Author Archives: Jeanie Davison

About Jeanie Davison

TV Producer with a passion for adventure!

Out and About on a Postie Bike

It might not look like much, but I’ve had some great fun blatting round Sydney on this little motorbike I borrowed from a friend recently.

This trusty Honda CT110 is a bike you’ll see everywhere in this city – and indeed all over Australia – as it’s the bike the “posties” here have traditionally used to zip around on, delivering mail door to door.

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Although it’s only 105cc (aw, cute!), it’ll tackle the steep hills near where I live in Coogee with not so much as a splutter. And whilst style-wise it’s decidedly more “utility” than Ducati (!), I love its simplicity and ease of operation – auto-clutch, oh yes!

I’ve zipped around all over Sydney on this little gem, and am starting to understand why the likes of Nathan Millward and Ed March chose these pint-sized Hondas for their four-wheeled overlanding adventures: they are such fun to ride.

I have to give this little postie bike back soon, but maybe just one more ride out first… After all, it’s a gorgeous sunny Saturday afternoon here in Sydney and it’s a nice ride across town to the Deus Cafe…

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The Boy On The Bicycle – Two Years On

Back in 2015, as UNICEF’s TV Manager, I worked on BBC documentary The Boy On The Bicycle which we filmed in the northeast of Jordan, about 7 miles from the Syrian border. The simple aim was to show a “child’s eye view” of life in Za’atari refugee camp – told entirely using children’s voices. The families we spent time with there certainly left a lasting impression on me, as I wrote in a personal blog to coincide with the broadcast of the film. The Boy On The Bicycle went on to win a number of awards, including a BAFTA, and all of us who were involved in it were incredibly pleased that audiences had responded so warmly to it.

This week, the sequel The Boy On the Bicycle – Two Years On shows what has happened to those kids we filmed with – two of them, Ahmed and Ali, are still in Za’atari whilst Ola has started a new life in Germany. These children’s stories are snapshots of what’s still happening to millions of kids, seven years on from the start of the war in Syria. Their warmth and resilience in the face of experiences most of us would be unable to fathom will stay with me forever.

If you’re in the UK, you can watch The Boy On The Bicycle – Two Years On now on BBC iPlayer.

Amnesty Adventures: Taking A Stand at Parliament House

Well, my latest adventures in Australia have taken me to Canberra and all the way to the very seat of power! Yes, here I am (on the right of the photo) with my Amnesty International colleagues in front of Parliament House.

CIE Team in front of Parliament

Photo: Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights team, with  National Director Claire Mallinson (centre)

We’ve been here at a big campaigning event to shine a light on the human rights of Indigenous children in Australia, who are 25 times more likely to end up in prison that their non-Indigenous counterparts (I know, a shocking statistic: working with Amnesty has been a real eye-opener!!).

Needless to say, I’ve been on filming duties, doing interviews and getting footage of key participants, plus editing video “grabs” for the media. Let’s hope the “pollies” (Aussie for “politicians”!) take notice of what we’re saying and DO something to improve the lives of Indigenous kids here in Australia.

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For more on what YOU can do to help Indigenous kids in Australia, check out Amnesty’s website.

New Adventures in Australia

IMG_20170409_151113Well, it’s been a few months now since quitting London (again!) and arriving to start a new chapter in Sydney, Australia. Back in February, shivering through a dreary UK winter, I’d made the decision to return to sunnier climes, and happily “fate” provided just the opportunity I’d been looking for – a job offer from Amnesty International in Sydney, producing content for their digital team.

DSCN2147I should be used to international relocations by now (!), but the past few months have yet again been a kerfuffle of finding somewhere to live, starting a new job, making friends, and finding new places to hang out. Luckily, Australia is a very easy place to live (I lived in Melbourne for four years) and here in Sydney it all seems pleasingly familiar. Best of all, I’m beach-side, having found a beautiful recently-renovated studio apartment in Coogee, two minutes walk to the ocean and a gorgeous yellow-sand suburban beach.

I’m loving my work at Amnesty International. In just a few short months, I’ve already produced films and other digital content about all kinds of human rights themes – Global Ambassador Alicia Keys talking about her work with Amnesty, a series of films on child labour in the palm oil industry in Indonesia, a film with the Sydney Swans AFL footy team, and interviews with some amazing Indigenous rights campaigners right here in Australia. I’ve been setting up an in-house production unit, buying camera kit and all sorts of toys so we can film different kinds of projects as they arise. Very exciting!

Now I’m getting settled, thoughts are of course turning to buying a bike – yes, my next two-wheeled adventure isn’t far away, folks…. – and the maps are out once again to plan another Australasian jaunt. I’m longing to experience Aussie’s wide open roads once again and I’ve got my eye on the perfect bike to do it…

Right now, though, I’m enjoying a typical winter Sunday afternoon down at Coogee Beach – 20 degrees Celsius, glorious sunshine, and people out in force, enjoying beachside delights (in my case, that means a ginormous Italian-style gelato!). Yup, glad to be back in Oz. Very glad indeed. 🙂

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Amalfi Adventures

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Exploring the ruins of Pompeii. Vesuvius glowers at the end of the street…

 

Winding along the precarious coast road from Sorrento to Amalfi in southern Italy on a hired motorbike has to be one of the more hair-raising rides I’ve ever done. The views along the costiera Amalfitana are, of course, simply stunning: if you dare to take your eyes off the road for a moment, the glittering aquamarine sea of the Gulf of Salerno stretches out in a wonderful sunshiney haze, and round every new bend is the breath-taking sight of more brightly-painted pastel-coloured houses clinging to the cliffside, seemingly defying the laws of gravity (and building logic!).

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Sorrento on two wheels

 

Take your eyes off the road at your peril, though. Apart from the endless hairpin bends, which are especially exciting to navigate on two wheels, there’s always the chance that round the next blind corner will come a car or – worse – a bus that suddenly claims right of way, forcing you to take immediate evasive action. Being on a bike means you can usually squeeze round the traffic somehow. But still, I found myself in more than a few altercations with assertive Italian drivers gesticulating passionately about their right of way, regardless of whether it was theirs or not! Mainly it was good-humoured, though, and I found myself getting stuck in with the best of them, using every Italian expletive in my phrasebook (pezzo di stronzo! is one of my favourites – the locals use it A LOT!).

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Beautiful Amalfi, as seen from the pier

 

 

And that’s the thing. After a few years away from Italy, coming back here has rekindled my deep-seated passion for this country. Exploring the spectacular ruins of Pompeii, one of the world’s great historical sites, hiking some of the gorgeous cliff-top coastal routes near Positano, and indulging all over again in the delicious Campanian cuisine (not to mention the regional speciality, limoncello)… southern Italy really does have it all.

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La dolce vita – a coppa Sorrento sundae, a glass of Italian white, and a view to die for!

 

And it’s more than just a wonderful place to take a holiday: there’s something about Italy and its people that makes me feel uplifted and joyful about the world. People live life big here – they eat well, enjoy “la dolce fa’niente” (the art of doing nothing), and are generally much less buttoned-down than the British. No nanny state here: that road round the costiera Amalfitana probably wouldn’t be allowed in the UK: the sheer stupidity of such a road, barely wide enough to take two-way traffic, combined with the renowned Italian style of driving offensively (as opposed to defensively!), would earmark it almost certainly for some kind of regulation (traffic lights? one-way sections? a ban on buses?) or at worst see it completely re-built as a two-lane carriageway fit for safe passage.

 

This was just a short trip this time but it reminded me there are lots of adventures and beautiful experiences to be had in this amazing country. I really hope I can get back to Italy for a bigger two-wheeled ride later this year. Once my nerves have recovered from that crazy coastal road, that is…! 🙂

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Children of War: Refugee Stories in Jordan

Jeanie - Sahara Trek 2010I’m just back from a truly eye-opening trip to Jordan for UNICEF with a Channel 4 documentary team. We’ve been travelling the country meeting Syrian refugee families, some in formal camps like Za’atari and Azraq and others in “host communities” in the capital Amman and provincial towns. All have fled the fighting in Syria and made the dangerous journey, often with small babies and children, over the border into Jordan.

Some have been living in Jordan for several years, others have just arrived. All have incredible stories of hardship and survival – as a film-maker, what struck me is how every single person we met is a living and breathing movie in their own right.

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Syrian refugee children find an old bicycle to play with

Whilst media attention has been largely focussed on camps like Za’atari (which is now the second largest in the world), the reality is that more than 80% of refugees are actually trying to eek out an existence in towns and cities alongside local Jordanians and refugees from other countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt. In theory, they have more freedom than in the camps (which require refugees to apply for exit permits if they wish to leave) – but actually, many seem to be living in isolation, struggling to make ends meet, relying on hand-outs from neighbours, and desperately trying to make life as normal as possible for their children, who have been through some truly traumatic experiences to get this far. 

Hearing stories from refugee children and their families first-hand, I was struck by their incredible resilience in the face of such adversity. Hussam, a sparky 15-year-old, gave me a hair-raising account of how he and his family left their town in Dara’a in the south of Syria, paying smugglers to find them a good route on foot and by truck across the desert, hiding out in abandoned buildings in case they were discovered by “men with guns” (including ISIS), and fearing for the smallest children and pregnant women in the group he was travelling with. I can’t imagine how I would have coped with all that as an adult, let alone as a fifteen-year-old child.

Many refugees are living in towns near the border with Syria. We went to one town, Al Ramtha, about 5kms from the border, which has periodically suffered the fallout of shelling from fighting going on near Dara’a on the Syrian side of the border. Here, as in many other towns, refugee children and their families are living a fairly hellish existence, it seems. Saddam, 13 years old, told us how he goes to work on farms to try and earn money for his family (his mother is too ill to work, his father is still back in Syria). The work he has to do (climbing high ladders to separate the fruit on trees so it will grow better) sounds back-breaking and he’s often out on the land for 12 hours or more, getting paid just 5 Jordanian Dinars for the day (minimum wage in Jordan is, I’m told, more like 5 Jordanian Dinars PER HOUR). His sister Hala, 15, also works long hours on the farms – she says the “chemicals that make the plants grow” frequently give her and the other children “allergies” and if the boss isn’t happy with their work, their pay is withheld.

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Makani centres, like this one run by Mercy Corps, keep refugee children in Jordan off the streets and in education

In the suburbs of Amman, we met street children, some as young as seven or eight, who run the gauntlet of the local police to earn cash – it seems it’s worth the risk to put food on the table for their families. At a local UNICEF-supported Makani centre in East Amman, which provides schooling and psychosocial support to refugees, we spoke to many children who said that keeping their education going is the only difference between a life of child labour and the chance to have a future: these seem to be the “lucky” ones but still, they are living in abject poverty in the seedier parts of town. 

We met many refugees who are looking to relocate or be reunited with family overseas. Many have applied to Germany, Norway and Canada, where close relatives (fathers, brothers, sisters) have already arrived after “going by sea” (refugee-speak for making the perilous journey via Greece/Turkey). In most cases, they’ve been through months of “process” – application forms, health tests and interviews – and are still waiting to hear: an agonising wait, given the circumstances of many scraping along on the fringes of society. Interestingly , we struggled to find many who’ve applied to be reunited with family in the UK – the perception, in Jordan at least, seems to be that Britain is “shut” (their word) to refugees.

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A hand-made gift from the lovely teachers working at a UNICEF-supported centre run by Relief International at Azraq refugee camp

I’m still trying to process everything I saw and heard on this trip – and believe me, the stories I’ve related here are by no means the most extreme that I heard; those I will leave to the documentary-makers who were with me on the trip.

Meantime, one little boy remains firmly etched on my consciousness. While taking tea with eight-year-old Ahmed and his family in their basic two-roomed house in one of Amman’s poorest suburbs, I asked his Mum and Dad if their four young sons had any toys to play with – the house was very bare and seemed devoid of signs that children lived there.

Immediately, Ahmed ran to fetch his prized possession: an old white toy bus that his parents said had been scavenged from a bin in the street somewhere nearby. As he ran the bus along the floor, I noticed it had a missing wheel – unworried, the boy happily trundled it along: it was his only toy and he clearly loved it to bits. Inwardly, I choked up that something so simple could give this small boy a little piece of a joy in an otherwise horrible existence. 

Seeing what’s happening on our doorstep right now in Calais and Dunkirk, it’s unfathomable that we wouldn’t do everything we could to help kids like the ones I met in Jordan – Ahmed, Saddam, Hussam – who have travelled so very far to find safety and compassion. So I’ll continue to tell their stories – through blogs, films, whatever means – in the hope that people will, like me, start to see them as individuals who deserve our help and not strangers who are “someone else’s problem.”

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Documentary: The Boy On The Bicycle

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With Ola (bottom right), one of the stars of the BBC documentary, and her friends at a UNICEF Makani centre in Za’atari

Well, since my last post, the BBC film I went to Jordan to work on for Unicef has aired in the UK – and the response has been nothing short of amazing! We filmed The Boy On The Bicycle in Za’atari in the northeast of the country, about 7 miles from the Syrian border. The simple aim was to show a “child’s eye view” of life in a refugee camp – told entirely using children’s voices. The families we spent time with there certainly left a lasting impression on me, as I wrote in my behind-the-scenes blog for Unicef UK: http://blogs.unicef.org.uk/2015/12/08/cbbc-documentary-the-boy-on-the-bicycle/

I’ve been really touched by the feedback I’ve received about the film, both from my Unicef colleagues and the public. Grown men Tweeted that they were “moved to tears” by the film and many parents wrote that they’d watched the documentary with their kids and finally had a way to talk to them about Syria and refugees. Others gratifyingly said that the film was more insightful than any “quick-fix” news reportage they’d seen. Perhaps the most moving Tweet came from a Mum who’d watched with her seven year-old daughter and been “moved to do something!”

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TV director Stef Buonajuti films with Ola, who also wears a GoPro on her head to capture the footie action!

Such has been the response, that I’ve started calling The Boy On The Bicycle “the little film that could”. It was made on a relatively small budget and the team involved was tiny – but using a combination of creative filming techniques (including giving the kids themselves cameras to film with when a curfew in Za’atari camp meant we had to leave) and gaining the absolute trust of the participants, especially Ahmed, Ali and Ola (the wonderfully articulate and characterful kids featured in the film), it seems the documentary has conveyed their stories in a way that has resonated with many people who have, till now, struggled to truly understand their plight.

When I joined Unicef UK as their TV Manager earlier this year, I was hoping above all else to give kids a voice – and this wonderful little film has been a chance to fulfil that in a relatively short space of time. Looking ahead to 2016, I’m already cooking up new TV projects which I hope, in many different ways, will tell the stories of other children around the world who need to be heard.

The Boy On The Bicycle is still available to watch on BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only, I’m afraid!): http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/cbbc/episode/b06s65rj/my-life-series-7-4-the-boy-on-the-bicycle

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Detail of a wall at the edge of Za’atari refugee camp.

Syrian Stories: Filming Adventures In Jordan

Za'atari camp, Mafraq, Jordan

Za’atari camp, Mafraq, Jordan

I’m just back from my latest trip, filming a UNICEF/BBC documentary in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, near the border with Syria. Working with a small but perfectly-formed team, we spent time with a number of Syrian children and their families, getting their perspective on life in the camp and finding out first-hand what has made so many families like them flee their homes and homeland. As you might imagine, their stories were as heartbreaking as they were uplifting and I was continually touched at how warmly they welcomed us into their new abodes in the camp – containers with minimal furnishings, or basic rooms with tarpaulin roofs – and shared with us what little they had with huge smiles and unconditional generosity.

Filming during the sandstorm!

Filming during the sandstorm!

The trip itself was something of an adventure its own right. A couple of days into filming, the camp was hit by a sudden enormous sandstorm that descended on us like a tsunami. The sky went from yellow to black to blood-red in a matter of minutes, blocking out the sun, and we all had to run for cover as thick sand threatened to choke us as it engulfed the streets. Just a day later, there was a torrential rainstorm which resulted in water sluicing down the muddy streets and many of the refugee homes’ flimsy roofs caving in with the weight of rainwater. And then, just to keep things interesting, we ran into thick fog on the third day, which descended on the camp and its surrounds, enveloping everything in a chilly, eery grey cloak. For us, these were challenging conditions to film in – but it was a sobre reminder, too, that this is what over 80,000 people in Za’atari camp are having to deal with every single day. 

Meeting kids in one of UNICEF's Child-Friendly Spaces.

Meeting kids in one of UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Spaces.

Thankfully, UNICEF and other aid agencies are working tirelessly here to try and make things easier for the residents of Za’atari – families who have no idea how long they will have to be here and when they might be able to go home. I’m always humbled when I see first-hand the work that UNICEF does in the field and this trip was no exception – the schools, the Child-Friendly Spaces, and the recreational areas where kids can just be kids are all crucial in ensuring that these displaced children have a kind of “normality” in this strange place until – some day – they are able to go back home. 

The footage we filmed is now being edited and I hope to share news with you soon of when the documentary will air. I can’t say too much about it for now as it’s all under wraps (!) but watch this space… 🙂

Stories That Must Be Told

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Preparing for a UNICEF field trip

After a busy first few months at UNICEF UK as their Television Manager, I’m happy to say that there are now some exciting TV projects in the pipeline. Right now, I’m gearing up for an imminent overseas trip with a small BBC crew to film an ambitious documentary with Syrian refugee children. It will be an opportunity to hear first-hand the stories of some of the real people involved in the so-called “migrant crisis”, and to show their extraordinary resilience and humanity in the face of circumstances many of us would, I’m sure, find completely unbearable.

Since starting my UNICEF job back in May, I’ve frequently been called to mind of one of my favourite ever movie scenes. In The Constant Gardener, Rachel Weisz’s character Tessa, a human rights campaigner, is trying to persuade her conservative diplomat husband Justin (played by Ralph Fiennes) to pull over their 4×4 as they drive through a poor African village, to give a lift to a mother and her young sons who are walking miles along the dusty road to fetch water. Justin: “We can’t involve ourselves in their lives, Tessa.” Tessa: “Why?” Justin: “Be reasonable. There are millions of people, they all need help…” Tessa: “Yeah, but these are three people WE can help.”

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Working at UNICEF has opened my eyes to the sheer numbers of people in the world – millions – who need assistance, whether because of disease, natural disasters, or as victims of conflict. While UNICEF and many organisations like it are doing some incredible work, I’ve more than once questioned whether it’s possible to really “make a difference” – especially when thinking about my own tiny contribution as someone helping to get international development stories out there to the general public.

Where I’ve got to is Tessa’s approach: to think in “micro” rather than “macro” terms, to humanise the issue, if you will. It’s not about helping the masses, the millions, but simply doing what you can in your own life – whether it’s putting a coin in a collecting tin, working or volunteering for a charity, or simply keeping an eye out for your neighbour, it all counts in the “humanity stakes”. For me, storytelling has always been at the heart of what I do – this is my way of showing I give a damn about what’s happening in the world around me, a small but meaningful way that I can help.

So, as I get ready for my next field trip with UNICEF and the documentary crew, my focus is very much on the people I will be meeting on the ground and how we might tell their stories with integrity and sensitivity. We’ll be filming in some challenging environments and will undoubtedly see some confronting scenes. It’s going to be an adventure of a very different kind for me, and I’m both excited and trepidatious. I hope to share the fruits of it with you all later in the year. 🙂

Meantime, here are some of our UNICEF Ambassadors including Ewan McGregor, Michael Sheen and Tom Hiddleston making a powerful plea on behalf of Syrian children:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=un4cZOKFK3M

There’s No Place Like Home. 

A Weekend Of Adventure!

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Adventure Travel Film Festival – Starlight Screening

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next expedition, need tips on filming or writing about your latest trip, or just want to soak up exciting tales of the road from some adventure legends, then you should get yourself over to Mill Hill this weekend. Yes, it’s that time again – the UK Adventure Travel Film Festival kicks off on 14th August in an all-new venue in North London and, judging by the schedule, it’s going to be bigger and better than ever.

Austin and Lois, festival organisers extraordinaires!

Austin and Lois, festival organisers extraordinaires!

Hosted as always by its passionate organisers Lois Pryce and Austin Vince, it promises to be a triumph of films, workshops and talks designed for both the budding adventurer and seasoned expeditioner alike. I’ve known Austin and Lois for a number of years now and their unbridled enthusiasm for organising this event, entirely under their own steam, makes the festival pretty unique in this age of sponsorship and commercialisation. Their “DIY approach” and belief that adventure is not about the gear but about getting out there and experiencing the world with what you’ve got creates a very special atmosphere where adventurers of all shapes and sizes can mingle, exchange stories and dreams, and hatch plans for new experiences yet to come.

This year’s schedule promises loads of activities guaranteed to get the travel impulses racing. There are some great speakers including Anna McNuff, who’s just run the length of New Zealand (as you do), writer and adventure legend Jonny Bealby (I love his travel books!) and Chris Scott, adventure biker and author of the indispensable Adventure Motorcycle Handbook, the book that has spawned more than a few two-wheeled dreams.

There are workshops on everything from travel writing to adventure film-making (Austin’s take on how to make your own travel movie is a must-attend!). And did I mention the films? They’ve got another fabulous line-up, including one of my favourites, Somewhere Else Tomorrow – Daniel Rintz’s heartwarming film showing that travel isn’t just about the mileage, it’s about the people – and, new for 2015, Going The Distance, a film about a married couple, a Ural sidecar outfit and a snapshot of love and life across 20,000 miles.

So check out the trailer here for a taste of what you’re in for and grab one of the last few tickets left for this weekend! Your inner adventurer won’t regret it. 🙂

http://www.adventuretravelfilmfestival.com/uk-festival/

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An Exciting New Chapter

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Filming with kids at a UNICEF project in Morocco

Well, after seeing in the New Year in Bali and then travelling variously to Perth, Sydney and then Zambia, I’m excited to announce a new chapter in my life, which starts in just a few days! UNICEF UK have just appointed me their new Television Manager, a full-time role in which I’ll be looking after their broadcast TV output, working with their celebrity Ambassadors and supporters and international projects to generate documentaries, formats, telethons and other fundraising programmes that will air on TV. I’ll be building on their stable of very successful programmes, including Soccer Aid and Ewan McGregor’s Cold Chain. I’ll be based in the London office but will undoubtedly travel as required to UNICEF projects.

At the finish of the 2010 Sahara Trek with Russ Malkin and the UNICEF team

At the finish of the 2010 Sahara Trek with Russ Malkin and the UNICEF team

As you can imagine, I’m more than a little excited about this job. I’ve been a supporter of UNICEF since 2010 when I did a fundraising trek with Goodwill Ambassador and fellow TV producer Russ Malkin. Having seen with my own eyes where some of the money donated goes to help kids and their families around the world, I’m thrilled at the opportunity to be a meaningful part of the UNICEF UK team and bring my TV experience and expertise to an organisation whose aims and activities I wholeheartedly believe in.

It also means that after two years of a fairly nomadic existence, I will be “of fixed abode” again, living in London for the first time in over 10 years. Happily, I’ve just found a lovely little place in Wandsworth Common – my old haunt and a beautiful part of the city, with lots of trees and green open spaces – and it will be good to get settled again, after living life out of a suitcase!

I can’t wait to get started with my new colleagues at UNICEF and will do my best to share my new adventures there with you whenever I can. Meantime, as you’ll all be aware, there are many aid agencies working in Nepal right now to bring help to the millions of people who’ve been affected by the devastating earthquake. UNICEF are particularly well-placed to deliver help as they are already permanently based there. I’ll leave it to Ewan McGregor to tell you more about what they’re doing – and if it inspires you to donate a little something to help, that would be wonderful!

http://blogs.unicef.org.uk/2015/04/28/ewan-mcgregor-help-children-nepal/

Year’s End in Bali

New Year's Eve in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

New Year’s Eve in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

New Year’s Eve greetings from Indonesia, everyone! This time last year, I was seeing in 2014 in beautiful Granada, Spain, rugged up against a freezing cold wind and taking refuge with tapas and rioja in cozy little side-street cafes in the Albaicín. This New Year’s Eve couldn’t be more of a contrast – here I am on the tropical island of Bali, exploring jungles and volcanoes, cooling off at the end of each day from the sweltering humidity by plunging into ice-cool swimming pools, and indulging in the local Bintang (beer), just for good measure. 🙂

It’s customary at this time of year to look back, albeit momentarily, and see how it all went. It’s certainly been another busy one for me – one that, happily, has seen me having adventures in some amazing places: Zambia, Ghana, Utah, Arizona, Andalucía, Western Australia and Indonesia, to name but a few.

Monument Valley - like a huge movie set!

USA road trip – a highlight of the year!

I’ve been to Accra and the Guinean border to film for Comic Relief, consultant-produced two documentaries funded by the UK government/DFID in Lusaka, and overseen a documentary on the 2014 Street Child World Cup (filmed in India, Brazil and Tanzania) for BT charity, The Supporter’s Club. I also managed to squeeze in a month-long trip to the States, to speak at the 2014 Overland Expo in Arizona about my motorbike adventures in Uganda, followed by a wonderful road trip through Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. I also had a very busy 6 weeks in the gorgeous seaside town of Fremantle, Western Australia, helping a very good friend set up a new business – much of which involved gutting an old Victorian terraced house and fitting it out as a North African and Mediterranean-inspired wellness centre. All in all, it’s been a busy old year!

Scootering around Bali - before the rains hit!

Scootering around Bali – before the rains hit!

Seeing out 2014 here in Bali, I’ve been exploring the island on both two wheels and four (the monsoon season has delivered some torrential rain, which has made motorbike travel pretty tricky!) – but I’ve also been using this time to do more work on a book that I’ve been trying to get written for about 100 years (the writers among you will know EXACTLY what that means, eh?!!). Ubud, a pretty town in the south of Bali, has proved the perfect haven for writing and I’m making headway: more news on the book in 2015!

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia

To all those of you who’ve been following my posts this year – thank you, from my heart. I truly appreciate your interest and support and very much hope you’ll continue to follow in 2015.

And as for the year ahead? As usual, I’m going into it with no fixed plans, but with a definite mission to keep seeing the world, meeting amazing people, and working on more brilliant film projects. I hope you’ll join me for the ride!

Happy New Year, everyone – bring it on!

Jeanie x

 

Back To Oz

Sowilo Soul Centre - a little haven of loveliness

Sowilo Soul Centre – a little haven of loveliness

Hi, folks – and G’day from Down Under! It’s been a busy old month since leaving Spain at the end of October and heading east to the sunny climes of Western Australia. I’ve been involved in an adventure of a very different kind these past few weeks, helping my good friend Paula set up an exciting new business venture. Having secured a beautiful historic property in Fremantle, a gorgeous coastal town south of Perth, she needed a hand getting the place set up as a yoga and wellness centre. With the property in desperate need of some renovation and decoration, I decided to roll my sleeves up and get stuck in!

Out and about in Fremantle

Out and about in Fremantle

It’s been surprisingly fun – if bloody hard work! – ripping out old floors, digging and re-planting gardens, and running countless shopping errands to procure North African and Mediterranean-inspired furniture and furnishings for the place. I’ve discovered the wonders of Bunnings Warehouse – Oz’s answer to the UK’s Homebase store, not to mention the local IKEA and a myriad of wonderful family-run garden centres. It’s been exciting seeing the Sowilo Soul Centre taking shape, and the buzz around the place as passers-by and people round town get to hear what we’re up to leaves me in no doubt that my friend Paula is going to have a very successful and happy business here.

South Beach, Fremantle

South Beach, Fremantle

It’s not been all work, though. I’ve also been enjoying some of the beautiful beaches here – something for which Perth is renowned. Early-morning beach walks have been a regular feature since arriving and the fresh air and sunshine definitely feels good for the soul.

I have, of course, been dying to jump on a motorbike and go exploring – but for the moment I’ve hired four wheels instead of two, as a Toyota is infinitely more useful than a bike for hauling furniture, tools and garden stuff around town! Having said that, I do have my eye on a great little Suzuki TU250 that’s just been advertised on Gumtree, so let’s just see what happens, shall we? 😉

 

 

No Fixed Abode: 18 Months Living Out Of A Suitcase

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia, southern Spain

As many of you know, in March 2013 I left Melbourne – quit my job and my rented apartment, sold all my stuff including my car and beloved Suzuki motorbike – and, with no “Grand Plan” or itinerary in mind, threw myself, for better or worse, into the big wide world. Armed with a suitcase and some savings, my self-appointed remit was simply “to live a little”. Eighteen months on, I’m sitting here in a little cafe on the sunny Andalucian coast, sipping an Americano and looking back on what a year and a half it’s been.

Gorgeous Granada

Gorgeous Granada

I kicked things off last year with a couple of months in beautiful Granada, soaking up its gorgeous Moorish architecture and ambience, indulging in tapas and southern Spanish wines, and generally living la vida loca for a bit. All very nice – but soon I was itching to DO something and, after heading to London in the hope of scoring some casual work with a charity such as UNICEF, I found just the challenge I’d been looking for…

Getting to grips with a Ugandan boda boda!

Getting to grips with a Ugandan boda boda!

Bring on 4 months in the farthest reaches of Uganda and Rwanda, near the border with the Congo, working with a small British NGO to set up a community film initiative for local people, teaching them video skills to enable them to tell their own stories about their lives, culture and key issues like health and education. I was plunged into a surreal and challenging life in a remote town with no running water or electricity. I filmed with a local pygmy tribe, had a heap of adventures involving 125cc Chinese motorbikes and some of the roughest terrain I’ve ever been on, and helped pioneer “pedal power cinema” (screening films in remote areas where, in the absence of electricity, you use a common or garden pushbike attached to a dynamo to generate power to run a DVD player!). Not to mention spending time with gorillas…

With the Comic Relief crew in Ghana

With the Comic Relief crew in Ghana

Coming back into “civilisation” after all that made me all the more appreciative of the simple things in life (light switches, showers, internet, Suzuki motorbikes…) and Christmas back in Granada saw me making the most of all these things and more! Early in the New Year, I landed some freelance work at Comic Relief‘s London HQ – and barely a week into the job, they posted me out to Ghana to oversee some vloggers making YouTube films about some of the charities Comic Relief funds in the capital, Accra, and in remote Tamale, near the Guinea border. I was the proverbial “pig in shit”, loving being back in Africa so soon and enjoying, once again, being able to act as a mentor, this time to two young film-makers.

Standing simultaneously in 4 states - Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

Standing simultaneously in 4 states – Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

After some work on the Sport Relief 2014 campaign and a few months overseeing, amongst other things, a documentary about the Street Child World Cup, shot in Brazil, India and Tanzania, it was time to hit the road again – this time in the good old US of A, yeeha! I’d been invited to be a presenter at the Overland Expo in Arizona, speaking about my Uganda/Rwanda Film Adventure, and decided to combine this with a road trip through some of the surrounding states for a few weeks. After a great time catching up with fellow travellers at the Expo, I spent some time hiking through the mighty Grand Canyon before hitting the road to travel through Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and some of the most memorable and challenging scenery I’ve ever encountered.

On location with the Zambian TV crew

On location with the Zambian TV crew

All too soon, my money was starting to run out again and it was time to look for some more work. Back in London, though, work was proving pretty tough to find – until yet again, the travel gods smiled, and a contact at the BBC emailed me about an opportunity to consultant produce on a series of documentaries being made in Zambia. Again, this was an offer too good to miss –  I found myself winging my way to Lusaka for a few weeks to work with a local Zambian documentary team on a UK Aid/DFID-funded film. It was very challenging work but after delivering a first film that “exceeded expectations”, they asked me back to oversee a second documentary – so back I went to Zambia!

Jeanie at Grand Canyon 2013

There’s adventure out there somewhere…

All of which brings things pretty much up to date and finds me here in Spain, sitting by the Mediterranean Sea, contemplating what’s going to happen next. Looking back on the last year and a half, it’s been a roller-coaster of unforeseen opportunities and adventures that I could not have imagined before leaving Australia last March. I won’t lie, though – as a wise man (or woman?!) once said, “you can’t have the ups without the downs”: there have been more than a few hairy moments when I’ve had to stretch my money to the max and tighten the old belt considerably to make ends meet. Plus, living out of a suitcase as I have been – staying with friends, in cheap B&Bs, remote African village with no amenities (!), calling home “wherever I lay my hat” – is not always as glamorous and fancy-free as it sounds: sometimes you just want to be “home” somewhere, surrounded by all your own “stuff” again. But as all you long-term travellers out there well know, once you get a taste for “life on the road” – the freedom, the feeling of being truly “alive”, the chance that there’ll be another adventure just round the next corner – it’s pretty addictive.

So what next? Well, like I said at the beginning, there’s no itinerary and no “Grand Plan.” The next chapter is, quite literally, waiting to be written. What I can say is that it will take just one phone call, one chance email, or one random encounter, to set me on the road to the next adventure. Can’t wait to see how it’s gonna turn out…! 🙂

Assignment: Zambia

Beautiful Zambia: the "smoke that thunders"

Beautiful Zambia: the “Smoke That Thunders”, Victoria Falls

Well, no sooner was I back from my wonderful road trip in the States than I got a call from a BBC contact about a new assignment – in Zambia! With barely a week in the UK – and most of my stuff still packed in my suitcase! – I was suddenly skidding back to Heathrow and flying south towards Jo’burg, then on to Lusaka.

My last trip to Zambia, maybe 3 years ago, was an unforgettable journey, entering the country’s western border via Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and driving up through Livingstone with a stop-off to gaze in awe at the mighty Victoria Falls before exploring the endless delights of the Zambezi River. Coming back to Zambia, this time for work, has been an altogether different kind of experience – though no less memorable!

On location with the Zambian TV crew

On location: shooting with the Zambian TV crew

I’ve been working as Consultant Producer on a UK AID/DFID-funded documentary being made by a Zambian documentary crew. I’ve had the privilege of working with this small team of local film-makers, seeing how they work and advising them on technical and creative aspects of the production. I can assure you, it’s been a learning curve for all of us! And working with them has once again afforded me the chance to see a country in a different way from your average tourist or traveller.

Filming in all kinds of locations from remote maize farms to local downtown markets and back-street nshima (Zambia’s staple dish) restaurants, we’ve met an amazing cross-section of people in a very short space of time. As ever, I’ve been struck by how little people survive on here in Africa, but how happy they are regardless – and wondered at the poverty that still exists, even in the heart of big developed cities like Lusaka.

Exploring Lusaka on two wheels

Exploring Lusaka on two wheels: not for the faint-hearted!

And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper trip without some forays out on two wheels. On my weekends off, I’ve been exploring under my own steam on a little Chinese-made 125cc bike that goes like a bomb and is great for dodging Lusaka’s burgeoning traffic – though nerves of steel and lightning-quick reflexes have been required on many an occasion: the combination of sudden pot-holes and things you wouldn’t expect to see shuffling across the tarmac (where did that one-legged woman come from?!) certainly made me feel well and truly alive out there on the road!

So it’s been work combined with a little bit of pleasure and, all too soon, my three-week stint here is coming to an end. I have a feeling I’ll be back here very soon, though. One way or another, Africa just keeps a-calling! 🙂