I love being your Mum

I love being your Mum

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Travelling threesome

From The Star, Malaysia

Saturday November 22, 2008

By Yasmin Rose Karim

While some people are able to find magic within the parameters of home, a couple and their toddler decided to go further afield.

They had their passport photos scrutinised in 28 countries, but London-based Capt Ghani Ishak, 61, his wife Alison Murugesu, 37, and their son Adrian, 4, aren’t your average package tourists who fly in, breeze through the main attractions and jet off to the next destination.

Travelling overland, the family is using a 4WD to get through five continents in a 30-month-long expedition called Malaysians in Motion.

“The idea was first mooted by Ghani in November last year. Despite his health hiccups, he wanted us to experience the greatest adventure of our lives together. Some thought we were mad but we felt there was no better time to do it then now, before Adrian starts schooling,” says Alison, a hotelier.

Capt Ghani Ishak, wife Alison and son Adrian are on a 30-month expedition across five continents in their trusty 4WD named Tuah (pic, below).

Groundwork and preparations took up to six months. On May 1, 2008, the family left London for a four-month trip across Europe and Morocco. As the first week passed, they slowly adapted to being away from home.

“We shelved our usual cares ie. work, maintaining a household and adopted new ones like where to camp, which way to go and what’s safe for Adrian etc,” says Alison.

The family is back in Kuala Lumpur for a short break before moving on to Cape Town, South Africa this month. From there, Tuah, their Nissan Patrol named after the legendary Malay warrior, will be shipped to New York for the North American, Canadian and South American legs of their adventure.

“Then it’s on to Australia for two months, before crossing over to Asia. By September 2010, we expect to arrive back in England,” says Capt Ghani, a barrister-at-law and master mariner.

To raise cash, the couple rented out their flat in Lockes Wharf, London. Rainforest Challenge (a 4WD adventure company) donated two places in an upcoming adventure expedition which they raffled off and presented the proceeds to Petpositive, a non-profit society in Malaysia that provides animal-assisted therapy for the disabled and elderly.

“We knew we must not spend more than RM6,000 a month, otherwise, we could end up abandoning the project halfway through. Thank God, the fuel prices have come down!” sighs Alison.

Spending around RM200 a day on this epic road trip, Ghani and Alison achieved an unparalleled closeness with Adrian and with each other through the shared experiences, like in Morocco when motoring through the narrow and winding Tondra Gorge — the toughest piste in the country — for five harrowing hours and watching swirling wind forming mini-cyclones on the way to Tinghir.

“Almost every day brought excitement and fun activities — having snowball fights in Andorra (a small country bordered by Spain and France), learning to tie a Berber headdress in Morocco, watching polar bears feeding on frozen grub at Ranua Wildlife Park in Finland, and seeing Adrian chase and being chased by squabbling ducks in Hamburg, Germany,” says Alison.

The family in Morocco.

“We indulged curious onlookers who wanted to know about the expedition and Malaysia. And in Romania, we traded ice cream for Tourism Malaysia’s Visit Malaysia stickers, a VCD and a booklet on Malaysia,” she recalls fondly.

Some experiences, though, were downright bitter.

“Ghani’s dictaphone was swiped by a tout as we were trying to cross into Morocco at Ceuta, Spain. And at a highway rest, 60km outside Milan, Italy, Tuah’s front passenger window was smashed and my toiletries kit was stolen along with 20 days’ supply of contact lenses,” relates Alison.

While Adrian didn’t seem to understand the significance of the places he visited, the couple hopes he will be able to recollect his adventures when he’s grown up.

“We took thousands of photos and wrote online journals from his perspective. Perhaps it will help jog his memory,” says Alison.

“Even if at the end of it all, he lacks knowledge of his alphabets and arithmetic, hopefully he will be aware of other ways of life and cultures,” says Capt Ghani.

Adrian did learn a useful life lesson at a souk in Azrou, Morroco though — that nothing in life comes free.

The 4WD with its roof tent.

“He accepted an apricot offered to him, and ended up having to trade his hat for it!”

While expecting the very best, the couple embarked on the expedition prepared for the worst.

“Ghani has had medical training and I have attended St John’s Ambulance basic First Aid and First Aid for babies and children, and we have been immunised against a litany of diseases. Global Doctors International Medical packed us a supply of medication, ointments, and a First Aid kit,” Alison says.

Their medical kit proved useful when Adrian fell into a prickly bush in Austria, but they weren’t at all prepared when Ghani had a stroke after enjoying fish and chips at a campsite in Fauska, Norway.

“I was in a bit of a daze. I heard Alison screaming for an ambulance and she was asking me whether I was all right,” recalls Ghani. “The ambulance got there in under 10 minutes and I’m OK now.”

The trip, says Ghani, has given them a fresh perspective on even the most mundane aspects of everyday life. Every interaction becomes a new experience offering pleasure and sometimes frustrations.

“In Romania I ended up with some kind of wild bird for dinner as my hand gesture which was meant to be fish was wrongly interpreted, while Alison’s vegetarian spaghetti turned out to contain some mystery meat,” he adds.

Total strangers have gone out of their way to come to the family’s aid, reinstating their faith in people’s kindness.

“We had tent trouble in Germany — one half refused to collapse, so we drove for 2½ hours with the rear up until we reached a workshop. A man named Mathiias Kruger and his mechanic set to work immediately. Using bicycle parts, he got the tent back in order after 90 minutes. The best part was he refused payment, insisting that it was a service from him!” says Capt Ghani.

En route, the family also met up with other Malaysians abroad.

“We were invited to the home of the director of Tourism Malaysia in Paris, Jeffri Munir, and had a scrumptious meal prepared by his wife.

Malaysia’s ambassador to Germany, Datuk Zakaria Sulong, invited us to his residence in Berlin for a Merdeka gathering he hosted. This was an extra special day for us as it was also Adrian’s fourth birthday,” says Alison.

No charge: German Mathias Kruger didn’t charge Capt Ghani for the repairs he did on the roof tent.

“At a campsite in Helsinki, Finland we were approached by a Malaysian woman and her husband who spotted our Jalur Gemilang.And at a restaurant in Blagaj, Bosnia, we bumped into another Malaysian family who were on a short break,” adds Capt Ghani.

After having spent four months on the road, the couple admit to being wiser travellers.

“We packed far too many clothes for the first leg. On the next leg, besides one set of warm clothing and jackets, we are packing a few sets of comfortable, quick-drying pants and T-shirts, comfortable hiking shoes and flip flops,” says Capt Ghani.

“We are now very aware of how little one can live on and are quite amazed that we managed to do with the minimum when on the road. The amount of wastage we generate as a family on a daily basis is quite disgusting, and we will definitely endeavour to ensure we continue to do our bit for the environment,” he concludes.

Need a little nudge to go for that extended vacation you’ve been dreaming about? Log on to www.malaysiansinmotion.com for inspiration.

Tuah in Africa

From The Star, Malaysia

Saturday May 16, 2009

By Rose Yasmin Karim
Photos by Ghani Ishak & Alison Murugesu

Uprooting and jumping into the unknown is a huge deal, especially when you’re doing it as a family.

When do you know it’s a good time to take your little one out of his play pen and into the backseat of a 4x4 Nissan Patrol for an extended road trip?

For feisty couple Alison Murugesu, 38, and her husband, Ghani Ishak, 61, the answer is when he’s been potty-trained and is strong enough to handle a long journey.

Alison, Adrian and Ghani at the Western Colonnades in Jordan.

Not wanting to deal with the fiasco that can be air travel today, the couple, who met in 1994 through a superbikers’ charity gathering in London, and their son Adrian, four, set off overland in May last year, traversing three continents and 43 countries in a specially rigged-out 4WD they christened Tuah.

They rented out their London flat to cover the trip’s expenses, sorted out the insurance, did all that was needful, said their goodbyes and hit the road.

“We have timed the expedition so that we will be back in Malaysia in time for Adrian to begin Primary One at a school here in 2011, the year he turns seven,” said Alison.

“People asked us, ‘How can you afford this? Did you win the lottery?’

“The truth is we saved our money for something that was important to us — travelling,” said former hotelier, Alison, at their home in Mont Kiara.

The family is on a three-week break before embarking on the next leg of their trip to North, Central and South America.

Little Adrian’s adventures took place on a grand scale, and he has benefited from it.

The trip has left him a couple of shades darker, but the boy became familiar with names like Nefertiti and Ramses, stalked rhinos in South Africa’s Kruger National Park and learnt pottery-making in Nkhotakota, Malawi.

“When we are on the road he does sums and practises his handwriting. Perhaps, when he’s all grown up, he too will inherit our free spirit and unconventional thinking,” Alison mused.

For the first leg of their five-part trip, the family covered Europe — a continent Ghani, a barrister-at-law and master mariner, knows well — and Morocco. On the second leg in November last year, they rolled into Africa, the second largest continent in the world, and home to 54 nations and nearly a billion people.

Adrian and Masai Tikka in Voi, Kenya.

Here they encountered a moonscape of potholes, deserts and bribe-seeking men in uniform. It was unfamilar territory.

“Our African leg began in the UK on Nov 10, 2008 and took us through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Swaziland,” said Alison.

“We had a satellite phone that we could use to SOS even in the most remotest places and stand-by medication: a First Aid kit, ant-malaria pills, mosquito repellent and ointments,” Ghani chipped in.

“Road signs stating ‘Crime Area, Do Not Stop’ did unnerve us. Once Alison was stocking up on groceries when I was approached by a glue-sniffing man who demanded money,” disclosed Ghani.

“I told him I had nothing, and he reacted by warning me to go and not come back as otherwise I would never leave the car park. I just ignored him and got inside Tuah and locked the doors. After a while he gave up talking to me and walked away.”

Africa has given them so many stories to tell.

“In the sand dunes of Wadi Rum, Jordan, Tuah got bogged down because I made the mistake of slowing down at an incline. I had to use a shovel to free the tyres, but Tuah ended up getting bogged in even more when I tried to budge forward. Just as I was about to turn to the last resort of getting the high-lift jack out, Alison spotted a 4x4 truck, and we waved it down.

“The Bedouins said they would help us out for 100 dinars (RM500). There was no room for arguing or bargaining as far as they were concerned, so, within half an hour, with our winch line hooked to their truck, we were out.

“Victoria Falls Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, was breathtaking,” Alison remarked fondly.

“It was the wet season, which made it hard to see the falls clearly because of the water spray, but we could see what was called the ‘Boiling Pot’ at the bottom of the falls.”

The Khami Ruins, also a Unesco World Heritage sight, in Bulawayo, a city in Zimbabwe was, however, a let-down.

“We paid US$20 (RM71) and felt we had been conned because all that remained were some walls, most of them rebuilt by volunteers. We needn’t have paid as the same walls could be seen outside the main entrance to the ruins but we didn’t know that,” Alison said.

The family almost missed Swaziland, which Ghani described as being nothing short of spectacular.

“Alison said that she thought I didn’t want to go. But I only told her that the king was looking for his 14th wife and asked whether she dared to go . . . and risk the king taking a fancy to her!” said Ghani.

In Dumazulu Village, South Africa, Ghani was kitted out as a Zulu warrior but fortunately was allowed to keep his pants on.

“The Zulu men can marry as many women as they wish as long as they can afford it; the cost for each wife is 11 cows.

“Traditionally the man with many wives would have his hut built in the middle, surrounded by each of the wives’ huts. He would call the wife he wanted for the night and she would go to sleep on the opposite side of his tent until he touched her with a stick, and then only would she go to his side. By early morning she would leave his tent,” he divulged.

“Adrian had a grand time in a place called Scratch Patch in Cape Town. He was given an empty cup and entered an area like a big sand pit that was filled with little coloured stones. He filled his cup and took it home and even got a little card which showed the different types of stones he had collected,” said Alison.

The couple also saw how coming face to face with poverty affected Adrian.

“Schools in Ethiopia were worse off than in Africa, generally. There was no water, no electricity and children Adrian’s age were balancing heavy water buckets on their heads. Along the way, kids and adults had their hands out asking to be given something, anything and they kept chanting: ‘You, you, money, money, money’,” she said.

“A kid even tried to take the shoes off my feet, and some got nasty and threw stones after the car. You could see 200 faces pressed to our window,” recalled Ghani.

Wanting to teach Adrian generosity but not wanting the locals to continue expecting things from foreigners, the family gave away pens to schools.

On more than one occasion, Adrian also got to enjoy the generosity of new-found friends. At Mikumi National Park, Tanzania, he was given a shedded snake skin, which now sits rolled up in a box on top of the DVD player at home.

Adrian took the opportunity to show me his “music melon”, a gift from a lady friend named Andrea.

“It’s a melon that’s been left in the sun for many weeks until it dries up. The seeds inside make a sound like a maracas,” explained his mother.

Adrian’s other keepsakes include a black dessert stone, an orange water pistol and a wonderful goody bag of pewter and stone animal figures given to him by a curio shop owner in Cape Town.

“In Sudan, we stopped by Holiday Villa thinking perhaps we could get directions to the embassy for an introduction letter for our Ethiopian visa application. The general manager, Hossam Suwailem, who had heard of our expedition, greeted us and, to our surprise, immediately offered us not only a room, but a suite compliments of Holiday Villa!” said Alison.

The adventurers became fast friends with many people they met along the way.

“In Sudan and Ethiopia, we were hosted to dinner by several Petronas representatives, and in Nairobi we met up with a Mr Dunstan, a Malaysian living there,” said Ghani.

“He read about us in The Star last year and we had been in touch ever since. In Jordan we met another Malaysian, Hanim and her French husband Karim and their kids, Louisa and Rayan, who were living in Qatar.

“We also ran across a young couple, Sulaiman, a Spaniard, and his Indonesian wife, Galuh, who were cycling back to Indonesia from Tunisia via Yemen and Oman. They wanted to do the journey before having children and while they were still fit.

“And then there was this Japanese lady named Yuki who had been on the road for the last seven months, on her 250cc Suzuki, making her way through Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, heading down the same route as us to Cape Town.

“From Egypt to Sudan we shared a ferry with a Dutch couple, Jan and Yvonne, and later shared their company when we camped in the desert in Nairobi. In Malawi, we met two American teachers working as volunteers in the villages, teaching English in the day schools,” Ghani added.

“People would tell us how lucky we were and how they wished they could do something similar,” said Alison.

“Go for it, we would reply. It’s the best education you can give your child. You and your child can experience the way of life, culture and traditions of the many different people and tribes.

“The interactions Adrian has had have definitely made him a very confident child. You just need to be willing to step out of your box, your comfort zone and take some risks,” Alison concluded.

Island family to explore the world

Article in our local London weekly, The Wharf

By John Hill on April 17, 2008

HAVE you ever dreamt of giving up your job and travelling around the world?

This Docklands family are to do just that – and they’re taking their three-year-old son along for the ride.

Intrepid explorers Ishak Ghani and Alison Murugesu-Ghani will leave the Isle of Dogs on May 1 for a two-and-a-half year journey around the globe in aid of Malaysian pet therapy charity Petpositive.

The pair, who live in Lockes Wharf, will be joined by bubbly son Adrian.

Alison said: “My husband and I are keen bikers, and we’d always wanted to travel around the world. We’ve always put it off to see if more people would get involved. But now we felt it was the right time to pack up and go.
“With Adrian around, bikes are out of the question though. We’ll be using a four-wheel drive vehicle instead."

The travelling trio will be taking in the sights of Europe until September. They will briefly return to London, before jetting off to Cape Town, South Africa, in November.

The 4x4 will be shipped to New York in April next year to allow the family to explore North America, Canada and South America. They will then travel from Panama to Australia for a two-month visit, before making their way across Asia to countries such as Thailand, China, Pakistan, India and Malaysia.

The expedition is expected to arrive back in England in September 2010.

Alison said: “It’s going to be quite a nomadic existence, but we’re going to love learning about different cultures and their food.
“We’ve got a roof tent for the 4x4 and we’re going to be camping in different villages along the way. A lot of our attention will be on Adrian. We’ll be home schooling him and we’re going to approach local schools to see if he can join them."

The family will be chronicling their experiences online at www.malaysiansinmotion.com.

Swapping "dogs" life for dream trip

Article in our local London weekly, The Wharf

By John Hill on May 8, 2008

AN ISLE of Dogs family has set off on the longest road trip of their lives.

Ishak Ghani, his wife Alison Murugesu-Ghani and their three-year-old son Adrian, will trade Docklands for the delights of America, Europe and Asia on a two-and-a-half year charity expedition.

The Malaysians in Motion team left their home in Lockes Wharf last Thursday, and were flagged off by Tourism Malaysia’s UK deputy director Razaidi Abd Rahim.

They hope to raise money for pet therapy charity Petpositive.

Captain Ishak said: “It’s a trip of a lifetime. We’re really looking forward to exploring new places and seeing how people receive us.
“It’s a different challenge travelling with a young child. I’d imagine he’ll be asking if we’re there yet every few minutes. But we’re not in any hurry, so we can make a few stops along the way.

The family will be exploring the planet in a four-wheel drive vehicle, packed with everything from medical supplies to Coco Pops. Their hardy mode of transport, which is equipped with a roof tent to provide overnight shelter away from creepy-crawlies, was recommended by the team who followed actor Ewan McGregor on his marathon Long Way Round world trip.

The first few months will be spent in Europe, before the family briefly return to England in September.
The expedition will continue to Cape Town, South Africa in November, before the vehicle is shipped to New York in April next year.

Having explored North America, Canada and South America, the trio will head from Panama to Australia, before heading across Asian countries such as Thailand, China, Pakistan, India and Malaysia.
They expect to return to England in September 2010.

The intrepid group will be keeping a journal of their experiences at www.malaysiansinmotion.com.

They hope to find a sponsor in the Wharf to help them to buy a satellite communications system to allow them to keep in touch at any time and place. Interested businesses can contact them via their website.

The World, My Classroom

This is from an interview we did with Eileen Lian of Parenting Works in February 2010

On 1 May 2008, Alison Murugesu-Ghani and Ghani Ishak set off with their three-year old son, Adrian, to see the world in a Nissan Patrol 4×4 that they have fondly dubbed Tuah.

Together they covered more than 60,000 miles in 43 countries across four continents before their journey was prematurely cut short in August 2009 by a medical emergency—Ghani needed treatment for his heart condition.

The family is now back in Kuala Lumpur—Adrian has started pre-school, Ghani is well and back on his feet and Alison is busy keeping all their friends updated through their Facebook page. They are waiting for Tuah to arrive in KL so that they can resume their adventures in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.

What were your objectives for making the journey?

We wanted to experience one of the greatest adventures of our lives; to gain an insight into the culture and history of the people who we meet and the places that we visit; to inspire others particularly those from the Global South to fulfill their dreams; and to promote our country, Malaysia.

Why did you decide to do it when Adrian was so young?

Adrian was 3.5 years old when we started off. Having a young child doesn’t mean the end of adventure holidays. We were determined that we were not going to be confined to a future of paddle pool and play area holidays and we thought that if we really did want to make this trip—a long-time dream—we would have to do it while Ghani and I were still fit and able to cope. Otherwise, we would end up just talking about it, never doing it and possibly one day regretting that.

Were there any special preparations that you had to make for Adrian?

Lilongwe, Zambia

Lilongwe, Zambia

We made sure that Adrian had some comforts of home and a proper place to sit, eat, draw and do some homeschooling exercises—this was one of our top priorities.

Not many toys made the trip with us. We brought along a few toys, some art and craft materials and lots of imagination. We also had a portable DVD player, which provided in-car entertainment and was used for Adrian to listen to his audio books.

Adrian had a litany of vaccinations before we began our travels and I took a special First Aid for Babies and Children course.

How do you think the trip has benefited Adrian?

Adrian has become a very independent and confident child. He has seen how people live in different countries, eat different foods, have different traditions and customs and he has learnt to understand the need to respect them.

Adrian has seen how in many parts of the world, some of the things that we take for granted are, in fact, luxuries. He has seen children his age and younger walking for miles carrying water home for the family and working in the fields for the night’s dinner. Hopefully, he will remember these and be grateful for what he has.

He has learnt that a cold shower is better than no shower and that poverty doesn’t automatically equate to unhappiness. Some of the biggest smiles we’ve seen have been in areas where people have the least.

He has seen how in some places, like Finland, the environment and nature are so wonderfully preserved and, hopefully, he will learn the importance of being ‘green’.

How has it changed you and Ghani as parents?

We have learnt not to be over-protective of Adrian. We learnt that to allow him the freedom to explore and discover, was the best learning tool for him.

What were some of the adventures you experienced along the way?

White Sands, Alamogardo, New Mexico

White Sands, Alamogardo, New Mexico

We were following an off road trail between the Dades and Tundra Gorges in Morocco, not realising that it was one of the most challenging trails in the country. It took us five hours to drive the 30 km between the two gorges, and we needed the help of the local Berber Tribe at one point to clear large rocks from the path.

Ghani suffered a stroke when we were in Norway—three months into our travels. Fortunately, I recognised the symptoms and managed to get a paramedic to come to us within 10 minutes. Ghani was rushed to the nearest hospital, 60 km away, where the neurologist and his team were waiting to attend to him. Ghani regained the use of his limbs within nine hours and his speech within 12. That was nothing short of a miracle, really.

When we crossed Lake Nasir from Egypt to Sudan, Tuah was bundled onto a barge at the risk of not being seen again. This was an eventful ferry ride for us—one of our fellow travelers was hit by the ferry’s exhaust fan door, which missed Adrian by a few inches, thank goodness. On the ferry, Ghani was given special treatment by the staff by virtue of his experience as a Ship Master. This gave us the privilege of being on the bridge as we passed by the temple at Abu Simbel.

There was great excitement when we saw a couple of lions within touching distance at the Kruger National Park in South Africa, after having searched the park for a few days. Then on our way out of the Park, we spotted a rhinoceros by the roadside bushes but it decided that it wasn’t going to wait around for Ghani to reverse Tuah so that we could all take a look.

What adjustments did you all have to make being back in Malaysia?

Adrian needed no time at all to adjust to life in KL.

For me, the hardest thing about coming back was recognising the amount of waste we churn out daily as a family. When we were living in a truck, with limited water and other supplies, we were very cautious of everything we used and the impact that our waste had on the environment and local wildlife.

Would you encourage other parents to make similar journeys?

We would definitely recommend that anyone who is able to make such a journey should do so. It not only opened the eyes of our child to the world around us, it also opened our own eyes.

At a Zulu Village in South Africa

At a Zulu Village in South Africa

While on the road, we were sometimes invited to join families for meals. Many of these families could hardly afford to feed themselves. We have been invited to stay in homes, allowed to camp in tribal villages—these are experiences and life lessons that you cannot gain by watching a documentary or reading a book.

Spending so much time camping outdoors has made us more aware of our surroundings, of the beauty of nature and of the need to respect the environment.