Written by Dr Margot Cunich, Director of Unconventional Conventions since 1993.

Having just returned from our conference in Southern India, I am reminded about why I love doing this.

1. THE CONFERENCE: With the careful planning of the academic advisory committee, we had 3 great speakers – Dr Richard Dunn (cardiologist), A/Prof Gottlieb (infectious diseases) and Dr Liz Hallam (paediatrician) providing a very stimulating, pertinent, up to date series of presentations where GPs and specialists all learnt something new.

2. THE CLINICAL VISITS: We met with our 2 Unconventional Volunteering GPs, Susan Downes and Cathy McDougall, who had been working at the Uluru Health clinic south of Chennai. From them we gained a very special insight into women’s health and lives in India. We had the privilege of visiting the health clinic and meeting the staff a couple of days later.

During our time in the Kerala backwaters we visited a fascinating hospital, learnt a little about the Indian health system and met an Englishman who had undergone minimally invasive aortic valve replacement there, rather than spend 5 years on the NHS waiting list. Quite by accident we met an Indian neurosurgeon who had trained at St Vincent’s Melbourne and Westmead Children’s.

3. THE SPECIAL AND UNIQUE EXPERIENCES:  Thanks to the in depth research and preparation by the Unconventional Conventions team we were treated to some unforgettable experiences.

We visited a small fishing village and watched the women buy the catch at auction for resale in their inland villages. One of the fisherman invited us to his house where he prepare a couple of fresh tuna for his Mum to cook in delicious Indian spices. We chatted to his wife (a teacher) and met their gorgeous 4 year old daughter- once again a great way to see people’s real lives.

We were thrilled to watch 2 local teams train for the famous backwater snake boat races- 60 men in each boat, complete with war cries and a man beating the stroke time with a huge wooden pole. A few of us were braves enough to have a go – hard work but absolutely exhilarating!

During our time in Kerala it was Holi, the Hindu festival of colours and love. We were learnt about and participated in the rituals at our own little festival. It involves running around squirting coloured water and throwing dyes at each other as well as learning the dandiya raas dance with sticks (excellent for co-ordination and dementia prevention, I’m sure). Everyone joined in for this couple of hours of unbridled fun.

At our final night dinner, we enjoyed our exclusive entertainment including the renowned kathakali dancing. An actor fist demonstrated some of the mudras (the hand movements) and the 9 navarasas (face and movements) and then magnificently costumed players acted out the play of good overcoming evil. Sensational experience.

So thanks to Mark, Gill and Michelle, our international tourism partners and all of the delegates who made the travel so interesting so much fun.

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