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About The Book
An inspirational journey of travel and adventure, helping others across the world.
To escape from modern life and do something different had always been Phil Beswick’s dream. Spending a month as a volunteer at a Nepalese orphanage led to him questioning his life’s values and making him determined to turn that dream into reality. So, giving away most of his possessions, he escaped from his suffocating career to set out on a passionate yearlong journey of self-discovery and adventure, helping others around the world. On his travels he took part in various charity and voluntary projects including house building in Sri Lanka, working in an animal rescue centre in Thailand and teaching English in Cambodia. His adventure culminated in an inspirational 798km pilgrimage across Northern Spain, raising money for a charity close to his heart.
‘Soaring with Eagles, Flying with Turkeys?’ is his account of that journey, a true story encompassing every human emotion from tears and laughter to humility and compassion – a truly inspirational story that demonstrates just what the human spirit is capable of.
Feed the Need, Not the Greed
I decided I needed to do something different about the position I was in. With our planned trip to New Zealand cancelled and over a month off work, I was wondering just what I could do with my time. One day in early December, sitting alone in the house, an idea suddenly hit me. I should go volunteering abroad. So, there I was, early January 2011, heading off to Nepal.
Having previously been a volunteer leader on working holidays with the National Trust and, having travelled alone to Europe and Australia before, the thought of being alone in a strange country for a couple of weeks didn’t seem such a bad idea. I just knew that I had to do something positive and constructive with the month off work.
A couple of hours on the internet and my idea started to take shape. I found an opportunity to go to Nepal as a volunteer in an orphanage with Original Volunteers, a company who specialise in giving people the chance to become involved in something they generally would not have the chance to. So I decided to give it a go and booked it. After gritting my teeth and muddling through Christmas, on January 4th 2011 I was sitting on a plane bound for Kathmandu, knowing that, at the very least, I would be contributing in a positive way to other people’s lives – and forgetting about my own for a short time.
With all the events of the last six weeks still spinning around in my mind like a manic washing machine, the thought of putting myself in a situation far worse than my own seemed more appealing than lying on a beach for two weeks, living a booze soaked existence on some Mediterranean island, feeling sorry for myself.
As the plane touched down in Kathmandu, I still wasn’t really sure just what I’d let myself in for; I had a million and one questions looking for answers that, deep down, I knew I didn’t have. I did know I was going to be doing something positive and, more importantly, giving my time to the plight of others far less fortunate than myself. At the same time I would be scratching that itch to travel, adding another country to the growing list of those I’d visited.
After three days of sightseeing and orientation with the local volunteer co-ordinator, Asim, in Kathmandu, Nepal’s colourful and bustling capital, the process of what to expect in my time at the home was explained a little more clearly. The children’s home was in a remote and very poor part of the Chitwan region of Nepal, close to the border with India. Myself and three other ‘live in’ volunteers would be helping the ‘House Mother,’ Basanti, look after the girls and boys who lived there, whose ages ranged from 5 – 14. Basanti was basically an unpaid volunteer whose husband had died some years previously. In Nepalese culture becoming a widow leads to a decrease in social standing, giving her little opportunity to find employment elsewhere. I didn’t know it then, but over the next three weeks she would become my role model and a source of inspiration.
On my third day in Nepal, at 7am on a bitterly cold morning, I was put on a bus for a five hour journey, one which snaked perilously south along, and over, a beautiful mountain pass before eventually ending in the town of Naranghat. Here poverty loomed on every corner. I’d been in 3rd world countries before and knew what to expect, but even so it still takes my breath away every time I witness poverty at such close quarters. In the heat of the mid-afternoon winter’s sun, people were dressed in little more than rags. Ramshackled, broken, unfinished homes made out of tin sheeting were everywhere. Children were running around, playing with whatever they could find which, though often rusty or dangerous, provided a source of entertainment far removed from anything children in the Western world would be happy with.
An hour’s taxi ride from the town to the remote village of Ganganabar followed. Travelling alone and with little English spoken, I didn’t have a clue where I was. On tracks barely good enough for a mountain bike, we must have hit every bump there was. Eventually, the taxi stopped outside the gates to what looked like a condemned building waiting for demolition. I hesitated, thinking there must have been some mistake, or maybe the driver was just dropping something off. But no; I had arrived at my destination.
I stepped out, put my rucksack on the floor and stared at the pink-painted house. My first thought was – ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ As the taxi turned around and disappeared into the distance, I continued staring in disbelief at the dilapidated building that was to be my home for the next three weeks.
The orphanage was in a very poor area, mainly a farming community, and it seemed miles from anything even resembling civilisation. Yet all the people I’d seen on the way smiled or waved, giving the impression that they were genuinely happy to see me.
It was a shock to walk through the front door. Basanti greeted me and then gestured for me to follow her upstairs into the kitchen for a much needed cup of tea. Everywhere was utter squalor, the concrete room dusty, the windows unhinged; everything about it was totally run down. There was a concrete slab for a worktop, two gas rings, and a stone sink on the floor. The place stank of rotten food and looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned in months. Surely this couldn’t be classed as a kitchen? Here, apparently, it could. Behind me there was a modern looking fridge. I opened it up, mould on every seal and surface. The smell from the remains of some indistinguishable food source hit me, the opening of the door acting like bellows to waft its rotting aroma in my direction. On the stove, a pan full of water and tea leaves finished boiling and Basanti poured the hot liquid through a tea strainer into a metal cup. ‘Oh, no kettle then?’ I thought. After Basanti had added sugar and freshly squeezed buffalo milk, my drink was handed to me.
We then made our way downstairs to look at the rooms the volunteers would be staying in. I got one of the better ones, next to the toilet. At least this one was western style, but to flush it you had to use a bucket – and toilet paper had to go into an open bin which was then periodically emptied and its contents burned at the bottom of the garden. The walls of our rooms only went up ¾ high, so privacy would be something to forget about for a while. The shower also leaked gas every time it was turned on. This was going to be hard. As a mental picture of England came into my head, I could feel my bottom lip quivering. Then, when my own troubles reappeared in my mind, I no longer wanted to be in England. But I didn’t want to be here either.
How would I manage to cope and deal with this one?
I went outside for a cigarette. Although the pink house was still standing – just – it still looked like a demolition site. Everywhere lay broken pipes and bits of bicycles; sewer water was running from a broken outlet pipe into the vegetable patch; dodgy wires poked precariously from walls and various broken gardening tools were scattered around the bare garden.
Amongst all this debris, some children were playing on a rug. I said ‘hello.’ I didn’t know what else to say. They looked up, smiled and carried on playing with their broken toys.
Then I saw the washing machine – a stone slab with a hand pump in one corner. Children were huddled around it, squatting, washing their clothes by hand, totally focused on what they were doing, scrubbing and wringing out each item meticulously.
‘You can’t plug this one in then,’ I thought.
I made my way back inside. Just inside the back door, I found the toilets the children and Basanti used. They were something else. When I opened the door, the smell reached out and took hold of my throat. A squat style, with no hint of recent cleaning at all, they were downright filthy and dripping water from a broken tap ran down the walls. Moving away, I looked into their bedrooms. Five, maybe six children sharing a room which quite honestly was only suitable for two. This was so depressing.
How would I cope living here? Just what had I done to myself?