In the foothills of the Himalaya

After years of thinking and planning and doing and talking and re-planning and re-thinking and recreation, I have finally arrived. I have crossed the border and have arrived at my final destination: India!

This blog has apparently reached a lot of readers already, so when I crossed the border from Pakistan, a huge crowd had gathered to welcome me and the bouncy castle (see the video on the right). After this warm welcome, I arrived in Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs, and the hospitality continued. Sikhs believe in welcoming people from all faiths, so all visitors can stay & eat for free in their temples. Which I did.

Thanks to the interview I gave to Bayern 2 I had contact to the Hope project, a Rosenheim (Germany)/ Dehra Dun (India) based NGO which helps street children in Dehra Dun. I arrived in their “Hope Home” outside of the city, where around 45 children live and where the bounce should take place.

The first day was characterized by heavy rainfalls, so I had the chance to visit their school in a slum in Dehra Dun, because we wanted to provide the castle for these kids as well. Unfortunately, the slum street planners had not thought of a big square in the area, and had made all the streets really tiny and narrow, so that we could not find any place (and I ripped down various snack bags from one mini market with my umbrella). Anyway, we decided to set up the castle in the Hope Home and transfer the slum children to the place with a bus. Easy!

Power blackout during the group picture in the Hope project, Dehra Dun, India

Power went off quite frequently

Next day, the weather was more appropriate for a sub-tropical country and we put the castle into the middle of the Hope Home. The orphans from the Hope Home (red clothes) were joined by the children living in the slum (blue school uniform) and even some disabled children from the nearby village. Just the power went off quite frequently, but that created a certain suspense, as the children never knew how long they could enjoy their time on the castle. They jumped every second as if it was their last!

The next day, I was invited to a Ukrainian project in Dehra Dun, which operates four orphanages and a little school for the children, all of them in the city this time. The school yard was too small of course (urban planners: please consider bouncy castle in your future plannings!), but we could use a nearby cricket ground (cricket ground planners: well done!). Friendly neighbours borrowed us electricity, and the orphans jumped together with the interested children living close by.

So, the castle has reached India and the first events were a lot of fun. Mission fulfilled?

Hmmm…

NO, I want MORE!

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Through Balochistan to Quetta, Pakistan

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Cop guarding me from the passenger seat near Taftan, Pakistan

Travelling in Balochistan is a rather interesting experience. Due to the tense security situation, I am always escorted by a massive police escort (carrying Kalashnikows). Two days I was travelling through the desert, always following a Toyota Hilux with some serious looking cops inside, sometimes they even joined me in my car for a while.

In Quetta, I am not allowed to take a single step without my bodyguards. I am not even allowed to visit the supermarket on the other side of the street. Anyway, I applied for a visit to the local SOS children village at the Home Department, and they allowed me a visit on November, 24th. I waited for my police escort at 9.30am, but they kept me waiting and waiting. I read two books, afterwards in was 8pm and they just did not show up at all.

Apparently, I could not go the next day either, because my permission was only valid for one day. But I know this kind of bureaucrazy too well to just give up. After some 15 calls to police, they assured me to pick me up the next morning. 9.30 came again, and surprise, there they were!

the backside

First job successfully done: generator

They dropped me off at the SOS village, and I learned there was no electriciy. Bah, minor problem for me and my generator! We bought some bottles of gasoline (yes, it’s sold in plastic bottles here) and the bounce could begin.

I was really hypnotized by all these colorful dresses hopping up and down on the castle, and when I woke up from my trance, it was 4pm and my police escort had already arrived. As they were in a hurry, they helped me to put everything back in the car, and I followed them back to my hotel with a big grin on my face. Kalaschnikow-guarded bouncy action is indeed something special!

Caritas day care center, Tbilisi, Georgia

I found Caritas Georgia in some internet NGO database, and they replied me very politely to my initial email. They operate a house in Tbilisi, where children without any proper homes can go after school, get food, help with their homeworks or just shelter. A perfect place for the castle, so we agreed I would come by the next friday.

When I arrived with a friend at the Caritas house, noone had heard about us or the castle (English is not very common here, which doesn’t make it easier). We tried to explain by jumping up and down and pointing to some kids, but we just got blank stares. I mentioned my email contact, though I could only remember the first name “Nino”, which did not help very much as maybe 90% of the population is called like that (just now as I am writing this, I realize the name was actually “Nana”. so maybe that played a role about the confusion as well ;) ).

Children waiting for their turn on the castle in Tbilisi, Georgia

children waiting for their turn on the castle

After some time though, the directors showed up and we set up the castle in the courtyard. The ladies from Caritas had it perfectly organized, the children showed up in small groups and respected the rules. In the meantime, the director shared some anecdotes with me, which again showed me why I’m doing all this:

  • it is possible to go on commercial bouncy castles in Georgia, but it costs 2 Lari for 10 minutes (~0,80€). None of the children can afford this.
  • some of the kids’ families don’t have a flat, but live in a regular car garage, 12 people without any water or toilets
  • one kid told the director, it tries to eat Fridays as much as he can at the Caritas house, because he won’t get anything until next Monday

Very sad stories, but at least the castle reached definitely the right children. Plus the perfect organization from Caritas made this day like it should always be. Tomorrow, I am off towards Iran and have already the first contacts there. Stay tuned!

At the beautiful Black Sea, East Turkey

After some weeks of relaxing in Turkey, I felt the strong urge to set up the castle again. I stayed with my friend Evrim in Findikli, in the Eastern part of Turkey at the Black Sea. And whoever has not been in this area, should book his tickets now. The area is famous for its tea and hazelnut growing, and therefore everything is so green and juicy that you directly want to take a bite from the mountains.

Evrim's newly opened Bageni Pansiyon

Evrim’s newly opened Bageni Pansiyon

Anyway, Evrim is probably the most famous guy in Findikli. We were walking around at night, and literally EVERYONE on the street shared a joke or said hi. Therefore, the permission to put the castle on the central square was a piece of cake. We walked into the major’s office in the morning, Evrim wrote a note saying “We will put the bouncy castle on the square today for all the children to have fun. Evrim” and it was done. THAT is how bureaucracy has to work!

Cay ve kale

Wishful thinking: chilling with cay

The castle started and a few kids gathered on it. At first I was a bit disappointed by their small number, but then I realized I could just sit around the whole day, drink cay and enjoy the compliments from the children’s parents what a good thing I do. I could not have been more wrong.

Slowly, but steadily the number of children increased. They started to come from all the corners of the city, from the nearby restaurants, from their homes, some even from the sewer! The castle was fully crowded, and this time me a my friendo Ozan had to organise the party all by ourselves. My Turkish is fortunately good enough for some basic conversations with the kids. When I told them “üc dakika sol” (three minutes left), and they begged me “bes dakika, lüüütfen!” (five minutes, pleeease) I could answer “taman, bes dakika, ama hizli dakikalar” (alright, 5 minutes, but quick minutes). And they even listened!

When all the children were tired and exhausted, they begged me to close it and put it back into the car (alright, I begged THEM if we could stop). In the evening, Ozan and me wanted to have a drink on the successful day, I went into the next shop and found myself buying drinks from one of our kids. The End.