letter twenty-two to rahel: tell me i’m not going home…

dearest, faraway rahel

make yourself a cup of tea, sit down and buckle up. it’s gonna be a loooong ride (incidentally i just embarked on a two hour bus journey from dambulla to kandy. which, somehow, costs 100 rupies, less than 70 rappen. i mean, how?! oh well. moving on.)

firstly, let me quickly say that i have no idea whether any of the formatting of this post will be logical, as i’m writing this on my phone (yay), secondly, my apologies if you have already most of the photos i shall be inserting, but you’ll know also hear the stories to them, and thirdly, i can already tell this is going to be a long one, and i doubt i’ll have it in me to proofread any of it, so please do progive the occational typoe and utterly illogical phrase and all. cheers. 

so. as you know, i am currently in sri lanka. y’know, asia. that lil’ continent. i’m about halfway through my stay here at this point (although by the time this goes up another couple of days may have passed), but i’ve experienced enough for a bloody lifetime. this south asian country has been a challenge for all my senses; sights of fabrics in the most garish of colours, the vivid green of sceneries so vast they don’t seem to end, the bright yellows and oranges of papayas and mangoes and bananas; sounds of foreign words and tuktuk driver honking frantically at each other, and especially at night, the cacophony of millions of species of animals fornicating in the thicker nearby; scents of ocean breezes and burning plastic and jasmine; tastes of strange yet delicious fruits whose names have already eluded my cloudy mind and spices, all the spices, fighting for my attention as i chew as consciously as i might never have before. but let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

sunday before last, jana meine reisegefährtin and i set off on an epic journey. my mum and my dad brought us to the badischer bahnhof, and after handing us a chocolate ladybug each (safe to say neither made it to sri lanka), it was time to say our goodbyes. we spent the train journey to frankfurt chatting and getting all excited. as one does. on the transfer bus to our terminal we somehow started singing that brilliant german schlager “moskau, moskau, wirf die gläser an die wand, russland ist ein schönes land, hahahahaha, HEY!” (the “hey” must be shouted almost, having earned us some rather confused looks from fellow passengers), which now has turned into our mantra. along with “s einte schliesst s andere nit us”, which i tend to throw in whenever jana says something vaguely optimistic. we made it onto our plane in time, fairly early, really, considering our one hour delay. the flight wasn’t overly spectacular; i obviously didn’t sleep, but spent my hours eating curry twice (the first two of oh so very many to come), watching “the prestige” and the first two thirds of “harry potter and the sorcerer’s/philosopher’s stone”, and ignoring the turbulences.

when we arrived in colombo (well, a bit outside, but everyone pretends like the airport is in sri lanka’s capital) it was about 6 a.m. local time, and i was greatly knackered. obviously. all good, though. the first thing i noticed and still don’t quite understand is what happens right when you come through the passport control: somehow, there are dozens of stalls with multiple vendors each selling kitchen appliances! at an airport! at 6 in the bloody morning! and yes, that area is truly only accessible to people who have just flown. who in their right mind has ever gotten off a 10 hours flight and thought to themselves: “you know what i could really do with right now? a new washing machine!” exactly. no one. anyway. confusion and fatigue aside, we had a transfer to get. our driver expected us at arrivals and led us to his tiny car, but at that point anything was better than the plane’s seats. also, it might’ve been early, but guuurl, it was HUMID! i feel like my clothes haven’t been truly dry since i got here. #thirdworldtouristproblems?

 a three hour car journey later we found ourselves in hilda’s guest house in hikkaduwa. the owner (mysteriously called hilde and not hilda) seemed incredibly pleased (nawt) to have us there. ah, wilder hilde. oh, how i miss her. jana and i were the only guests, so the next few days consisted of the ladies working there trying to get us to eat dinner earlier and earlier each evening so they could leave. we didn’t do much more that day other than going into town (god, i LOVE tuk tuks!) to buy some sim cards (quite the challenge if the girl selling them barely speaks english and we obviously (being the ignorant tourists we are) don’t speak any sinhala) and some water. which is sealed with an additional plastic foil here. just in case. i also quickly stopped by the sea (you know me and my sea hysteria) but the waves were a bit too wild to hop in.


sea hysteria in the making

on tuesday we took a bus to galle, another coastal town. sri lankan buses, rachel. i don’t even know what to say. firstly, there aren’t any real bus stops between the first one and the final destination. so one just needs to more or less jump on the bus when one gets the chance. which we did. on the bus there was a tv screen showing some sort of music tv show, where an ancient sinhalese lady was singing traditional songs with a horrendous band in the background. fantastico. the bus journey didn’t last all too long and we had arrived in galle in no time. as we were still rather jet lagged, we took it easy, wandering around, fleeing from the sudden burst of rain in the afternoon (it’s still post/small monsoon time) into a nice café, where i started writing the first of my almost two dozen postcards. on our way back to the centre we walked past a patch of grass near the sea where people were actually playing cricket! i couldn’t believe my eyes. that was also where i saw the family (whose photo i shall insert below), whom i photographed because they all were absolutely adorable. especially the little boy. he basically consisted of 90% massive eyes. i want to steal all the kids here, rach. they’re just too adorable. we also visited a buddhist temple, which, uncharacteristically, was completely unpainted. for dinner we bought a couple of vegetable rotis which were so bloody spicy that i could only eat half of one. jana finished the rest of it, which, apparently had mainly consisted of dough and therefore wasn’t nearly as spicy. cheers.

#lostinthought #deepastheocean #twat




i mean. 

wednesday was intended to be a relaxed day, but a complete cut in wifi caused us to roam the streets and hotels of hikkaduwa in search of that much needed online fix. in vain. at least we got a massive curry at a restaurant, where i was introduced to yet an other delicious sri lankan dish: sambol. it usually consists of finely shredded coconut with spices and garlic and chilli, and let me tell you, it’s the shit. the. shit. they serve it with curries, but if it were all on me, they could serve it with absolutely everything. when we got back i had a little swim in hilde’s pool and everything was a bit better again.


pseudo caribbean

thursday morning brought my first traditional sri lankan breakfast (which i sent you a photo of), which included egg curry (i’m afraid to disappoint you, but it’s basically curry with boiled eggs, which, interestingly, had completely white yolks), string hoppers (thin noodles made of ground read rice and steamed), daal, sambol and so forth. strengthened from such a delicious meal, we decided to get ready for another little outing. so there we were, in our cozy little first floor room (not actually that cozy, but hey) when jana suddenly exploded in a shriek. little did i know that she had met who would become my new friend (for a short lived ten minutes): albert, the ginormous spider. i tried catching him with a glass, but the opening simply was too small. so we called hilde’s ladies for help. the came armed with a pink broom and i’m sorry to say beat poor albert to death : ( i’m still grieving a bit. to take my mind off of my new companion’s sudden demise, jana and i went down to the beach, strolling along the rolling waves, until we found ourselves in a fancy hotel complex, where the staff was so rude and inattentive that we left without paying for jana’s lousy cappuccino. it would appear as though dining and dashing has become a summer tradition. not that i’m necessarily proud of it. but y’know. we both didn’t really feeling like eating yet another curry that evening, so we took advantage of one of hilde’s offers and after some pooling and yogaing had the lovely singhalese ladies cook us a rösti. in june. in sri lanka. globalisation much? it was a nice change, though. thursday seemed to be the massive insect day, for as i wanted to go to the loo one last time, upon turning on the bathroom lights i was “greeted” (more like attacked) by two massive cockroaches, who scared the shit out of me to the point where it took about six hours until i dared to go back for a by then more than urgent pee.

aaaand it’s tuesday. and i’m still writing. these are basically my memoirs. so. friday. as you know already, brexit came as a big shock to not just me, but millions of people within and outside of (what still is) the united kingdom. in a way, the vote reminded me a bit of the a.i. article in the sense that i don’t think anyone is quite aware of the extent this decision will have on a global level, but only time will truly tell and i shan’t dwell on things i cannot change. let’s just say that i had a horrible day on friday. friday also marked the day of our departure from wilde hilde and her lovely ladies, and a driver brought us to colombo, where we checked into a five star hotel for the night. snazzy. we spent the afternoon having cake at a place jana went to years ago, and swimming in the hotel pool (booth of those happened during breaks from weeping inconsolably). in the evening we dressed up (compared to what i’ve been looking like for most of my time here that didn’t take much) to go and have dinner in yet another snazzy hotel, which happens to have a crazy roof terrace one must have seen. when we got out of the lift, we saw two guys playing the guitar and singing, both very proficiently so, resulting in our clapping after every song, making us absolute exceptions amongst the ungrateful philistine audience. our table was right next to the table the two guys sat down at during their intermittent breaks, and during one of those i got chatting to one of the lads called dominic (joel was his bandmate’s name). we talked about music and all sorts and when i told him i was a musician, he immediately asked whether i wanted to sing a song with them. you know me. no shame. no dignity. so of course i did. we settled on “ain’t no sunshine”, and i kid you not, singing made me feel ok for the first time all day.


da view

saturday started early, as i had a train to catch departing from colombo fort train station at 9:00. well, that’s the train i had originally wanted, but they had refused to sell me a ticket the day before (for reasons unknown to me), so i had to be there extra early to still get a ticket. in swiss manner i got there at about 8:15, and actually managed to acquire a 2nd class ticket for an earlier train departing at 8:30. now. trains in sri lanka have doors, why, however, i do not know. as they stay open. during the rides. because they hadn’t sold me a ticket (and therefore no reservation), i didn’t get a seat, although, lord knows, i did try. but suddenly everyone was pushing and squeezing and i decided to just settle by a door. i also somehow managed to get up when sitting, jamming the door handle (open door, remember) into my bum with such force and velocity, that it left the potentially biggest bruise (vaguely heart-shaped, although marco said it looked more like australia when i sent him a photo) on left bum cheek anyone has ever seen. i also got talking to a scottish family (about brexit at first, of course) who, just like me, hadn’t managed to get a seat. their little girl, she must’ve been around ten years of age, was a bit on the chubby side and graced me with this gem (upon noticing that people just get in on one side of the train to get out on the other as opposed to using the train station’s passages and bridges): “what’s the point of building a bridge if no one’s going to use it? it’s like eating when you’re not hungry. which i still do.” brilliant. her mum (not exactly overly skinny herself) responded in saying that her daughter was “sometimes a bit too honest”. so the journey began. three hours of sitting on a stone hard rattling floor with a ginormous bruise forming, and only hubert the cockroach keeping me company. well, that’s not quite true. there were two more. the first of which came in form of a bangladeshi helicopter pilot who simply would not leave me alone. whenever i put on my headphones to get some peace and quiet (and enjoy my second companion about whom i’ll tell you in a sec), he’d legitimately snap his fingers in front of my face to get my attention, then wanting to show me photos of himself holding snakes (actual ones, luckily. not the euphemistic kind), or singing loudly to himself and at some point even having the audacity to tell me that i clearly was uncomfortable, as i was sitting in some way deemed incorrect by him. you know how much i struggle being rude and saying no, but even he got it at some point. phew. whilst the train took me through villages and jungles and up on mountains (honestly, the view were incredible) and even past a BLOODY ELEPHANT just casually chilling out in a small river, i listened to some ry x. are you familiar with him? if so, shame shame shame on you for not telling me about him. if you’re not, you’re in for a treat. there’s something oddly exhilarating about sitting or standing at a running train’s open door, nothing between oneself and the often steeply declining hills or even bridges which are more like extenstions of the rails over a void rather than actual, safe constructions. after a couple of hours i arrived in kandy, what used to be sri lanka’s (or ceylon, as it was called back in the day and i only knew from tea bags and boxes) capital before colobmo took over. kandy wasn’t my final destination just yet, though, so i asked myself to the bus to dambulla, where i got a nice seat and which even had ac. when we were about to set off, another passenger joined and sat down next to me. we got talking and i spent the next hour chatting with paul, the irish businessman who runs his own design company. he spent the second hour of his trip sleeping, as he was still hungover from the night before. classic paul. we arrived in dambulla and were picked up by chandana, the hotel’s owner, as paul, who had no plan whatsoever, had decided to ask whether there was a free room in my hotel. he also claimed i was his wife, leaving poor chandana utterly confused. when we had arrived at the hotel, we bumped into the two irish girls paul had drunk with the night before (it’s a small world) and ruth (a doctor in the making, unfit marathon runner and avid tinder user), alison (a pharmacy phd student, ophidophobic and of just the same shade of paleness as i am) paul and myself decided to go for a trip that very afternoon. our lil’ hike took us to dambulla’s cave temple, which was beautiful, although didn’t hold our tired minds’ interest for all too long. trying not to get attacked by the dozens and dozens of monkeys on our way down, we decided to go to the lion rock in sigiriya together the following day. when we returned, chandana took us to a hill he always takes his guests to (“my gift to you”), where, despite the mistiness, i probably had the best view of my whole entire life. green and green and more green. after a dinner once more consisting of rice, curries and different sides (i’m slowly turning into a curry leaf, let me tell ya), we said our goodnights and went off to our respective beds.

a ticket into the unknown…

the view from the train

the photo i lovingly entitled “monkey fight club”

looks almost as comfy as having someone lie on one’s back


i have concluded that those specific monkey babies look like creepy old men. 


and yet another day has passed. but we’ll get to that. sunday started real’ early. by my standards. we, being the irishman and -women met at 7:30 for breakfast, once more presenting itself in a multitude of foreign dishes and flavours. we hired two tuktuks (as recommended by chandana) who would bring us to sigiriya, the lion rock, and give us a general tour. paul and i shared on of the pseudo motor bike/car hybrids, whilst the ladies hopped in the other one. our drivers clearly wanted to give us our money’s worth (1000 rupies per person for the whole day), and on our journey to the actual rocked took their sweet time to stop whenever they saw something which might interest us, which included lake views, more statues of monks and buddha, or locally growing fruit and other plants (allow me a quick insert of fauna i have now seen in it’s natural habitat: pineapples (which come in white, yellow and red varieties here), bananas (which are much smaller and sweeter, and somehow have a flesh that’s both firmer and softer), cloves, coffee, nutmeg (the leaves of which smell just like the grated nut which grows in a fruit), aloe, coconut (duh), papaya (which i have learned can a) soften one’s stool and is therefore usually served with a wedge of lime to counteract that and can b) induce women’s periods through apparently containing tons of estrogen. maybe dancing is not the way to go), cotton, rice, pepper (which is extraordinarily hot around here and grows in little balls on trees), turmeric, vanilla, tons of tea, and many others i must have forgotten. oooh, the have tons of mimosas, too. the ones that actually close. kindergarten flashbacks). we already saw the “ancient city of sigiriya” (its official unesco world heritage name) miles before reaching it, mainly because our drivers made sure to stop every time there was a different angle visible of the monstrosity we’d be climbing. now, i haven’t mentioned this, but i have been suffering from a rather annoying, probably windandairconinduced cold (are they ever not?) since i got here, a fact which made the upcoming breathlessness all the more worrying. the fact that it was already 32 degrees celsius despite it being just after 9 in the morning didn’t exactly improve the general situation. and when we were warned by multiple signs to pretty much “shut the fuck up and stand still in case of a wasp attack), i almost bailed out (of course i didn’t. but anything for dramatic effect). so the climb began. 1200 steps, each step seemingly multiplied by a factor of ten through heat and general unfitness on my end. did i feel like i wasn’t going to make it about every other minute? yes. yes, i did? did i persevere and arrive at the summit quasi crawling? yes. i did. i actually did. alison and ruth (we had lost paul at that point) were very proud. the descent went much faster and it wasn’t until we had arrived the foot of the mountain that we did notice how much our legs were trembling and shaking, which they would continue to do for another hour. our drivers took us to a much needed lunch break and proceeded to drive us around various sites, including a spice garden, where i got royally scammed, as one should at least once as a tourist, but fret not, as soon as i realised i went back and successfully demanded my money back. let this be the one story i tell you in person when i next see you. in a week and a day’s time. we also visited a fruit and vegetable market, which, as everyone proudly explained, was sri lanka’s largest. paul left us to return to kandy, whilst the ladies, some other guests and myself once more made our way to chandana’s gift hill, where the view was once more misty, but nevertheless breathtaking. us three irishwomen (ruth and alison had decided i now was one of them, seeing as i started assimilating and using phrases such as “your man” (i shall explain when i see you)) had dinner, and after playing some rounds of heads up (great fun) said our goodbyes, as they were leaving in the morning and i was in desperate need of some sleep.

it looked a lot higher closer up, i swear

the view and fellow climb survivors


i mean, we both know i’m not much of a smiler. but even by my standards, i look incredibly tortured. especially compared to ruth (middle) and alison (right. obviously) who look incredibly freshfaced, temporarily resulting in my questioning, whether they’re even human. 


buddha, completely nonplussed, sitting under a giant cobra. i think alison would have died, had she been in his stead. 

the view from chandana’s hill. 


i’ve included this photo because i know you think it’s adorable, just to ensure you’ll give me an extra big hug next week. 

with monday’s morning sun dawned my last few hours in dambulla. i enjoyed a solitary breakfast and (after going and getting my money bad from the bloody spice garden scammers) got on a bus back to kandy. which is where i started writing this post. trippy. upon my arrival, i called my new stay’s owner jay from an ancient payphone (the last time that happened must have been in the naughties) and fended off tenacious tuktuk drivers whilst waiting. jay arrived in his black suzuki wagon r, accompanied by his son, who, whilst not being a man of many words (just like his father) is a mountain of a human being, currently training for the mr sri lanka pageant in december. a short drive through the mountains brought us to hantana homestay, where i would spend the next three days. i shall take this opportunity to take a quick digression into sri lankan traffic and road situations. sweet. baby. jesus. whilst i was told that the utter chaos i encountered here was still ten times tamer and more civilised than in india, it was already sufficiently messy for my poor, structured, swiss mind. “klaxons are meant to be used as much as humanly possible, there is not limit to how many people can be on and in a vehicle of any kind, and lane divisions are merely a suggestion” appears to be the motto. to be fair, one does get used to it. but sweet lord, i seriously considered taking up praying furiously one time or another! jay, however, brought me to his house in one piece, where i was welcomed by his ever-smiling, eternally hospitable wife ganga with tea and delicious sesame sweets. after some friendly chatter about their other kids i went up to my room for some rest before jay took me back downtown for the late afternoon. i wandered around the lake a bit, when i bumped into a group of chinese tourists taking group photos. being the incredibly kind person i happen to be, i offered to take a photo of them all, which somehow resulted in their wanting to take photos with me, shoving their children towards me who smiled at the camera awkwardly, probably wondering why their parents wanted photos of them and that white lady tho. at 6:30 p.m. i attended a ceremony in a temple called sri dalada maligawa, which houses the relic of buddha’s tooth. the ceremony was loud and crowded with tourists, so the fresh evening’s air was a welcome change for my exhausted lungs. jay picked me back up and drove me up the mountain once more, where i met an australian middle-aged couple comprised of carole, a primary teacher, and john, who works in construction, the two of which came here to travel around and surf. the three of us enjoyed a scrumptious dinner prepared by ganga (who truly knows how to cook, let that be said), chatting about music and travel and their jobs. whilst i do love travelling with other people (especially with you) i do find a comfortable sense of ease and freedom when travelling in solitary. i also believe it changes the way i encounter strangers, which has led to some truly lovely connections created over the past few days.

can you believe those even still exist?

the view from my residence in kandy



highly motivated, the whole bunch. 

the temple of the tooth


sadly my new aussie friends had to leave the next morning (tuesday, in case you’re losing track. i know i am), but not before insisting on listening to some of my music (which, as carole messaged me today, the listened to once more during dinner last night in their new abode), exchanging details, having me promise i’d visit them in melbourne and taking some grinning snaps in front of the garden’s breathtaking morning view. i joined them on their ride to kandy’s train station and had jay drop me off at the royal botanical gardens, situated a fifteen minute drive outside of the city. i was incredibly lucky ganga, thoughtful as she is, had pressed a ginormous silver umbrella into my hands as i was leaving, for as soon as i had entered the gardens, i was met by sudden monsoon like rain falls, which never lasted more than a couple of minutes, but always sufficed in getting me completely drenched. that didn’t lessen my botany wanderlust, so i strolled around a literal(ish) jungle of plants known and unknown to me. maybe the green around me made me look even paler, but somehow people suddenly couldn’t get enough of me and genuinely came up to me to ask for photos. the thought of how many scrap books and facebook profiles all over the world i might land in amuses me. a group of about two dozen japanese tourists was especially enamoured with my western looks and took photos with me at multiple locations within the park, so i had one of them take a picture of them and me, too. great times. at some point i was sitting on a bench, when one of them sat down next to me. i obviously moved up, unassuming, when suddenly, i kid you not, about ten cameras were suddenly pointed at us, flashes by the second. that’s probably the closest i’ll ever get to feeling like a celeb (although i cannot claim i was all too keen on it. but hey. grin and bear it, as the say. just like their chinese counterparts the day before, they took turns in who got to be photographed with me, and communally clapped and oohed and aahed whenever i joined them in pulling a face and pulling out my best kawaii poses. after all that pseudo-stardom i was famished, and as the garden’s restaurant was closed that day, i got a bus back into kandy, but not before getting some mango as a delicious little snack to even get me to the city. once the mango was devoured and i had arrived in the centre, i found a little café, where i ordered a delicious milkshake, an ok sandwich and continued writing this (sloooowly wrappin’ it up). once more, my very own chauffeur brought me back home, where i was in dire need of rest. when i awoke from what laid somewhere between waking and sleeping, i met john and carole’s replacement, in the form of two indian-american girls my age. anisha and priya were on the run to go and visit the tooth temple, but would join back for dinner. i read for a bit and chilled out (chill, bro), and tried talking to jana on the phone (which is quasi impossible with the legit one minute delay), until they returned and ganga had plated up yet another feast. it transpired very quickly that the girls and i had more than just a bit in common, and we chatted at the dinner table first and then on their bed about online dating and trump and sherlock and brexit and harry potter and travelling and just everything and anything until the wee hours of the morning (which, by sri lankan standards means until sometime before 11 or so. totally counts.) interestingly (and scarily) enough, we also spoke about my upcoming trip to istanbul, where i mentioned feeling a bit on the edge about going, with all the attacks i had been happening, but added that, luckily, touch wood, a sense of normalcy appeared to have returned as of recently.


the hibiskus was almost as wet as i was. the annoying kind


i’m big in japan. clearly. 

which, at long last, brings us to today. lord, i feel like i’ve written another dissertation! and sadly, as so (too) many a time recently, i have woken up to the news of more hatred and innocent people being killed and humanity sometimes being a race i don’t want to be a part of. i feel incredibly saddened by many recent events of the xenophobic sort, but as we have discussed before, with paris and bruxelles and istanbul, all we can do is not to succumb to the fear and negativity, and keep being kind and considerate and respectful to others, may they share our opinions and values or not. unfortunately, my two new besties (am i coming off too strong? by the way. i described you as my they. whilst this makes no sense grammatically, it totally does emotionally) were only passing through, so i got up at 7:30 (if that ain’t dedication, i don’t know what is) to enjoy one last breakfast with them. they visited the botanical gardens, from which jay and i would pick then up a couple of hours later to bring them to the railway station, where, after many goodbyes and letsstayintouch’s and itwassolovelytomeetyou’s, they boarded the train to ella. jay and i went on from there, touring three more smaller (hindu and buddhist) temples in the mountains, where i’d be marvelling at all the buddhas and ganeshas and karthikeyans, whilst jay napped in his car. somehow i also felt a sudden urge to take photos of people, so i kindly asked jay to stop at some random point during our journey and went out to take some snaps of locals, most of which were more than happy to pose for me. i think the photos speak for themselves (she said pretentiously), so i shall insert them below. we drove around some more, ate, came back here, i napped, we ate again and here we are.


those carvings are an incredible 750 years old. 


a young coconut of a species called “king coconut” where one can slurp the refreshing coconut water out of. delicious. 


hours of writing have led up to this moment. 8:48 p.m. on wednesday evening, night having fallen a couple of hours ago, a fact i have yet to get accustomed to and probably won’t before my departure on tuesday. i have seen a great beauty and a even greater ugliness in this country. i have seen people being rich in ways we probably cannot comprehend and poor in ones we cannot grasp. i have felt the cold stones of ancient temples underneath the bare hot soles of my feet and maybe gotten a step closer to enlightenment (maaaaaybe). i have tasted foreign tasted which have imprinted their strangeness into my taste buds and seen colours so vibrant, i fear returning will make everything look muted and dull.

i hope this post has given you a “bit” of an insight into what i’ve been up to, and i very much look forward to hearing about your time in switzerland and filling in the gaps of what i haven’t told you and what will still happen. tomorrow i’m off into jana and diyatalawa, which lies in the mountains (where i have left my copy of “the handmaid’s tale” and therefore have a few pages left to read : S)

i love you and miss you and i shall see you very soon.

gioia

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