts, but a living space filled with creative opportunity. The comments book in one of the exhibits was rammed with angry statements from shocked tourists who couldn’t understand why there were quite graphic pictures – painted by two people simultaneously, dancing around one another – with skulls and innards etc, inside the Ljubljana Castle. ’It tells me nothing about the city or its history’, complained one. But that’s what makes it different, as the fort is also used as a place to demonstrate the present. And we thought the paintings were kind of cool.

One thing it is not worth visiting if you’re headed to the city is the ’Labyrinth of Art’ – ignore the enthusiastic write-ups in various guide books and the In Your Pocket, as maybe in 20 years’ time it will be worth it. Not now. The plan is to have a maze of trees, with benches throughout so that people can make their way to the centre where there is a reading space, thus celebrating nature, reading, and ’walking as art’. Perhaps such a pretentious aim as the last should have put us off, but I was curious so we ditched the stupid Ljubljana public transport system (you have to buy a 2 euro travel card to then pay for an 80 cent trip, it was rather ridiculous, why not allow people to buy a ticket on the bus?) in favour of walking there. This was a mistake. We had not realised that the trees are newly planted and therefore tiny! You can walk straight between the saplings to the centre. Not very exciting. So, not recommended. Maybe in 2030 it will be a different story.

Our CouchSurfing hosts showed us some much more interesting parts of the city and its surroundings, though. Metelkova is an old army barracks that was squatted after the war – it houses gig spots, bars and a hostel in a converted prison, so during the day it is a hangout for the ’alternative’ types of Ljubljana, and in the evening it continues in this role, gaining live music, club nights and more drinking.

One afternoon one of our CouchHosts and us bundled into the car and drove to Velika Planina, a plateau near to the city, where we walked amongst wooden huts housing cowherds and appreciated the fantastic views over Slovenia. We also sampled borovnica, a sort of Slovenian blueberry schnapps – sweet and tasty.

We were only there for three nights, so there isn’t much more to add – we will update you on our further adventures into WWOOFing in Slovenia when we next get a chance.

Bulgaria and Serbia

Given a combination of the weather and our limited time, Bulgaria will probably not feature highly on our list of memorable places. Plovdiv, the second biggest city in Bulgaria, looked like it would be a lovely place to wander around in the sunshine, and we made this observation as we peered through the driving rain. Consequently, we spent a considerable amount of time watching movies back-to-back on our host’s 44″ screen TV while he was at work… Sometimes on a 9 month long trip you have to have those days. Incidentally, Milk is a fantastic film and Sean Penn is brilliant. Our host was a strange man who seemed to live entirely off chocolate bars and who chatted almost non-stop from the time he got home to the time we escaped to bed. He did, however, introduce us to Ken Robinson who speaks about the destructive nature of the education system and the way it destroys creative and independent thought in children so that they will be willing workers in later life…

Sofia was virtually as uneventful as Plovdiv, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that we only stayed for one night. We managed to fit in a visit to the stunning Alexander Nevsky cathedral in the centre of Sofia – it is modelled on Russian churches, and made Josh re-evaluate his previous judgment that mosques are often really interesting whereas churches are generally boring. The square in the centre of town was filled with bear statues which had been decorated by artists from all the different countries which are recognised by the UN (basically everywhere) to represent ‘Unity’. There were designs which ranged from the relatively tasteful to the standardly stereotyped – a bear dressed as a leprechaun, guess which country… The night consisted of our hitting various eclectic bars, one of which featured music videos for Korn, the Bloodhound Gang and Outkast. A quality evening’s entertainment.

From Sofia we took a train which reminded us of being in India, where stray dogs can run faster than the train, to Belgrade. It was supposed to take 7 hours and arrived 3 hours late…

Belgrade is not a particularly interesting city – rather it seems that people go there for the night life which is basically what we experienced. Food and booze were the features of our stay: there is at least one place in Belgrade that can pour a Guinness properly, and blueberry beer tastes remarkably like a lager and black… Unfortunately, within two minutes of us arriving we were joined by a bunch of Israelis – this would not be a problem in itself, but the next element was certainly an issue – whom it became very clear were Zionists. The guy had the audacity to come out with comments such as, ‘Israel is too scared to retaliate to bombs from Lebanon, because they are worried about killing children and inciting the international media’! Given that we had not even had time to make a first impression on our hosts, we bit almost through our tongues as he spewed racist and often frankly stupid bullshit to his captive audience.

One day we walked along the Danube to Zemun, a town near to Belgrade. It is fairly picturesque, but the walk is what you go for. There is a humungous Orthodox Church – the biggest in the world apparently – which was under construction when we saw it. Churches that will be grand but are currently covered in scaffolding have a certain charm. Other highlights were the fortress, which offers great views over the city and the Danube, and has an enormous park around it. Lots of children chasing pigeons. We also visited Tito’s grave, which is remarkably hard to find. For a man who seems to be loved and admired by everyone you meet in former Yugoslavia, his final resting place is not well signposted..!

We caught another bus to Novi Sad (home to the Exit festival which is apparently just full of people from London…), where the weather finally relented. We met Marija and her incredibly energetic (some might call it extremely annoying, although she was quite fun) dog Bisa, who hosted us for those days. We explored the military tunnels beneath the fort, which apparently extend 16km underground and even under the river. Of course, there are rumours that they stretch even as far as to borders with other countries to allow the secret exits of generals under siege.

Marija encouraged us to hitch-hike to our next destination – Sarajevo. She shared her tips on being a single woman hitch-hiking – learn how to say things like ‘my dad is a policeman’ and ‘I’m a very religious girl…’ in the language! She also told us how she knew someone who hitched round Spain with a sign reading ‘Tokyo’. He never made it to Japan, but he did have quite a lot of success in Spain!

Efes

From the Med, we headed to another spot which should have a picturesque quality – Efes. An ancient Greek city, which later fell into the hands of the Romans, Efes now belongs to the Turks. The city dates back to 550BC, and a remarkable amount still stands. You can walk the ancient streets to libraries (the most famous site), temples and very interesting communal toilets. Unfortunately, it was raining really hard when we went there, but on the bright side (ha ha) we managed to find a “cheaper” way in. Extremely climbable fences…

On our way out, we were picked up by one of the most interesting drivers so far on this trip. Although he spoke barely any English (maybe 10 words), we managed to have conversations about religion, family and death. During one of his breaks, he introduced us to the guy who had honked his horn on the way past us earlier. Between them they quizzed us on our religious beliefs, and were astonished when we explained that we are atheists. It all became too much for them when they also found out that we aren’t married. “Ingilterre…” they said, shaking their heads at the absurdly heathen English people.

Bursa

Bursa was another uneventful city. The highlight of our stay with our CouchSurfing hosts was when we got to hang out with the Bright Young Things of Bursa. All the young people, rather than downing cheap vodka and hitting the clubs, doll themselves up for a night of tea and backgammon. The atmosphere was strange, one that we would associate with a bar – dark seating areas, slightly dodgy music etc – but with no alcohol attached. Josh managed to beat our host’s friend at backgammon 4 times in a row, even though he only just properly learnt the rules, much to her chagrin.

Istanbul for the second time

Istanbul again, and we finally left Asia for the rest of this trip – Europe here we come.

Unfortunately, Istanbul was less rewarding this time. We were there during May Day, which is properly celebrated as a workers’ holiday and therefore almost everything is closed. On the plus side, it meant we were able to drop in on the May Day demonstration. This was one of the first times that they had held it back in Taksim Square for about 40 years. The government excuse for not allowing this before was that some crazy had gone around shooting people indiscriminately in the 70s. What was most striking about the demonstration was how party-centric the whole thing was. The sectarianism was incredible. Different hats, different flags… It was so organised, but not in a good way, and of course the Communist Party had a massive presence.
The police presence was staggering. In order to enter Taksim Square you had to go past at least 1 line of police, where unless you were a tourist, you were properly searched by people in normal clothes and high-viz tabards, which suggested that they’d recruited a bunch of people especially for the occasion. There were also police tanks with water cannons, armoured riot vans and lines of riot cops just waiting to put their already overused “shields” to use again. Whether such a authoritarian manifestation would be excepted in the UK is questionable…

Edirne

Edirne was our final call in Turkey. It followed the most abysmal day of hitching we had in the country. While hitching East out of Istanbul is easy, hitching West is much more difficult, particularly when you try to do it from near the bus station. The amount of people who stopped in their cars to tell us that the bus station was right behind us was astounding (‘We KNOW!’). On top of this, so many people stopped to explain that people couldn’t stop there (!) that both of us were on the verge of punching the next person who offered such ‘helpful’ advice. In the end, we caught a lift with a guy who tried to drop us on the only real bit of motorway we travelled on in the whole of Turkey, without even a hard shoulder to stand on. Not the best place… The second guy nodded and nodded when we said we wanted to go to Edirne, so we relaxed when we went to a truck stand to get some tea (truck stops are prime hitching spots), but then AGAIN he dropped us bang on the motorway! This was the point where tethers were reaching their ends, and Lucie left both her hat and the map of Turkey in the guy’s car by accident. Luckily, at the exact point where we walked dejectedly down to the other road, a lorry was sitting that was headed all the way to Edirne. It was the first truck we’d seen which had an autopilot where the driver could sit cross-legged on his chair and make us cups of tea without really paying attention to anything…

We only really went to Edirne because we were unsure if we could make it all the way to Plovdiv in one day from Istanbul, but it turned out to be rewarding enough. Our CouchSurfing host had two budgerigars which provided the first hour’s entertainment as they flew around his sitting room, landing on our heads and making friends. We went out along the river to meet a few of his mates who spoke about their climate change-related campaigning and all the different foods we should taste while in their city. A result of this was our dining on beef liver, which was unlike anything either of us have ever tasted – certainly not like liver! Orhan explained that when you suggest to a friend in Turkish, ‘Let’s go eat’, you always say ‘Let’s go eat bread’, which certainly makes sense in the face of how many loaves you get through in a day in Turkey.

Safranbolu

Havıng travelled around Indıa, any form of transport we took ın Turkey was goıng to be fast, even hıtchıng. But we weren’t expectıng ıt to be quıte so easy. Havıng taken a bus to the edge of town and walked along the road for a bıt, we jumped through a hole ın the fence and descended onto a roadsıde lorry park. No sooner had we got our bearıngs and decıded where we should stand than a drıver saıd ‘Izmıt? Yes.’ We were actually goıng further than that, but so was he, so ın mınus tıme we had bagged ourselves our fırst lıft and a free breakfast whıch was brought to us by hıs copper brother and then cooked ın the sıde of the lorry! Our next lıft seemed to be easy too – two guys headed exactly, they saıd, where we were. Unfortunately ıt turned out that they couldn’t read a map and they were goıng ın another dırectıon, but at a loss as to how to deal wıth thıs they went 50km out of theır way to drop us where they’d saıd they could! From there a petrol statıon attendant dashed out ınto the road to flag down a passıng bus and we were ın Safranbolu double tıme.

Safranbolu was even more amazıng than our hıtch was easy. The entıre town ıs a UNESCO World Herıtage sıte, and you can see why – hundreds of Ottoman houses have been lovıngly restoredö so apart from the tourıst tat whıch ınevıtably occurs ın such places, you could be ın the nıneteenth century. We vısıted a home that was restored ınsıde and out, complete wıth mannequıns actıng out people’s roles ın dıfferent rooms. The Ottomans had devısed a partıcularly ıngenıous way to keep theır women oppressed – the house was dıvıded ınto two parts so women were never seen by men who weren’t ın theır close famıly. They could make food and pass ıt through to the other sıde though (lucky them) by placıng ıt ın a revolvıng cupboard – the door closed on one sıde and the men opened the other door to retrıeve theır nosh… The second floor stuck out over the fırst ın an ıconıc sort of way.

Other than the vısually ımpressıve spectacle of the cıty, there ıs very lıttle to do. Thıs wasn’t helped by the fact that ıt raıned quıte a bıt. We managed to snatch some sunshıne ın whıch to clımb up to a vıewpoınt over the houses, and we wandered from sweet shop to sweet shop (there are a lot of them), feastıng ourselves on Turkısh Delıght (lokum). Safranbolu gets ıts name from saffron, belıeve ıt or not, and so everythıng ıs ‘saffron-flavoured/scented’, whether that be soap, perfume, tea or lokum. Lucıe ısn’t sure, from her lımıted experıence of saffron just ın these forms, that saffron really has a flavour or a smell as the perfume smelled of cologne-base and the tea tasted of hot water and honey… One of the guys who owned a shop sellıng woven thıngs and leather thıngs ıs famous ın both Chına and Japan – he showed us wıth clıppıngs from foreıgn magazınes. He’d be tıckled to thınk he’s on a blog from the UK too…

Tips for travelling in India

For a full tıps lıst, also read our tıps on Nepal.

1. Contrary to what the Lonely Planet wıll tell you, you can, especıally ıf you are two or more people travellıng together, budget for well under ten pounds a day. We were averagıng between 6-8. For thıs we would get a double room often wıth a bathroom as well as three meals a day and sıght-seeıng.

2. Bookıng ahead for hostels can be dıffıcult as people for some reason wıll tell you there are no rooms when there are several avaılable. Persıstence ıs the only solutıon – ın one place we turned up, they saıd ‘No rooms’, we lıed and saıd we had a bookıng and lo and behold there were loads of rooms spare.

3. Always agree a prıce before gettıng ınto a rıckshaw, or gettıng any food.

4. You wıll be reassured that thıngs are ‘okay’ or ‘no problem’ a lot, but sometımes ıt ısn’t okay and there ıs a problem, and ıt’s faır to kıck up a fuss or at least ask some more people – otherwıse the chaır you’ve been gıven to waıt ın for someone may turn out to be ın the wrong room or even the wrong buıldıng, and you’ll sıt there forever.

5. When ıt comes to traıns, though, you’re gonna have to waıt. For a long tıme. Unless you fancy takıng a rısk, don’t book more than two traıns for one day. Traıns relıably run late (less than an hour and the announcement wıll be that ‘the ınconvenıence ıs regretted’, more than an hour and ıt ıs ‘deeply regretted’…) and so make sure you have several hours between connectıons. When we were ın Bhopal a traın was cancelled because ıt was a whole 24 hours late…

6. Traıns are more comfortable than buses, but much more hassle to organıse. You can just turn up and get on a bus, whereas wıth traıns you have to endure the tortuously complıcated bookıng process. Once you,re on the traın though, there ıs food and drınk easıly avaılable and toılets are not long-hoped-for stops.

7. As our frıend told us soon after we arrıved ın Indıa, eıther you have to accept that Indıa ıs lıkely to be the most frustratıng place you’ve ever been to ın your lıfe and let ıt go over your head, droppıng the frustratıon, or you wıll spend your whole tıme tearıng your haır out.

8. As another of our frıends poınted out, there ıs a ‘fluıd’ concept of tıme. Fıve mınutes does not mean fıve mınutes, ‘soon’ may not mean soon ın the slıghtest, and ‘tomorrow’ may well become ‘next week’. We made thıs observatıon ın Nepal, but ın Indıa ıt ıs far worse.

9. If you ıntend to do stuff ın Indıa, be prepared for ıt to take about ten tımes longer than you mıght otherwıse expect. If you sımply want to bum on the beach and do yoga, you shouldn’t encounter thıs sort of problem!

10. Always ask at least three people when tryıng to fınd dırectıons – go wıth the majorıty rule.

11. ‘Eve-teasıng’ ıs the name gıven to the harrassment of women – there are women-only coaches on traıns to attempt to avoıd thıs. Every traveller we met had met someone who had been affected by sexual harrassment of some sort. Basıcally, don’t take any shıt. It’s not acceptable, and Indıans who aren’t perverts (everyone mınus a tıny mınorıty) don’t fınd ıt acceptable eıther. If you’re not comfortable wıth a sıtuatıon, don’t accept ıt because you’re ın a ‘dıfferent culture’ and ‘people are more tactıle here’ or anythıng lıke that.

12. Sayıng thıs, you won’t avoıd beıng stared at, especıally on the beach. People takıng photos of you ın your bıkını, however, ıs not normal. One gırl reported a man for vıdeoıng her cleavage and he spent a nıght ın a cell.

13. A few places ın whıch you don’t need to spend more than a day to see everythıng – Kanyakumarı, Trıchy. Mamallapuram ıs VERY tourısty, as we already mentıoned, and ıts food suffers as a result. Bhopal ısn’t a nıce place, go there for the Sambhavna Clınıc and to fınd out about theır amazıng work.

14. A few places and thıngs that, ıf you’re ın the area, you should go to/do – ın Kerala, defınıtely do a canoe backwaters tour, don’t just stıck to the bıg boat waterways. In Ooty, pay the money to do a tour of the tea plantatıons, they’re really beautıful – the mountaın areas between Kerala and Tamıl Nadu are lovely, partıcualrly to get out of the heat. There are lovely beaches ın Karnataka whıch are lıke Goa before ıt got lıke Goa ıs now.

15. Carry toılet paper ıf you ıntend to use the toılet.

16. When orderıng from a menu, always have a second and thırd choıce. Often you wıll fınd that whatever you have chosen ısn’t avaılable and neıther are half of the other thıngs on the menu…

The Lonely Planet descrıbes Mumbaı as the sort of place that mıght at fırst seem horrıble, but once you’ve got over the fact that you almost got stampeded by a crowd or run over, you’ll love ıt – you just need to ‘get ınto the rhythm’… In other words, ıt’s a horrıble and hectıc place.  Mumbaı brıngs out the polarıtıes wıthın Indıa at theır most crass. Arundhatı Roy descrıbes the cıty as ‘obscene’ for thıs reason. Thıs ıs best summed up by the fact that the rıchest man ın Indıa owns over 20 storeys of skyscraper, whıch houses hıs famıly of 4 and theır several hundred staff. And all theır cars. Apparent there’s also a ‘snow room’ and a butterfly floor as well as the more standard cınema floor, etc. Thıs ıs ın close proxımıty to the bıggest slum ın the whole world. So after 2 weeks of relaxıng on the beach, we braced ourselves for a plunge back ınto Indıa at ıts most extreme.

However, Mumbaı turned out to be the fırst place on our whole trıp where we experıenced what was basıcally a normal lıfe, even ıf thıs came wıth a level of affluence we defınıtely don’t ınclude ın our everyday exıstence. Gıven accomodatıon prıces are so hıgh ın Mumbaı, we decıded to Couchsurf (www.couchsurfing.org). Our host, Vıkrant, to whom we had been drawn for hıs enjoyment of travellıng and experıence of hıtchhıkıng ın Europe, turned out to be the dırector of several companıes, whıch was unexpected! As a result we were ıntroduced to the upper mıddle-class sıde of Indıa. Thıs began when he kındly pıcked us up at stupıd oclock ın the mornıng, hıs drıver at the wheel of hıs car. Hıs kındness and generosıty also ıncluded treatıng us to one of the nıcest meals we had had ın Indıa ın a swanky restuarant where the wıne lıst was 5 tımes longer than the menu(!), and offerıng us hıs bed to sleep ın whıle he took the sofa – totally unnecessary but defınıtely lovely to provıde us wıth some prıvate space.

Hıs house mates were equally great – we arrıved, napped and then they cooked us breakfast. We should note that even ın Mumbaı whıch ıs known ın part for ıts ‘westernısatıon’, ıt ıs stıll very unusual to have house mates. Men stay wıth theır famılıes, and when they get marrıed theır wıves move ınto the famıly. Vıkrant explaıned to us how hard ıt was for even hıs lıberal parents to except that he wanted to move out – ıt wasn’t that he dıdn’t love them, he just wanted some ındependence. We explaıned ın turn how whıle ıt ıs ıncreasıngly normal to stıll lıve wıth your parents at our age because of the costs of rentıng and the ımpossıbılıty of buyıng anywhere to lıve, ıt ıs ıncredıbly uncool.

Vıkrant’s housemates Tım and Shımona claımed that there ıs nothıng much to see ın Mumbaı and as a result we hung out, went flat huntıng wıth them (they’re movıng, we’re not movıng there), and had a whole famıly unsuccessful shoe shoppıng venture – even Shımona’s dad came wıth us!

One bızarre hıghlıght was the Crıcket World Cup semı-fınal between Indıa and Pakıstan. Thıs ıs where crıcket becomes polıtıcal. Apparently. Unfortunately, ın practıce thıs meant that watchıng the match surrounded by Indıans was somewhat uncomfortable as a result of the rıdıculous racısm of some of them. Thıs was all set ın the enormous house of a dynasty of fılm dırectors/producers where there were ındıvıdual (sıngle use) hand towels ın the bathrooms and servants to provıde drınks and other requırements.

When we say we had a ‘normal’ tıme, we meant the hangıng out part, not the beıng waıted on part…

Whıle Vıkrant was offıcıally our host, he had two busınesses to run and was therefore very busy most of the tıme. Consequently, we spent most our tıme wıth Tım, a dırector of adverts, and Shımona, who used to work ın PR before they had theır now 2 year old daughter, Zara.  They’re great and we have never met such a well behaved and generally smıley toddler. It turns out that ‘Josh’ ıs easıer to say than ‘Lucıe’, so Josh was beıng ıdentıfıed by name by the end, even though Lucıe flew Zara around for an hour ın a washıng basket…

Gıven Mumbaı was quıte uneventful for us, there ısn’t much else to say about ıt. It was a great way to leave Indıa, and to begın our trıp homewards.

Have you ever met a reactionary, nihilist, self-centred, ignorant and spiritual primitivist anarcho-capitalist? Last week I would have answered no as well. Today I have the misfortune of sleeping under the roof of one.

WWOOFing (the Worldwide Organisation of Organic Farming) is a mixed kettle of fish. While there are almost always many positives, they normally come with negatives. Unfortunately, one of the more consistent negatives is the hosts. It seems the majority of the people that host wwoofers either come from the minority perspective of simply seeing this as an opportunity to get free labour. The other group are more complex, but are basically fallen lefties. They normally come from an anarchist school and due to lack of coherent and sophisticated theory have become disillusioned and retreat to “living outside the system” and often find spirituality on the way.

Before departing on the trip, Lucie and I excitedly decided upon a farm in Kerala which we would work on in order to save money, meet people and learn more about agriculture and farming (not in that order of importance). While we may have saved some money, we have met no-one really (the farm only has one guest room), and I have learnt very little past the initial basics of picking coffee. This is bearable, however. What is not is working for a man who believes that “capitalism is the best system, it is people that are the problem”, that “any problem an individual may have is their own lookout”, that “if you are sick or if you are healthy, it is down to karma”, that “life is a transition from [unspecified] place to place”, that “all political parties are the same” whether this be the fascist Front National or the Socialist Party in France (all parties are racist apparently). A man who believes that “ideology means nothing, the only thing that matters is practice” (which is why we should except his ideology) whilst simultaneously dismissing any practical examples I offer as to why his ridiculous beliefs are wrong; that “nothing ever changes” and , best of all, that “all Muslims are the same”. Oh yes, and that the Poll Tax riots were organised by a bunch of foreign anarchists and culminated in things burning in Trafalgar Square.

When we first arrived, I remember telling Lucie how excited I was to work here – I had just spoken to Bruno (our boss)’s brother Pierre (who is very interesting), who had told me that they had both lived in a squat in London during the Poll Tax riots. This excitement was extinguished faster than a match in a hurricane when Bruno told me that “it doesn’t matter what happens in Egypt, it will not change a thing”.

At first, we simply believed that he was a fallen anarchist who, disillusioned, had turned to India and nature for solace. Having struggled to remember the name of the group with which he was involved in the UK – Class War – he proudly told us how he used to be an anarchist, how he’d been on the barricades teaching the stupid English how to make a Molotov cocktail… At this point I almost looked forward to talking to him –  I saw this as an opportunity to put my theory into practice. To test my belief  that without an adequate theory you will eventually fall.

I had spoken too often to people about how if you do not understand the nature of the State, the nature of power, if you do not understand what the USSR, China etc truly was (ie State capitalist), your perceptions would be skewed and your determination hindered. This analysis is almost certainly still the case with Bruno, but Bruno as a “fallen anarchist” quickly turned in my mind into Bruno as a reactionary conservative, followed shortly after by my current view of him. This man is a walking contradiction. He is like an angsty thirteen year old boy who is more concerned with winning an argument than with coming out with anything coherent. He is amusing in a tragic sort of way, and not tragedy in a Shakespearean sense – he has no noble tragic flaw, just a total lack of analysis and coherence.

Food seems to be one of his favourite subjects. “In Europe they eat sheet” he told us almost every day. The irony of this was that he eats 2 meals a day, one at 11am (this being 5 hours after he woke up and 3 hours after he started doing manual labour) and at 9pm (one hour before going to bed). On top of this, his diet (and ours while we were there) consisted almost exclusively of carbs. The first meal would be Indian bread of some kind, butter and what can best be described as veg stew, followed by a curd drink and dinner would probably be the same, replacing the curd drink with rice pudding (ie rice cooked in milk and sugar). He rarely drank water, instead filling himself with coffee. So for him to claim that “in the west they eat sheet” seemed quite ironic. The other irony was that he never mentioned the diet of Indians, which seems odd given India has the highest level of diabetes in the world. When I asked him why he thought people in the west eat “sheet” he would say “because they like it” and when I asked him why he thought it was that as a general rule the richer you become in the west the better your diet he would respond “because they are rich”.  This incoherence was a consistent feature of our week there. Social movements apparently changed nothing, but when I asked him how all the positive social changes in the C20th had occurred he would say “through popular movements obviously”.

I could go on, but as a friend of mine said, this man matters very little, and come the revolution, his opinion might even change. So, with this relationship failing, we cut our 17 day farming experience down to 8 days, taking refuge in the hills of Tamil Nadu.

Fact sheet on Monsanto

Monsanto is by no means the only criminal mulitnational corporation in relation to agriculture around the world, but it is certainly the biggest. Here’s a bit of an introduction to the history of Monsanto and its impact on Indian agriculture, courtesy of Living Farms. The following is from Kavitha Kuruganthi and Aishwarya Madineni, Monsanto-ising Indian Agriculture (2010).

“No food shall be grown that we don’t own” – reported objective of Monsanto

Monsanto is an American agri-business corporation which is today the world’s largest seed company. It is also one of the world’s largest agri-chemical corporations. Their seed sales were nearly US$5bn in 2007, constituting 23% of the global proprietary seeds market (the non-proprietary seed market around the world is now only 18% of the world seed market). Monsanto is also the world’s fifth largest agri-chemical company with sales worth nearly US$3.6bn in 2007, which constitutes 9% of the world agri-chemical market share. In 2009, Monsanto’s global net sales were US$11.72 billion.

Monsanto has grown into the largest seed company in the world by aggressive market maneuvers including 60 acquisitions, taking stakes in 14 companies and divesting from 17, between 1985 and 2009.

Monsanto’s history of human rights violations, lies and omissions

For decades, Monsanto dumped highly toxic PCBs in Anniston, Alabama, and then spent years covering up the dumping. On February 22nd, 2002, Monsanto was found guilty of poisoning the town. They were convicted of suppression of the truth, nuisance, trespass and outrage. The residents of Anniston, whose blood levels contained toxic PCBs 100s or 1000s of times the average were given US$700million in compensation from Monsanto.

Monsanto is also known to have covered up toxic contamination of several of its products. In Indonesia, Monsanto gave bribes and questionable payments to at least 140 officials, attempting to get their GM cotton accepted. In 1998, 6 Canadian government scientists testified that documents were stolen from a locked file cabinet in a government office, and that Monsanto offered them a bribe of US$1-2million to pass the drug without further tests.

Monsanto is also known to “routinely falsify data”, especially in relation to glyphosate (Monsanto’s brand of this herbicide is called Roundup). Monsanto’s first mass marketed bio-engineered food product – recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) – was “linked to cancer in humans and serious health problems in cows, including udder infections and reproductive problems”. In the case of GM crops, it was found that Monsanto chose to keep biosafety data away from public scrutiny and has committed scientific fraud by wrongly interpreting its data and classifying a GM product as safe.

Monsanto also has a habit of suing and jailing farmers for… saving their own seeds and resowing! Since 1996, Monsanto has filed 1000s of lawsuits against hundreds of farmers across the world. In the USA, the Centre for Food Safety investigated Monsanto’s anti-farmer behaviour and concluded that “… Monsanto, the world’s leading agricultural biotechnology company, has used heavy-handed investigations and ruthless prosecutions that have fundamentally changed the ways American farmers farm. The result has been nothing less than an assault on the foundations of farming practices and traditions that have endured for centuries in this country, and millennia around the world, including one of the oldest rights to save and replant crop seeds… Monsanto has an annual budget of US$10million and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers”. Monsanto is currently being investigated by the Justice Department in the USA for its anti-trust behaviour, based on the unprecedented rise in seed prices that began a decade ago. The seed market in which prices have soared higher in an unprecedented way is dominated by Monsanto. In 2009 the agricultural department (the UCDA) figures show that corn seed prices have risen 135% since 2001, and soy bean prices 108%, whereas the Consumer Price Index rose only 20% in the same period.

Monsanto’s sordid history (from the Centre for Food Safety)

From PCBs to Agent Orange to Roundup, we have many reasons to question the motives of this company that claims to be working to reduce environmental destruction and feed the world with its genetically engineered food crop.

Founded in 1901 in Missouri, Monsanto became the leading manufacturer of sulphuric acid and other industrial chemicals in the 1920s. In the 1930s Monsanto began producing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are potent carcinogens and have been implicated in reproductive, developmental and immune system disorders.

The world’s centre of PCB manufacturing was Monsanto’s plant on the outskirts of East St.Louis, Illinois, which has the highest rate of foetal death and immature births in the state. By 1982, nearby Times Beach was found to be so contaminated with dioxin (a product of PCB manufacture) that the government ordered it evacuated. Dioxins are endocrine and immune system disrupters causing congenital birth defects, reproductive and development problems, and an increase of incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes in laboratory animals.

By the 1940s, Monsanto began focusing on plastic and synthetic fabrics like polystyrene which is ranked fifth in the EPA’s 1980s list of chemicals whose production generates the most total hazardous waste. During WWII, similar to Dow Chemical (which you now know all about) Monsanto played a significant role in the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. After the war, Monsanto championed the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture and began manufacturing the herbicide 2,4,5-T, which contains dioxin.

The herbicide Agent Orange, used by the US military to maim and murder hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese during the Vietnam war, was a mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, and very high concentrations of dioxin. Since the end of the Vietnam war, an estimated 500,000 Vietnamese children have been born with deformities.

In the 1970s, Monsanto began manufacturing the herbicide Roundup, which has been marketed as a “safe general purpose herbicide for widespread commercial and consumer use”, even though its key ingredient is glyphosate (a highly toxic poison). In 1997, Monsanto was forced by the New York State Attorney General to stop claiming that Roundup is biodegradable and environmentally friendly!

In August 2003 Monsanto agreed to pay $600million to settle claims brought by more than 20,000 residents of Anniston, over the sever contamination of ground and water by tones of PCBs dumped in the area from the 1930s to the 1970s. Court documents revealed that Monsanto was aware of the contamination decades earlier.

Monsanto in India

Recent news stories report that Monsanto’s plans to do business in GM material has been okayed by the agriculture ministry which had told the Foreign Investment Promotion Board that Monsanto India should be given the green signal. One financial media report explained that “the FIPB approval is expected to pave way for the Gm giant to bring in its menu of genetically modified food products including GM corn, maize and soya”. Around 95% of the GM crops currently planted worldwide are supposed to have Monsanto’s proprietary traits which also include an in-built market for its herbicide.

In 2006 Monsanto slipped out of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission inquiry into Bt cotton seed pricing – the costs levied for farmers were exorbitant, particularly comparing them to the price in China and the USA. It is estimated that thousands of crores [WHAT IS A CRORE?] of rupees were paid by Indian farmers as royalty/technology fees. Monsanto claimed another company is the technology provider in India, thus avoiding involvement, but financial statements for Monsanto India show 490 lakhs (49,000,000) of rupees as balance due from that other company.

Monsanto is reported to have tried to use its American influence to ensure that its proprietary technologies are not breached. In an infamous incident in 2005 the US Ambassador to India wrote a letter to the Chief Minister of Gujarat, asking him to curb the illegal trade of Bt seeds in the state. Failure to do so, he warned, would “dampen the transfer of technologies and investments from abroad, including from the United States”.

The government of India allowed Monsanto to direct the future course of agriculture as it is a board member of the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture. The KIA was the deal signed in 2005 by the US and India to usher in the next “Green Revolution” in India.

If anyone is thinking about going to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, they should. But be prepared. We have a few tips which might be helpful.

First and foremost, read the volunteer handbook on the BMA website. It’s full of useful stuff!

Getting there. Sambhavna has a ‘H’ after the ‘B’ which you need to pronounce if you want to be understood. If rickshaw drivers and general stand-arounders still give you a blank look, ask for the ‘Peoples Hospital’ on Berasia Road, and turn down the alleyway next to the Reliance petrol station. Or call the Clinic, although mobile phones are very difficult to source when you’re a foreigner in India nowadays.

Don’t think, like we did, that you can walk from the station to the clinic. The map in the Lonely Planet is, as usual, a bit crap – don’t believe its scale! It’s much further than 1km!

When you catch a rickshaw to the clinic from the train station, do not pay more than Rs50. From Pt.6 it should be Rs30. Rickshaw drivers will probably try and sting you (as usual) for up to Rs200.

If you can bring your own laptop, do.  There probably won’t be a computer available during the day, but after 3pm, several become free.

Have patience with the internet, the computers and power cuts. Either you will learn this patience, or you will literally tear your hair out in frustration. Maybe consider taking up yoga…

Because the area is predominantly Muslim and generally conservative, it is frowned upon to wear anything that shows your shoulders. Plus, if you’re a woman, it seems you’re not supposed to ‘reveal’ your bum by not covering it with both trousers/long skirt and long top. I’ve been trying to formulate my responses to this as a blog, I’ll keep you posted…

There is always work to do in the garden. The gardeners are very friendly and it is the kind of job where you can look back in satisfaction at the end of the day and know you’ve completed a whole task (which is otherwise more difficult to achieve).

The water used in the sinks/shower etc is recycled for the plants. Therefore, bring organic body products – e.g. soap and hair wash. You can buy ‘Medimix’ from the local corner shop – but that only works as soap and detergent. It leaves your hair unpleasant.

If you get ill, do not hesitate (as I did) to speak to the doctors. They are more than happy to help. Maybe before that you could consult the gardeners who are a wealth of knowledge on herbal remedies and will surely point you in the direction of various leaves, roots and seeds.

Keep in Shahnaz’s good books! She is a fixer of problems: officially the ‘Librarian’ she does a multitude of things, including coordinating the volunteers. She can always offer work archiving, which is an endless task…

Visit the Union Carbide site. Sanjay can help you out with that for a small fee. He is a very good guide and I would recommend him. Ask Shahnaz for his email address.

If you want help at Sambhavna, you have to ask – otherwise people just assumed you’re getting on with whatever it is that you’re doing. People won’t just offer it, but when you ask there’s usually at least one person who will be able to help. It can be a bit frustrating that no-one really helps, but of course everyone’s busy and if you keep asking someone will eventually have time.

If you have any further questions, post a comment on this with your email address and we will get back to you.