WE’RE driving through remote, quintessential Queensland country with place names like Hell’s Gate, tackling one of the roughest roads in Australia and the toughest Indigenous issues. There’s five-hours to kill on this journey from Cairns and we’re facing the huge stuff head on….murder, rape, domestic violence, drugs, alcohol, unemployment…picking at Australia’s scab. The conversation is scratchy, like the scrub in which we find ourselves, as we navigate that last, scarred stretch, along the Old Maytown to Laura Coach Road. Here, 10km takes an hour.
I’m on a Jarramali Rock Art Tour through Cape York Peninsula in north Queensland with Kuku-Yalanji man Johnny Murison, who is not afraid to answer the hard questions as we gallop along in our four-wheel drive. Should I even be hurling these curly questions or should we just stick to white fella polite conversation about his tour? We both already know the answer to this. Murison believes it’s a lack of cultural knowledge in some of Australia’s Indigenous communities plagued by strife that needs to be rectified.
“They’ve got to start taking these young kids camping and fishing. One of the big key things is loss of identity,” he says.
“You’ve got to validate kids’ feelings. Tell them if they step into the ring and they’re scared, that’s OK, until you find your momentum, and if he’s a bigger fighter than you, just keep fighting.”
And Murison should know. He’s just established his rock art tour near Laura, against opposition from all sorts of warriors including some of his own people.
“It’s like a bucketful of crabs, one of you escapes and everyone wants to put you back in that bucket,” he says.
It’s a whole new direction for Murison, who was a former Seventh Day Adventist Minister. Sit in a car long enough with someone and you sand away every dusty, rusty layer.
“I was sick of the crap and sick of the church. Some of these times were the best time of my life but I just had enough and wanted to do something different,” he says.
“I was visiting people and doing Bible studies and it was just demanding and I could work 80 hours a week. I’ve got a young family and you are away from your family a lot.
“If you care for people you put your heart and soul into it. But I’m taking into tourism these organisational skills and people skills. As a Minister, I’ve been public speaking for 20 years.
“Love, support and respect…that’s my brand.”
Once we cross Rifle Creek, a site of massacres and warfare, we’re in Yalanji country, the home of Murison’s ancestors.
Murison says he can feel the ancients, ‘it’s a sense of belonging and a link to the past’, but it’s when he enters camp is where he ‘gets the tingles’. It’s here that Murison has established “comfortable camping”, three tents in the bush, with a loo with a view and a shower too overlooking a deep escarpment. Late in the afternoon, when the heat slackens off, we walk down to the rock art site and Murison interprets the stories of his ancestors. There’s Quinkan spirits, an eel tail cat fish, a widowed woman, kangaroo, snake, echidna, yams, dingo, a fertility symbol emu clutch of eggs, and ancestral guardians and heroes.
“They lived here. If you listen carefully you can hear the singing. You’ve got powerful men and women living in this gallery, everyone was here, they just did life,” he says.
And these ancient storylines run deep into the modern day. Tales of self-determination. Of Tropical North Queensland’s Indigenous people turning to tourism. And excelling.
Mid-week and I’m at the Mossman Gorge Centre Dreamtime Walk meeting with Indigenous woman and General Manager Rachael Hodge. Hodge says the centre was a dream of the community who started original tours into the Gorge in 1986.
“At that time we had 500,000 people turning up in the Gorge and there were environmental concerns and also some safety issues. Construction began in 2010 and we opened in August 2012,” she says.
“The elders were talking about how we could make opportunities for jobs and a future for the kids. We now employ 90 staff, of which 82 per cent are Indigenous.
“We’ve also got retail and the art gallery featuring the works of more than 25 local Kuku-Yalanji artists and a range of products you won’t find anywhere else.
“This is the southern-most end of Daintree National Park. It’s all about the rainforest, the boulders, the icy-cold water…it’s very enticing.”
By the end of the week I’m in Kuranda Village, meeting with Aboriginal master weaver and Djabugay woman Rhonda Brim. Five days a week you’ll find Rhonda and a small group of women in the Kuranda Amphitheatre, weaving baskets from local grass, emu feathers and giddy, giddy seeds. Rhonda, who has been weaving for 35 years, learned the skill from her grandmother.
“The thing about our culture is when your teachers passes you can still feel them in your fingers,” she says.
“You are carrying on a long line of history”.
• Pacific Hotel Cairns http://www.pacifichotelcairns.com
• Peppers Beach Club Port Douglas http://www.peppers.com.au/beach-club/
• Silky Oaks Lodge Mossman http://www.silkyoakslodge.com
• Alamanda Palm Cove by Lancemore http://www.lancemore.com.au/alamanda
• Ochre Restaurant Cairns http://www.ochrerestaurant.com.au
• Harrisons Port Douglas http://www.harrisonsrestaurant.com.au
• Nu Nu Restaurant Palm Cove http://www.nunu.com.au
• Frogs Restaurant Kuranda http://www.frogsrestaurant.com.au
• Jarramali Rock Art Tours http://www.jarramalirockarttours.com.au
• Flames of the Forest http://www.flamesoftheforest.com.au
• Janbal Gallery http://www.janbalgallery.com.au
• Mossman Gorge Centre http://www.mossmangorge.com.au
• Walkabout Cultural Adventures http://www.walkaboutadventures.com.au
• Tjapukia Aboriginal Cultural Park http://www.tjapukai.com.au
• Skyrail Rainforest Cableway http://www.skyrail.com.au
• Kuranda Village – http://www.kuranda.org
GETTING AROUND WHEN NOT ON TOUR
• Exemplar Couches and Limousines – http://www.exemplaronline.com.au
• Avis Car and Truck Rental http://www.avis.com.au
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland http://www.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au
A heartfelt thank you the Aboriginal people of Tropical North Queensland for sharing their country and culture with me.
A FLIRTATIOUS French fellow is pouring a sexy shiraz from a pleasingly phallic stem, while explaining the sex muscle of a cow. I am dining in one of Brisbane’s oldest riverside restaurants, revisiting the classy classic that is Cha Cha Char…and my tastebuds are ready to rumba. While Cedric, the restaurant’s General Manager is ensuring I am well libated, it’s the steak here that really does the talking.
Brisbane’s beef baron John Kilroy opened Cha Cha Char 21 years ago after working in country pubs and vowing to “never sell a steak again in my life.” These days you’ll find every steak imaginable on his restaurant from the Wagyu Rump Cap which has been grain fed for 300-plus days; the Rib Fillet Black Onyx Angus aged 30 to 36 months and grain fed for 270-plus days; to the T-Bone Angus Yearling aged 12 to 18 months and grass fed. This is a man who knows his meat. When he’s not in the restaurant, he’s out mustering with mates “for fun”.
Kilroy, as he is known about town, was the first to introduce Wagyu to a sceptical Brisbane dining public who hadn’t yet cottoned on to the idea of marbelling in their beef. Now, he is about to tantalise the city’s taste buds with the introduction of a new cut, the French Blonde D’Aquitaine beef, to his menu. There’s also the new light dishes, tapas if you will, of the Oyster Carpet Bag bao bun with Wagyu striploin, oyster and bernaise sauce; and the Bugs BBQ served in brioche roll filled with Blonde D’Aquitaine steak tartar.
Not content to rest on its laurels, Cha Cha Char will soon transform the private dining room in which we are sitting into a Wagyu bar.
It appears there is not rest for the wicked for this country boy who once couldn’t read and was assisted in gaining his first job by Flo Bjelke-Petersen who helped him secure a role as a Main Roads surveyor…despite Kilroy having no surveying skills.
By his own admission, Kilroy has lost and made millions of dollars over the years, but for him, success all comes back to the customer.
“I can take a piece of meat in this town and make it tender just by the way it is cooked,” he says.
“Owning restaurants is not just how much money you have in the bank. You get to know people.
“I get to travel the world in people’s big boats and jets and planes. You never know who you are going to meet in there.”
Kilroy admits Brisbane palettes have come a long way “everyone knows Wagyu now” and has moved on from the days when calamari was used for fishing bait.
“We didn’t used to eat these things in Australia but people are eating anything now. A lot of this has to do with travel,” he says.
“There is passion in this restaurant. I can put a plate of food in front of you and in 30 seconds I know if you are disappointed or not.
“We’re just dishwashers listening to people. It is a very rewarding business.”
Along George Street, the Queensland capital has just opened its doors on new Indian restaurant Heritij in the new Brisbane Quarter. In this cavernous space, overlooking the Brisbane River towards South Bank, there’s dining for 210 people including private spaces such as The Library, Cellar Room and Passage, each accompanied by their own inspirational quote outside. I am feasting at the Captain’s Table, inspired by the quote “Around my table we make the big decisions, we solve the world’s problems, yet never lose sight of the deck or horizon.” It’s a fitting tribute to a city whose dining scene is on fire.
Outside, on the deck, it’s all breezy, blue cushions and river views, accompanied by a chic bar set up, while inside, it’s plush royal colours…purples, turmerics, navy blues, emerald greens, reminiscent of a Maharaja’s palace. The food here is fit for a king, with the pungent scent of the smoky tandoor wafting through this beautiful, big space, punctuated by voluminous, brick columns. While Michelin-star Chef Mural and his talented team weave their magic with the likes of chicken thigh, Thai basil, mint, rhubarb, zucchini, pineapple and kasundi from the tandoor, he pays homage to his homeland with his curries such as Kashmiri lamb, Goan fish, chicken Makhna, spinach kofta, black lentil dahl and vegetable masala.
“Indian food is incomplete without curries,” Chef Mural says.
“I don’t want everyone to be disappointed if there is no curry served in my restaurant. We used to serve this food in the home.
“Kofta is very close to my heart. My mother used to make this.”
Back over at Cha Cha Char, I ask Kilroy, the self-made man who has lost and made millions over the years, what he would do if it all went belly up.
“I’d go to Europe and buy a little restaurant on the beach,” he says.
“To me, it’s all about the people.”
We’re a bit like that in Brisbane.
The Global Goddess dined as a guest of Cha Cha Char – http://www.chachachar.com.au; and Heritij – https://heritij.com.au
ON a sanguine Siam Sunday, in the month of monsoon madness, I am flying through a chunky carnival ride of clouds. I am travelling from Bangkok to Thailand’s Trat region, lurching through the sky and big Buddha bellies of bursting water over thirsty rice paddies below. I am enroute to Koh Khood, the Thai island which is home to Peter Pan and Tinkerbell resorts, and beaches of the same nefarious names. But up in this scatty sky, I am wondering if this is where my fairy-tale ends. After one aborted landing, we eventually reach terra firma and I rapidly swap my terror for travel writing. Silver linings? This story is full of them.
I amble through the Thai Muslim/Hindu village of Ban Nam Chiew, past vibrant blue, aqua, orange and red timber fishing boats which contrast against the angry August sky. Ban Nam Chiew means “fast current” in Thai, and it’s apt, as this is a village which is moving with the times. During the monsoon, there is little fishing to support this tiny population which has, instead, embraced tourism. For $41, visitors can buy a two day/one-night package which includes local food, a homestay with a village family, and craft making such as traditional farmer’s hats. Ban Nam Chiew is also known for its sweet crackers crafted from coconut milk or cream, mixed with rice or tapioca and topped with brown sugar, shallots, coconut-diced carrot and sea salt.
And it’s smart women such as Tourism Project leader Surattana Phumimanoch who are embracing this change.
“The purpose of the village is for tourists to have a look and see our way of living,” she says.
“Fishermen can’t work in the monsoon season so this project will make extra income.
“This village is unique in that the Muslims and Hindus have lived together for more than 200 years. A lot of the new generation live away from the village and come back and realise the potential.”
Sated from this success story and a local seafood lunch, I board the boat for Koh Khood, the last island in the Gulf of Thailand before the Cambodian border, and what the Thai’s call “paradise on earth”.
Thailand’s fourth biggest island after Phuket, Chang, and Samui, the lesser-known Khood has such high-quality pepper, it exports this spice to Europe. You’ll also find superior seafood here. On this humid hour, I scramble onto the sticky seat of a “songtaw”, a Thai truck with two long bench seats and bars, and rollick along the island.
Outside, the emerald countryside is as lush as a Sydney socialite, peppered with pointy Thai rooves, rich rice paddies, and locals in conical hats.
I am meant to be island-hopping, snorkelling what the postcards promise are pristine waters, but the weather has dampened that plan, so instead, the next day I hop back into the sweaty songtaw, and explore the island. There’s a Thai’s fisherman’s village at Yai Bay, home to giant grouper, crab, lobster and pineapples, and a glistening golden Buddha statue. I feast on barbecued prawns for lunch at another seafood village and burst into the Gulf of Thailand ocean at Tinkerbell Beach, just as the sun explodes through the clouds for a few precious minutes.
I am staying at Cham’s House, which pays homage to an ethnic group in south-east Asia which is believed to have originated in Borneo and who, during the cruel reign of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, suffered a disproportionate number of killings. Here, it’s peaceful, where only the croaky night bushes have frogs in their throat. Outside my room, the ocean gushes peaceful platitudes at me, while inside, the geckos are goading me to write. But what? I am scratching for a story and a silver lining, knowing it’s out there somewhere. But where?
It’s a smooth flight back to Bangkok where I seek refuge at the Rembrandt, a glorious hotel surrounded by serene side streets or “sois”. If you’re looking for an Australian travel writer in bustling Bangkok, chances are you’ll find them in the Rembrandt’s Executive Lounge at 5.30pm, where the drinks poured are almost as tall as the tales told here. It’s a comforting corner in this hectic city, in the tradition of foreign correspondent’s clubs all over the world. If you squint, you can almost see the ghost of the world’s great writers lurking in the corner. I repair to the hotel’s Rang Mahal restaurant where I feast on this city’s finest Indian fare. It’s washed down with Granmonte shiraz, wine made by an award-winning female Thai wine maker who studied in Australia and whose vineyard I visited on a previous trip.
On my last day, I am a lazy lizard, floating in the pool, drinking beer with pizza, stretching out those tired travel muscles in a Thai massage and even having my hair washed and blow dried, before the flight home. While the hairdresser scratches my scalp, I keep mining my mind for the story. And as a travel writer, I should have realised, it is just this. Travel doesn’t always go to plan. It will pour big Buddha bellies of rain and you’ll be gasping for a snorkel that may never come. Travel, like flying, comes with unexpected turbulence and you will feel uncomfortable, even scared. But if you wait long enough on those sticky songtaw seats, there will be a breeze. Some seafood. A simple story about a fishing village turning to tourism. And even a break in the clouds. And you’ll take your monkey mind and plunge into the ocean, and smile at that silver lining.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Thai Airways http://www.thaiairways.com; Bangkok Airways http://www.bangkokair.com; and the Tourism Authority of Thailand https://au.tourismthailand.org
ON the 10th anniversary of the unhappiest day of my life, I am flying to Bhutan – the Happiest Country on the Planet. It’s been 10 years to the day since my marriage suddenly shattered and I was left to carve out a new life, with a splintered compass. I have spent the past decade travelling the world, for my work and my wellbeing, part story-teller, part marathon runner from myself. And I am exhausted, fuelled only by the irony of this date and the promise of the destination ahead.
The Bhutanese baby is roaring like the engine of the plane on which I am travelling, and the acrid stench of stale cigarettes, cloying to the clothing of my fellow passengers, burns my nostrils. The soothing sounds of the sitar music being piped through the cabin do little to salve my mental malaise. I am enroute to Bhutan, the Kingdom of Happiness. My current happiness level: 5/10. Yet I remain optimistic, even when we stop at the remote Indian airport of Guwahati, more bare paddock than runway, which is shrouded in mist and mystery. Some passengers disembark. Those of us who are flying to Bhutan’s Paro International Airport are instructed to stay on, and identify our cabin baggage. I am the only white person on the plane.
Drukair, Royal Bhutan’s Airline, ducks and weaves around the mighty Himalayan ranges, before gliding to a halt in what has to be one of the most visually spectacular and technically difficult landings in the world. My tour guide, Chimmi, 51, happens to be Bhutan’s first female tour guide, appointed in 1997. Now, around 400 women are guides in a country which boasts around 3000 tour guides. My driver is called Karma. I take both as a good sign. The 1.5 hour drive to Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital is gnarly, all twists and turns, flanked by gushing river on one side, and looming mountains on the other. I scribble furious car-sick inducing notes, as Chimmi attempts to explains the concept of Bhutanese happiness.
“We don’t have any enemies, we have nothing to take. We live in a very poor country surrounded by mountains. We are the Hidden Kingdom,” she says.
“Until the 1960s there were no cars in the country and until the 1980s no planes. We were isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. We didn’t have TV and internet until 1999.
“Before 2004, the village I lived in had no electricity. It was such a beautiful life.”
Chimmi believes it is isolation which made it easy for Bhutan to be the first country to conceive of the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which was introduced by the country’s beloved King in the 1970s.
“GNH is a very basic idea to provide basic necessities such as education, a transparent government, a pristine environment and to preserve culture and tradition,” she says.
“It is something very simple, very basic, and if people focus on that it can be achieved.”
I check into charming, colonial-style Hotel Druk in the centre of the capital. Even my WiFi password is “happy”.
On my second morning, I have a much-anticipated interview with GNH Director Sonam Tsoki Tenzin, in a bid to scratch the surface of Bhutan’s happiness. Tsoki sits behind a desk in front of a blank, white wall, and sniffles. She’s suffering from allergies on this unexpectedly hot day, yet she’s all smiles when I ask her about what makes Bhutan so happy.
“We are not talking about that feel-good when you go shopping or get a promotion. We are taking about authentic happiness. It is a collective happiness for the whole country and people and society,” she says.
“It is more about feeling satisfied and content. Happiness can be fleeting.
“Of course we have social problems but we are quite blessed to manage to survive without things such as terrorism. I know that Denmark, Sweden and Belgium score higher than us but that’s related to economic issues.
“Our quality of life and human relationships are better. It is not about money.”
Tsoki, who has a Masters in Management from the University of Canberra, says there are three agencies dedicated to happiness: The GNH Centre, which is hands on, running programs and workshops; the Government’s GNH Commission, committed to bigger projects; and the Centre for Bhutan Studies, which conducts a survey of Bhutan’s people every three years. Interestingly, the survey found that single women were happier than married women but men overall were happier than women. 91.2 per cent of Bhutanese reported they were overall “very happy”.
“I don’t feel sorry for people in the west because you are better educated and have a better lifestyle. But maybe you haven’t used it in the best of your interests,” she says.
“You’ve made it very easy to get things done, but have forgotten to get along with people.”
Tsoki, who works with Australian organisations such as Melbourne’s Small Giants which looks at “sustainable human prosperity”, says the GNH model can be applied anywhere.
“You don’t have a choice, you have to be one global community,” she says.
“Bhutan is not going to stay isolated. In the past 50 years it has had the highest speed of development anywhere in the world.
“We see a lot of things on Facebook and TV that we might want but do we really need it? We are still quite practical people. We have a good respect for our spiritual connection, and practice compassion.”
I end the interview by asking Tsoki, who is 41, whether she is, happy.
“Yes, I’m single, I’m very happy,” she laughs.
I visit the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, a stupa built in memory of Bhutan’s third king and the Father of Modern Bhutan. I pause to chat to a trio of elderly women, all widowed, who, like their peers, come here daily for social connectivity. I am captivated by Phudra Dema, 80, who lives with her grandson and his wife.
“They take good care of me and give me everything I need. They try to keep me happy,” she says.
“The most important thing that keeps me happy is to meet with my friends and to chant mantra.
“We are the happiest country because the King is there to take care of the people. It is as if we are living in paradise.”
Phudra and her friends tell me they would like to adopt me, and that I look 30 years old. My happiness level is rising rapidly.
At Anim Dratshang nunnery at Drubthob Goemba, in Thimphu, I meet 15-year-old nun Yanchen, who will be required to spend as long as three years in silent meditation, at the end of her teachings.
“Happiness is not about being happy myself, but I want to make everyone happy by doing some good,” she says.
“It’s natural, I don’t find any negativity, I’m more focused on religion and our practice.
“I want to spend my whole life here and teach other young nuns.”
Back in Paro, Chimmi and I wander the local farmers markets like old friends, pausing to admire organic fruit and vegetables, while chattering about our lives, and happiness. We talk about how little money actually matters, it’s about connecting to the world in which we live which counts. A Bhutanese and Brisbane woman, from two different worlds, finding common ground in the seasons of our souls. We taste beer at the country’s newest craft brewery and have long, philosophical chats over lunch. There’s penis paintings on the walls of houses in Bhutan, said to ward off evil spirits and promote fertility. We giggle like school girls. We wander into Bhutan’s oldest temple, in Paro, which dates back to the 7th century. So revered is this timber building, it’s said that every Himalayan Buddhist must set foot inside it, at least once in their lifetime. The monk inside allows me to enter, a rarity for a foreigner, and I am permitted to pray for good karma to erase negative energy. I pray for the world to find love.
Later, on my last night and high in the hills at a forest lodge overlooking the Paro Valley, I stand outside on the terrace and inhale the cool cyprus air, searching the surrounding Himalayas for answers to that big life question of happiness. The mountains mock me, relentlessly shouting the same message back at me until they can no longer be ignored. Look at the privilege of travel and the gift of the pen we gave you, they gently implore. You already have happiness. And it’s more than enough.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Wendy Wu Tours – https://www.wendywutours.com.au and flew to Bhutan via Bangkok with Thai Airways – http://www.thaiairways.com and Royal Bhutan Airlines https://www.drukair.com.bt
IT’S 3am at my present position on the world map, perched 40,000 feet somewhere above the Indian sub-continent. And I am sipping on Moroccan mint tea, replete with real mint leaves served on the side, and chewing on a sweet, sticky baklava. While the rest of the cabin still slumbers, I am dining at my own leisure, courtesy of Etihad Airways “Dine Anytime” menu. There’s about two hours left to go on this 14-hour flight from Australia, but this particular journey feels neither long, nor a haul. For I have the great fortune of flying in Etihad’s next-generation Business Studios. And yes, they are as sweet as the baklava upon which I am feasting.
I have boarded the B787 aircraft in Brisbane the previous night, bound for Abu Dhabi and am greeted with mystical Middle Eastern music. Inside, it’s part gentleman’s club, part plush Arabian tent with soft lighting and gold trimmings. The seats, said to provide 20 per cent more space than the airline’s current Business Class seat, are designed in a 1-2-1 forward and backwards “dovetail” configuration. With sliding screens between seats, it feels more private jet than commercial airline.
The Studio features its own steady, large solid table, ideal on which to work inflight, but unlike some other airlines, there is no free Wi-Fi. Depending on your point-of-view, this could be an enforced digital detox, or you can pay a nominal fee to stay connected. For those who wish to relax, there’s an 18-inch touch-screen TV. For those who wish to work, there’s power sockets and USB ports at every seat.
What sets this airline apart from many others is its superior service. At the Business Traveller Middle East Awards 2018, Etihad Airways was named “Airline with the Best Economy Class”; “Airline with the Best Frequent Flyer Programme” and “Airline with the Best First Class”, and it’s easy to see why. Hot towels are not clumsily handed to you with tongs, but served on individual silver platters, before you are presented with a glass of signature champagne – Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut. International newspapers are delivered and from the “Dine Anytime” menu you can select from the likes of a steak sandwich, lamb and rosemary pie or a Gruyere cheese frittata. There is also a diverse a-la-carte menu from which to choose, boasting western and Middle Eastern starters such Arabic mezze; mains of chicken kasba and basmati rice cooked with Gulf spices; and deserts of chocolate lava cake served warm with pistachio anglaise. Sip on a New Zealand sauvignon blanc or South African chenin blanc, or for red lovers, a Barossa Valley shiraz or Chilean maipo. The beer selection includes Stella Artois and Peroni.
Sated, rummage through your Business Class amenity kit to apply your Scaramouche + Fandango facial moisturiser and lip balm, before donning a plush, large eye mask and ear plugs. The airline has collaborated on its amenity kits with luxury travel brand LUXE City Guides which are inspired by five cities on the Etihad network – Abu Dhabi, New York, Melbourne, Rome and Bangkok. There’s even a city guide in each kit, but it’s a slightly curious addition to be given a Rome city guide when you are flying to Abu Dhabi.
The seats recline to 6-foot, 8-inch fully flat-beds and the pillows are plump and a decent size, adorned in all the colours of the desert to which you are flying with browns, tans, ochres and golds. The doona has a gorgeous plush underside. All of this ensures you’ll arrive at the other end as fresh as possible. And I do. In the rare event you don’t, there’s even an Arrivals Lounge at Abu Dhabi Airport where staff will press your clothes while you shower and shave.
Leaving Abu Dhabi is even more spectacular, as this is their signature airline. At Abu Dhabi Airport, First and Business Class guests have their own private entrance and there’s even free porters to assist you with your bags, as well as private check-in. Both First and eligible Business Class guests also have access to a free chauffeur service within the UAE and upon arrival at the airport, both classes boast day spas in their lounges. While First Class guests can enjoy a complimentary spa treatment, Business Class guests pay a nominal fee for a treatment such as a Jet Lag massage, which is a welcome addition before a long flight.
2018 has been declared the Year of Zayed, celebrating 100 years since the birth of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE. And Etihad is devoted to honouring Zayed’s core values of respect; wisdom; sustainability; and human development. The airline is offering complimentary cargo flights to UAE charities, bringing aid and relief to people in need around the world in a bid to spread Zayed’s humanitarian message. At the same time, 1000 selected guests from around the world are being invited to experience Abu Dhabi’s cultural attractions; and Etihad is also collaborating on the Abu Dhabi Birdathon, a race which celebrate’s Zayed’s passion for conservation. Etihad is also renaming its training buildings the Zayed Campus and launching Young Aviators in a bid to inspire the next generation in the UAE. If you can judge a country by its flagship carrier, then Abu Dhabi is in great shape indeed.
The Global Goddess flew to Abu Dhabi as a guest of Etihad Airlines in one of their world-class Business Studios http://www.etihad.com/en-au/
She stayed as a guest of Abu Dhabi Tourism https://visitabudhabi.ae/au-en/default.aspx
“Human trafficking is the second-most prolific organised crime on the planet after the weapons and the drug trade. But unlike drugs, a woman can be sold more than once and often many times in one day,” Sisterhood of Survivors, Kathmandu, Nepal
IN a pastel pink court building, the colour that little girls all over the world like to wear and a deep shade of irony, less than two per cent of Nepal’s human trafficking cases make up the Supreme Court caseload.
In the country’s District Court rooms, it’s less than 0.3 per cent. But there’s a blinding bullseye, one case that stands out from the rest. In March this year, in Nuwakot’s District Court in the country’s centre, one of Nepal’s sex trafficking ring leaders was sentenced to the nation’s harshest jail penalty in history.
Back in Kathmandu, in a basic brick structure adorned with hope, the women who helped put him away, have barely just begun.
There’s a slow rumble erupting around Nepal…not the kind that Mother Everest likes to display when she’s displeased with too many climbers, nor the type that destroyed Kathmandu in the 2015 earthquake.
This is the thunder of Third World feminism.
On March 23, local politician and Chair of the Dupcheswor Rural Municipality, Sun Bahadur Tamang, was sentenced to 37 years in prison for human trafficking. Two other men, Shukman Lama and Tikaram Tamang, were jailed for 32 and 30 years respectively.
And it was thanks to the women of SASANE, survivors of sex trafficking and slave labour, who filed a case under the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking and Smuggling Act.
Launched 10 years ago with the assistance of a USD25,000 injection from global travel company G Adventures, SASANE rescues women who have been trafficked, and trains them to become paralegals so that they, in turn, can represent other women. Those who don’t have a basic education, are trained in valuable hospitality skills, which they share along with their stories to tourists, under the Sisterhood of Survivors project.
G Adventures Chief Experience Officer Baikuntha Simkhada (BK) says the border between landlocked Nepal and India is 1346 kilometres long, and because of open-border agreements between the two countries, passports are not checked, enabling trafficking.
“Human trafficking is massive in developing countries. In Nepal, when families have more daughters, they sell them to prostitution so the parents can get more money,” he says.
“Parents know certain parts of what happens to their daughters but they don’t know the worst because they hand them over to relatives that they trust.”
The number one market is India, where girls sell for between USD4000-5000. More than 7000 girls a year in Nepal are trafficked and more than 50 a day are trafficked across the Indian border alone. Many of them simply disappear.
“Kathmandu and other major cities of Nepal are the number two market,” BK says.
“The third biggest market is further afield in places like Malaysia and Dubai where girls are sold as ‘house workers’. This the new trick or they are also called Bollywood dancers from Nepal.
“They give lots of false promises. There are lots of illegal prostitution centres here. Sometimes they are rescued by honest customers who report to police.”
BK, who has a 13-year-old daughter, says he has asked “rude questions” of parents who sold their daughters.
“There are a lot of cultural issues around this,” he says.
“The parents didn’t know. They were looking for money. In some societies they don’t talk openly.”
At SASANE, women are fed and cared for, given medical help, and seen by social workers for counselling. Only 10 per cent of survivors file a formal complaint.
Since it was established, 249 women have been trained to become paralegals, offering free-of-charge assistance to other survivors, who they have represented in 400 court cases.
Nepal is considered the epicentre of human trafficking and the issue has only worsened since the 2015 earthquake resulted in more poverty and displacement.
SASANE aims to halt “modern day slavery” with human trafficking estimated to be a USD150 billion a year industry worldwide.
It is the second most prolific organised crime on the planet after the weapons and drug trade. But unlike drugs, a woman can be sold more than once and often many times in one day.
While the average age for a trafficked woman is between 14 and 20, some are as young as 6, with more than 26 per cent of trafficked women classified as children.
Indira Gurung, one of the SASANE’s three founders, can’t remember her age and reaches for her phone to do the calculation. Nor does she want her photo taken. She’s 33, but she lost her childhood and identity a long time ago, when she was sold from her mountain village and trafficked into slave labour in Kathmandu at the age of 13.
“The agent told my parents they would send me to school and after school I would work at their home. They did not send me to school and I had to work morning to night without pay. I worked that way for five to six years,” she says.
“I had a contact with another house and went to the second home. They sent me to school but did not allow me to study and I had to work but I got a high school diploma and got a job in a restaurant and the Nepalese customers abused all the girls here.
“When customers were coming to the restaurant they wanted to do sexual abuse to us. They wanted to sleep with us and forced us to drink alcohol. The restaurant owner pushed us to go with them. They would come into a small room and close the door and force us to sit on the couch.”
After six months of sexual abuse and when she was 19, Indira contacted an organisation who helped her escape.
“At that time, we had a lot of survivors like me and we talked and learned that one cannot fight but a group can fight,” she says.
“We hired a lawyer and learned from him about our legal rights to fight trafficking and other abuse.
“When I got paralegal training, I wanted to fight the restaurant owner but he was not there anymore. He is still free, that is not good.”
Indira, who continues to face threats from human traffickers, says she did not know slavery and trafficking was illegal in Nepal before she learned her basic human rights.
“People are telling us if we share our story no one will respect us but it’s not our fault,” she says.
“Survivors need marketability skills to stand for themselves. Sometimes I am angry at my parents but that is the situation I Nepal. They are also innocent.
“I underwent counselling and art healing to learn about the power of women. This way I became empowered. I realised women have a lot of power to heal and protect other survivors.”
Indira says she prefers to inject her energy into lobbying governments, police and stake holders like NGOs.
“We are known now. Before we began our programs, many girls were missing from the mountains, now there are adolescent girls living and working on the mountains,” she says.
“One day we can stop this problem in Nepal. If the traffickers work one time, we should work two times.
“If we expand our program into 77 destinations in Nepal we can stop human trafficking.”
Each year, through their tourism projects – visitors to SASANE are taught how to make Nepal’s traditional dumpling dish of momos before being served lunch – and other collaborations, SASANE raises a massive USD85,000 to continue its work. But it’s still not enough.
SASANE has plans to open restaurants in Kathmandu’s heavy tourist area of Thamel.
“The message for all of the women in the world is that if you don’t have economic opportunities you cannot survive,” she says.
“If you don’t have skills, you have to sell your body.”
Just before our interview ends, Indira begins to cry, not over the abuse she and other women have survived, but because tour groups such as ours visit SASANE.
“Thank you, you are giving us so much strength. Many people are visiting the mountain (Everest) but not the bottom part of the mountain. We should show their stories,” she says.
“I’m not a tough woman, other women are stronger than me. I’m only trying to do my best.
“I want to be a kind-hearted woman. I just give hope and love.”
To donate to SASANE go to http://www.sasane.org.np. The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of G Adventures (www.gadadventures.com) and Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com)