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On the road again

Jul 12, 2012

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Red Ink Run: the last GULAG in Russia

Perm-36 is a relic, the last camp of its kind from the Soviet GULAG system to remain anything other than rubble. Its continued existence is owed to both the failure of authorities to successfully bulldoze it in the dying days of the Soviet regime and efforts by local historians to restore it.

“What about this?”

I pulled the bottom of my t-shirt through the V-neck to make an ersatz crop top, extended my arm and raised a thumb. Another wave of cars rounded the corner and rocketed past us. I returned my shirt to normal. It’s strange how quickly in the full force of the Siberian summer sun, standards can degrade. Not two hours ago the thought of hitchhiking was something done by fatalists, it was the foolhardy transaction of mortgaging safety for a free ride. Yet there we had been, for over an hour on the vast steppe, being stung by squadrons of horseflies the size of 50 kopek pieces, trying in vain to hitch a ride back to Perm.

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Mongolia

Jul 5, 2012

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Red Ink Run: land of the lumpy green sheet

First get a bed sheet; green if you have it but don’t worry if you don’t. Now get ten to twelve shoes of various sizes and arrange them randomly on the floor. Shake out the bed sheet and let it fall, resting over the shoes. Kneel down and lower your head as close to the floor as possible, looking out over the lumpy bedsheet. See that? Welcome to Mongolia.

First get a bed sheet; green if you have it but don’t worry if you don’t. Now get ten to twelve shoes of various sizes and arrange them randomly on the floor. Shake out the bed sheet and let it fall, resting over the shoes. Kneel down and lower your head as close to the floor as possible, looking out over the lumpy bedsheet. See that? Welcome to Mongolia.

Marty and I had booked a one night tour of Gorkhi-Terelj national park the day before, then promptly went out that night. Something about having finally shaken off the grim reserve of China made restraint next to impossible. So, it was through the filter of squinting eyes and a hangover that I watched two Germans with bulging backpacks descend the stairs, load them into the boot nearly filling it up. “Shotgun!” one of them said.

Ulaanbaatar is the smallest capital of any country I’ve ever visited. Standing in the busiest street of the CBD you can see the naked hillsides nearby through gaps between the low-rises.

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Peru

Jul 2, 2012

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Finding mercy in a Peruvian slum

It is a bumpy, unpaved road and our driver carefully maneuvers around the potholes. Joan laughs and says this is her weekly massage. We pass dry, dusty shells of buildings, box-shaped with flat roofs. It seems as though it hasn’t rained in forever. Joan points to a truck coming the other way. "That's our weekly water delivery", she says.

Lilani Goonesena writes: It is a bumpy, unpaved road and our driver carefully maneuvers around the potholes. Joan laughs and says this is her weekly massage. We pass dry, dusty shells of buildings, box-shaped with flat roofs. It seems as though it hasn’t rained in forever. Joan points to a truck coming the other way. “That’s our weekly water delivery”, she says.

We are in San Martin de Porres, a very poor district of Lima, Peru, visiting the extraordinary work of two Australian Sisters of Mercy. Joan and Patricia are not what I would typically think of as nuns. In fact, they are the archetypes of everyday Australian women — cheerful, frank and hardworking. Both in their late 60s, they have spent the last 17 years of their lives here in Peru, helping to improve the livelihoods of people who have adopted them into their community. This year, the district’s 10,000 homes will have running water and sanitation for the first time ever.

 

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