Unedited confessions of a young, naive, middle-class gap year traveler. A year in emails from life in an Indian covent 2006-2007.
I’m sorry this is going to be really quick – the library closes in 10mins. We arrived in Hyderabad on Tueday evening and met Bharavi our representative and his son Abhilash. Bharavi has a lot of wise advise and is a very interesting man! I’ve discovered Indians are very friendly and always smiling! they dont talk without smiling – its lovely! i was very excited about comming to Maris Stella and meeting everyone. we arroved last night and unfortunately i got ill, which isnt great. it has made culture shock a little bit worse and i really miss home but i know this will get better as time goes on and im sure that in a week or two i will be fine! Katie, my partner seems to be coping muhc better and shes so lovely! the sisters, especially sister celine are absolutely lovely they seem to know the best answer to everything! te college is very big and very pretty – there are lots of interesting plants and animals, including lots of lizards that lookm really funny and cartoon-like, especially with the way they sit for ages very still then shoot off very quickly. iv learnt the numbers 1 – 10 and hope to learn more telugu iv got to go but the last thing i will say is that the roads are crazy! right of way is determined by the first person to flah their lights and road markings (esp. lanes) mean nothing! as abilash said “driving in india is like a computer game where you only have one life!” hope you are well, let me know what you are up to, thanks.
4th September 2006
We are consantly invited to things in the college! lecturers seem to see the westerners comming to their talk as like a little bonus! we stick out as in andhra pradesh westerners are extremely rare. Sugati who is our representitive Bharavi’s wife came to see us yesterday at the college with 2 oher volunteers, Hannah and Katie who we discovered have been just down the road all this time! it was great to see and talk to them! katie and i also got up at 5.30 am yesterday and went to sunday mass at 6.30am. i think i am going to have to have a fast course in catholisism. it is very difficult to understand the bishop because the think india accent combined with the microphone/sound system is hard to interpret but more than anything it was good to have a well fanned place to sit and get out of thew college! the bishops house is huge and very ellaborate and there are beggars outside by the cathedral. it seems very sad that the church buildings have obviously had so much money spent on them yet there is poverty all around. sugati told us some of the other volunteers have already seen katie and i on tv (and we hadnt even been here a week!) we went to an indian classical and western music thing which was sooo interesting and really uplifting to here some music! (another thing we were invited to by the teachers/professors here, this one we were invited to on our first day) there were cameras there and they always home in on us cos were odd but itsquite nice really! im thinking the best thing to do is just nothing, just ignore it and not look like were posing! we are bond to be on the tv again today as yesterday we went down to the atheist centre (which is where hannah and katie are) for a memorial service for Sugati’s grandma. she was a remarkable woman! she was 93 when she died and the banner said ‘social reformer, atheist leader and freedom fighter’. this community is lovely – family and community are so improtant. our catholic Sister Principal spoke, as did many didfernt religious and humanist leaders. atheists and catholics live and work for the community together. all sugati’s female family have studied at Maris stella, despite comming from the atheist background. i dont know what religion Bharavi and sugati are, but they have christian posters on their walls. hanna katy katie and i also went to the supermarket yesterday! we have a squat toilet and wash with a bucket and jug (with the mosquitoes – they go wherever there is water and it gets hotter) so buying shampoos etc has made thsi experience nicer! im getting used to the facilities and they dont make me so sad now. i used to cry because these ppl live like this al the time. the supermarket was very busy at 8pm and it was a really fun experience! (i felt like a local!) today we are trying to get smeone to take us clothes shopping (i only have one pair of trousers and sister warden told me in a roundabout way that i look like a scvruff this morning!) but we are always told ‘tomorrow’ this is a word that has no meaning. tomorrow never comes! we also need to go to the police to register. another fun thing that happened yesterday – we discvered there is a tv in a common room upstairs! there were about 30girls huddles round this old tv.its nice becuase its much more sociable here and tv is appreciated more. it started to rain and the power went off (as it does all the time, its 12.15 and already the power has gone off about 3 times today, none reacts when the power goes off) so we sat around talking and then the power came back on and everyone suddenly turned round to watch!
13th September 2006
well iv survived 2 weeks in India! and its been the hardest 2 weeks of my life! i have good days and bad days but have recognised how im feeling as culture shock and i know that things will get better!life is getting busy!!!!!so now we’ve gone to the other extreme! the warden has asked us to teach small classes of hostel students in the evenings from 9-10pm and we’re doing a drop in session between 4.30 and 5.30. this is a time when i would like to give students the opportunity to relax and play games as it is a very strict instituion and they more or less work from 5.30 am to 10pm. the aim is to play games, whilst talking in english to improve their english. so after a bit of negotion the warden has let us open the tv hall (the biggest fanned room in the hoste that should be used as a common room but is always locked!).the kitchen girls have been teaching us some telugu and we have been teaching them english. sorry for those of u who r not religious…i think this is why God has put me here. 2 girls in particular are keen to learn and have asked the sisters if they can study, but they come from poor families and they aren’t allowed. if anyone finds out we’re teaching the girls english this will be stopped. they had to finnish their education when they were 10years old because their families need them to worl. their parents work in the fields hours away for 50-60Rs a day (1pound = 85Rs) and their parents are often turned away by the sisters if they travel the 5hours to see them. it is such a hard life for them. they work 7days a week, eben in the college holidays from 5.30am till 10pm for 600Rs a month.teaching is going well on the whole. we have 2 classes on mondays and fridays and one class on tues-thurs and sat morning. on tues-thurs afternoons we go with the social work department to different organisations working with the community in Vijayawada. So far we have been to a Hindu Mentally handicapped school, a wonderful street children centre and yesterday we went to the Atheist centre (run by our representative Bharavi’s very large family!) and were intoduced to their work with HIV and Aids awareness, and victims of the disease. we also recieved a crash course in Atheist and humanist views as well as politics and society in India. i didnt agree with all of the views but it was very interesting, and i think helped me to understnad some of the problems in india and how they can be tackled. i think the main issue is that western social work cant always be applied to india. they are working to enable families to care for their own, and this is their social welfare system. there are some great initiatives going on in india, run by many different organisations and certainly in Vijayawada, these organisations work together, regardless of their religious views. i am begining to see that perhaps the west could learn something from the east from their relaxed and caring outlook on life. i said in india ‘tomorrow never happens’, and this is something that they are improving through mirroring western attitudes, by planing for the future, but ideas of the importance of family and their more democratic society are, i think, well worth listening to!at the moment we are focusing more on going around organisations and talking to people, learning what they do, with a view to going back to at least some of the organisations and helping in any way we can. the main area i am interested in is street children. there are over 25000 street children in Vijayawada alone, as it is a major railway junction. there are some really loving homes and schools for them, in many cases the street children are better off! however, there are only a few hundred of these street children in these homes. they completely understand these children though, and would never force them to settle down and be educated, and i would like to learn more.katie and i had our 1st yoga session on monday, which was very relaxing! we dont get any exercise cos its so hot! but if we get a spare second we hope to go along to basketball. basketball (being an american influence, and so more popular!) is the main sport at maris stella, and the team have won lots of tournaments (well they should practicing from 7.30-10am and 4-6pm everyday!) the girls and the coach are keen to teach us beginners so we’re looking forward to that!i have attached a picture of katie and i in our churidas. they are not our nicest ones, but certainly mine is my comfiest one! also theres a pic of katie and i will our rep Bharavi and his wife Sugati. have a laugh at how bad i look out here!
4th October 2006
well iv just had the most incredible and bizarre week! our holidays which were changed, canceled at the last minute and then given back to us did eventually happen so we got on an overnight bus to Chennai on wednesday. we stayed in a beautiful little travelers lodge (for less than a fiver a night, but we were really splashing out) in a large room with a private bathroom(!), a western loo and a shower!! a month ago i would have thought it was shabby, but it was pure luxury! we could open the shutters on 2sides and look out at a wonderful view of chennai! we only had 3 nights in Chennai but we seem to have done quite a bit! we went to a hindu festival, where they dance around in a circle and we joined in! katie and i were pretty appauling, trying to copy the people in front but they thought it was amusing and we had a good laugh! we also went to a temple and had big red dots put on our forehead (unfortunately we couldnt get out of a lot of tourist traps, even when we knew exactly what was happening, like being completely ripped off in autos!). AND…..we are now stars!! well we managed to get ourselves a day on the set of a Tamil movie called ‘Vattram’, working as extras (being white will get you everywhere in india). it was a great experience and i actually have a tan now, which is nice! we spent the day on Golden Beach outside chennai dancing (and swimming in the sea in the most hideous sparkly green swimming costume! but the alternative was swimming in my clothes and i tired this and discovered it to be a very unpleasant experience!). it was a great opportunity to talk to lots of different people, from the indian crew and actors/dancers (who kept us very well entertained!) to the other ‘western extras’ from Russia, Brazil, Holland, Denmark, Israel….We met a really interesting Shaman monk in the travelers lodge and, having known him for about 24hours, traveled to Pondicherry (or Poondicherry as its now called) with him on sunday! hes had a really interesting life, in many different countires (thats the beauty of travelers lodges, u meet loads of people like that!) we talked for ages, including one great night which i will remember forever, sitting on the roof of the lodge looking out at beautiful chennai at night. he read my palm, which goes against what i believe and dont think he told me anything he couldnt have predicted from talking to me for as long as he had, but its all an experience! we went to the theosophy society on his recomendation, which had beautiful old grounds. so im learning a lot about other faiths/beliefs (but am glad to be back in the Catholic college cos i think i was starting to become a little wierded out by it all!)Pondicherry was a great tourist indulgence! its a strange place to be in because it looks like a french town, but will all the atmosphere, scooters, autos, indians and chaos of India! we found a Pizza Hut! which we both feel guilty for having done, (bt we discovered that the other PT girls, who nwere in Chennai and Pondy around the same time also went to Pizza Hut!) cos its not the indian experience but after 5weeks of curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner this was absolute heaven! And it was my first chicken for 5weeks! we also went to a little french cafe for breakfast and had crepes (!) and museli. unfortunately we coldnt eat the absolutely gorgeous bananna poridge cos like everything in india the ants had got in…Pondicherry beach was completely changed in the Tsunami and lots of it are still sort of blocked off but its a fairly rich area so a lot of work has been done. its actually its own little statem, and theress still a lot of french influence, so its exempt from Tamil Nadu’s high taxes, meaning theres lots of drunked fishermen attermpting to swim. very dangerous and severely looked down upon but this is india and there are lots of laws, but nothings enforced! We also went to Auroville, a hippy place, built in the 60s in the shape of a gallaxy to be a lace where people could live in equality, with no nationality and spend a lot of time meditating! an interesting place though (and we had a lovely tofu lasangne!) you can probs google it if your interested…i had my first unpleasant backpackers experience in Pondicherry; a male asian youth put his camera phone through the grate while i was showering and took pictures of me…could be worse and i guess it could happen anywhere in the world. the thought that the pictures could be sent anywhere was pretty horrible but the Ashram guest house staff were really good and put us in a new (cheaper ) room and got quite angry with the boys…getting home was another intereting experience! Trying to get a bus from Pondicherry to Chennai turned out to be very difficult. the whole word wanted a ticket and we had to wait in queues with lots of sweaty people pressed up against each other in the heat, everyone pushing to get a token so we could get on a bus. i dont think we would ever have got out of Chennai if it wasnt for an incredible kind man who by the grace of God bought us 2 tokens, as he was further up the queue. i dont know why he picked us out of the huge crowd and did this but i was praying the whole tiem and really think God must have prompted him to do it. So that was my nice backpackers experience of the good people in the world and a random act of kindness. so we got out of Pondy, but we missed our bus to Vijayawada by about 15mins, but since they refund most of your ticket up to half an hour after the bus leaves we didnt have to pay more to get home. the next bus was about 24hours later, but we were told very casually that there was abus going to Nellore and from there there were busses to Vijayawada. Without knowing if this was true or where Nellore was, or even what state it was in, we got on this bus (another governemnt bus, these are an interesting experience; u’ve gt to do india the cheap way if u want the full experience!) and luckily with the hep of a few english speakers (they tend to help out the lost-looking westerners) we got to Vijayawada ysterday morning!so we’re back teaching today after a well-needed rest! we are going to be teaching at SKCV girls home for street children on tues, wed and thurs afternoons from 2-4pm, which will be hard work, but i love working with them! we’ll also be teaching their staff from 4-5pm, who are very keen to learn english. a lot of the kids have come from differnt states and dont speak telugu, but some speak english, depending on which states they’ve been in, since english and hindi are national languages. We’ve been invited to go to the boys village tomorrow evening, where they are having a celebration with dance performances by the children, so we’re really looking forward to this! last week there was an NGO exhibition at the college (our Principal stood up and talked about the importance of child rights, and not allowing child labour, while the hostel kitchen girls worked as they do everyday from 5.30am to 9pm…and on the ame day the Warden told me they couldnt wear gloves while working with dangerous chemicals because it would be change…interesting…perhaps im getting cynical?) and lots of the street kids did dances. they put so much energy into it! they were fantastic! the girls did a classical indian dnace, and 2 groups of boys (some really little ones) did westernised indian dances in silver bomber jackets. you had to be there but they were just so enthusiatic that even though the movements were cheesy to our western eyes, they were so good!
26th October 2006
well…we got back from our trip to Bangalore and Mysore in Karnattaka on monday morning, after a 16-17hour overnight train journey, and i am sorry, due to holidays and power cuts i havent had 2 minutes to write to you until now! i am greatful for all your support, however, thanks so much!so…Bangalore and Mysore, you must be thinking that all we ever do is go on holiday! we were lucky to get another last minute holiday while all the girls had exams, but thats the last till christmas so its all hard work for the next 2 months! Bangalore is much more developed, thanks to the British taking a shine to the much more pleasant, cooler climate and so they built lots of parks and nice big stone buildings (proper buildings!) and also thanks to its successful software industry. it was great to see the more developed, cosmopolitian side of India; in contrast to Andhra’s random settlements, where makeshift shacks become reinforced and everything looks a bit chaotic, Karnattaka is more wealthy and the houses are mainly built more like ours and they’re a bit safer. For this reason I found Bangalore a hopeful city as I felt that it would develop and with that laws, social welfare and child/worker rights in particular could also develop. It’s harder to believe this will happen where everything looks so chaotic! this is largely superficial though, isn’t it?We met up with a girl from a website calledwww.couchsurfing.com in Bangalore and ended up staying with her, after a speedy exit from our very seedy hotel at 4am in the morning, where a man was erm, ‘pleasuring himself’ in front of us..unfortunately this was the 2nd time that day this had happened and i was fortunate not to see it either time (little miss observant me) but Kaite did and i think it kind of weirded her out a bit. Bangalore was exciting though! Having been there less than 24hours we had already walked round most of the parks, seen most of the city and its Temples, been to the shopping areas, had a glimpse of it’s cafe-longe culture, got on the guestlist for a great bar-lounge ( you don’t club or drink in Bangalore, you lounge…) and been welcomed by the english manager, been to a house party at a house rented by about 10 Germans ( so we had a chance to talk to people from all over the world, all mainly working in software in Bangalore) and of course had our little encounter at the hotel!so by the time i went to bed i think I’d been up for about 48hours (thanks to the overnight bus journey, straight from teaching!), buts its all an experience isnt it?! Gayle, the lady we stayed with was a great person to meet; she was incredibly kind and friendly to us, nothing was too much trouble! we had our first experience of riding on the back of a motorbike with her and she showed us sides to Bangalore we would never have seen just as tourists. Her and her flatmate were refreshingly independent women, with thriving careers and living without male chaperones, in different states to their families. er boyfriend was english and was also very kind to us. So in Bangalore we got to talk to lots of different, interesting people, which we loved!Mysore was a different experience and we spent longer here. We traded Bangalore’s late nights and late mornings for early nights (its not a pleasant experience being an 18 year old girl out after 9pm in India…) and early mornings, taking us all over the countryside around Mysore. Our injection of countryside was well needed after Vijayawada’s grey, tree-less-ness! we saw Palaces and art galleries, Hindu Temples, Muslim mosques, Buddhist monastries/temples, and catholic cathedrals. My time in India is becomming a bit of a study into religion, in which I’m realsing how similar religions are. from what I’ve seen, they all seem to believe in some kind of Divine spirit/god as well as powers of good and evil, an afterlife of some sort, and they all promote a ‘good’ way of living. something else i find interesting is that there is always an intermediate, someone half immortal who brings enlightenment of some sort to the people. In India, theres a huge emphasis on images and decoration in the various places of worship too. Anyone who wishes to correct my 1st impressions, please do. I’m aware that its not just the catholic faith in India that has deviated from its original ideas.So, we went to Chamundi Hill, which was very touristy, but we had a nice long walk down and about a 4 or 5 km walk to Mysore. We did lots of walking, because, since the climate was better, we could and we needed the excercise! the best place we went was to some lovely Tibetan Settlements 3hours by bus from Mysore. it was a lovely place; completely untouristy, where we met some really friendly, welcoming people and didnt even get ripped off my the auto drivers, but instead found them to be quite friendly and pleasant! usually, we dred autos, because its depressing knowing you’re being ripped off just cos you’re white. We went to a few places where we had to pay ‘foreigner prices’, (100Rs instead of 5RS) which annoys me. Its hard not to let it make you feel that we’re being exploited and like its a very ungrateful thing to do, since we’re working unpaid for their country, but i know i have to be more understanding; most westerners do have the money and it is good that it goes into their economy, plus western companies have been exploiting india for a long time. one tourist place we went to, Srirangpatnam, we were constantly hasseled by beggars and auto drivers, and even had kids throw stones at us. The most horrible thing i’ve met with is having school children, who have families and are provided-for, comming up to you and saying very abruptly, “give me school pen / chocolate / 10RS / one of your english coins”. Its like we’re seen as a more cynical, twisted version of Santa. However, its ignorant westerners who have fueled this impression, as harsh as that sounds.on the train journey back there were a lot of real street children. i felt that i should be able to do something, since 8hours of my week are spent working with rehabilitated street children, and i feel very uncomfortable that theres nothing i can do! they are the humblest people of all. i want to be able to tell them how special and loved they are; they have such a low opinion of themselves. One boy took my shoe, which was lying on the ground, and hit imself on the head with it to show me that ‘he was dirt’. i sometimes give them money, and gave one boy a piece of paper with directions to SKCV’s night shelter at Vijayawada, but unfortunately i doubt whether he got there. we dont give money though; sadly the majority spend money 1st on cigarettes, then alcohol and finally on food, so its better to give food, plus i dont want to promote the awful image of westerners. its these times i really wish i could speak more of the language! although, these kids come from states all over india, so i’d need to know a lot of languages!Another interesting train experience was the transvestites patrolling the train with another sort of begging; its fairly innocent, but men are targetted and pay for a touch, or often just at seeing a man dressed as a woman. they have a hard life too; most are rejected by their families because they are different. we’ve heard awful stories and you may want to skip over this bit…that sometimes the offending part is cut off in a botched operation and tar poured over, of course many die. YOU CAN READ NOW… so they end up on the streets, and many in the sex trade. there are NGOs working for them too, though.theres so much i havent said, its been such a long 2 weeks!yesterday the Scricacalum volunteers came and told us we were invited to a Hindu engagement ceremony and would be picked up in half an hour, we were still sleeping when they came, so it was a nice suprise and a quick turn around. it was very similar to a wedding, we qued and sprinkled yellow uncooked rice on the heads of the bride and groom who we didnt know and stood for a photo, and then had lunch. lunch was lovely, it was held in a very posh a/c hotel, so the food was good, which made a good change from rice and brown sludge, which we’re now back to eating! While we were away we learnt the art of eating street food, and detecting which ones wont give you food poisoning. i am forever getting ill off the hostel food, with its lack of nutrition and high amounts of fat and greese, but didnt get ill once with the very cheap, very tasty street food! we splashed out (it cost about 3quid..) on saturday night before we returned, by having pizza and chocolate cake in a very american ‘diner’ aimed at middle class indians and tourists.its great eating western food….the degree students aren’t back till nov 6th so we have 2 free weekends. perhaps we’ll get up the hill we’ve been looking at the whole time we’ve been here, and hope to go to Scricacalum one weekend.in the last 2 weeks 2 2nd year degree students have died. the first, the Princial refused to announce. she was killed instantly when, on the back of her boyfriend’s motorbike, he chickened out overtaking, slammed on the brakes and lost control of the bike. it was the shame that she was with her boyfirend that prevented it being announced, though it was in the paper, and no councelling was given to her friends. the second girl had a heart opperation and died a few nights ago. it must be a lot for that year group to cope with, and i’m concerned they’re not getting much support.so some bad things have happened, and some great things have happened. teaching at SKCV is going great, both with the girls and with Radhika, the lady who runs the girls centre. We took some colouring books on tuesday that my grandparents sent and they loved them! in general, however, i feel much happier now in India. i think i’ve accepted whats around me, and that this is where i am now. the conditions dont bother me much, and most of the time i just find them, and the little indian ways, quite amusing. And my health is good, thank you to everyone who has asked. One of the girls down in tamil nadu has been quite ill in hospital and one of the scricacalum girls has had a visit to hospital too. everyone has been ill at some point, though!the concerning thing today is stopping katies cards and trying to get a new passport and visa, as she has lost her purse.
21st November 2010
sorry i havent been in touch for a while, life in India as become very mundane! Teaching at the college is going well. I think i have settled into my role as a teacher now and have figured out what level the students are at. When i compare the level of english of my students to most of Andhra Pradesh, they’re not doing too badly, but when i compare them to people in places such as Bangalore, i know i’ve got a lot of work to do! The main issues are confidence and independent thinking, so with my more advanced (english medium) students i have them working in groups on plays, which i’ve borrowed from the library. The idea is to get them confident with having a conversation – speaking and responding – but without having to think of their own words. So as you can see, they have been nicely subjected to me interests(!) but they seem to be enjoying it! I’ve even had requests for Shakespeare, but Hardy’s langauage was much too difficult (the library has a great collection of classics, books that crumble in your hand, but contemporary works have been a bit more of a skill to find!) so perhaps we may manage Shakespeare nearer the summer…SKCV has been full of the excitement of welcoming home Patarji (‘father’) or Matthew, the founder of SKCV. He has been in hospital in Manchester for many months (where he is originally from) after an accident whilst fundraising in the UK. He was very unwell and told the boys at the village that it was the thought of them that made him better. He said that at his wellcoming at the boys village on Bonfire Night (sadly its not celebrated here but my classes have all heard about it!), where the boys did an amazing fire dance. Lots of small boys in synthetic clothing swinging lit petrol-soaked sticks and older boys standing in the middle swigging parafin and spitting it on the flames…you have to love the relaxed indian attitude! no-one was hurt and the boys loved it, so perhaps our British health and safety has gone beserk?We also took part in a mela for ‘children from difficult situations’ with the girls from SKCV, in which we walked through the streets of Vijayawada with a thousand street kids and orphans calling for child rights, shouting things like ‘adults got to work, children go to school’. On tuesday night we also watched and judged the girls fashion show, where they paraded their new outfits, donated by a Vijayawada store. they were very excited, dancing about in their smart new clothes….Oh, and I wore a sari! i am going to start wearing them more often, when i figure out how to tie it myself!Finally, here’s something new… I’ve been ill again, and narrowly avoided having to go to hospital, since the thought of indian hospital doesnt fill me with joy! Being ill in India is horrible, and they want to fill you up with tablets and send you to hospital! The reason we get ill so much is because our diet is appauling, but our desk officer, Laura, is comming this week so i hope this is one of the things she will sort out.I came back from the fashion show quite ill and was called out of my evening class by Aunty, who took me to another Aunty where i was sat on a step and circled with salt. I gather, from information gleemed from many people, that this was done because people would have seen me in my sari and been jealous and cursed me, and that was why I was ill. This is an Andhra superstition. Stranger things have happened in India and these ladies have a lot of love and wanted to help, so I just sad there, and strangely, it didnt feel too unusual!If you pray, please pray that Laura will sort out all the problems that have arisen with this being a new project. I find life hard out here still and there are little things that could be sorted with our food and accomodation in particular that would make things easier, as well as things that need clarifying to do with our work. Your prayers are always very much appreciated and thanks for all your support so far!
21st December 2006
Apologies again for another delayed blog entry…the students have project work at the moment so computer access is harder to get! i think i will now try to write about once a month, hope thats ok.So, I’m really busy still, I have started teaching English classes in an office down the road (it’s the office of the worship leader of my new church), which is going well. At first it was a little daunting teaching 20-30 year olds but they are keen to learn and it makes me busy, which I like! So now my day is very full, a typical day might be;Do my washing, prepare classes, do 1-2 morning classes, then after lunch go to SKCV until 5pm, then go to the office for 6pm and go back to the hostel, straight to the dining room to talk to the girls having their dinner, quickly have my own dinner before teaching the evening class 8-9. we had laura visiting 2 weeks ago, and so met up with another 6 of the girls and had a good chat about all our projects over lovely meal at ‘Southern Spice’ my fave restaurant here (not that we can afford to go very often, but thats good, it makes it a treat!). we hadn’t seen some of them for 3months and a lot has happened in that time – so lots to talk, all about our projects, how we’re finding india, what probelms we’ve been experiencing, funny stories. then yesterday we had a trainign session with laura and went up THE HILL (the ones we’ve been saying we’re guna go up for 3months…) it was great to spend time with all our friends, and amazing to see vijayawada from above! i felt like an ant suddenly seeing the world from a human’s perspective, cos i just see my little close up area of vijayawada where i move about each day and then i saw it differently – its so big!and also beautiful! surrounded by mountains and beside the massive river krishna!lauras visit dissappointingly didnt really get anything sorted, that night i went to the chapel and cried and cried. however, it has made me see that the only person whos guna make things better is me, and that i can. i can be proactive; i dont have to be unhappy for a year. im not entirely unhappy either; i love india, sometimes i feel depressed about the college and my relationship with the sisters. i have to look at it rationally; my biggest problerm is a toilet…it could be a lot worse, ey?! and relationships can be rectified by me, since logically i must be half of the problem. its weird, i pinned everything on lauras visit, and her sorting everything out, and when she came is was very short and didnt change anything, except that it completely turned around my thinking, and not because of anything she said, i just see things differently now!im learning to teach, and its brilliant when you have a class that goes well and it encourages you! it makes you realise that there IS a reason you’re here.I have also been in contact with some NGOs in Vijayawada and hope to start working with some of them, mainly orphanages, homes for street children and NGOs working with child laborers.On Saturday night Katie and I and the girls on the Srikakalum project are getting the overnight train to Hyderabad, where we will celebrate Christmas at our representative, Bharavi’s house. Bharavi is an atheist but he has an oven (something nobody has in India!) so we can make some western food (recipes would be very much appreciated!) and a TV so we can watch some English films. Sadly, Christmas isn’t really celebrated here in India, with it being a Hindu country. I think before I had naively assumed that since Christmas was such a big thing in the UK and America that it was everywhere, even for people who aren’t Christians, and I am now discovering that I love Christmas, even with its commercialization; at least something happens! Here, you could be forgiven for not realizing it was Christmas at all. Still, I got very excited when the Catholic bookshop down the road put up Christmas lights and decorations and bought a mini Christmas tree, some tinsel, a big star and a Christmas CD (sung by an awful Indian children’s choir…but its still Christmassy!) We have got a ‘Christmas Program’ (everything is ‘a program’ in India – a program is some mysterious thing that you know you need to clear ½ a day to a full day for, in the knowledge that you must be there, without really knowing what’s happening and that is usually announced at very little notice…), so I am doing a Christmas Nativity with some of the PG and older UG students. I have taken it from the 4 gospels and have tried to make it as accurate as possible…it’s all a bit rushed – we’ll see!plus i got a christmas parcel from my parents and a few other people that hasnt been opened! this is very exciting as usually my parcels arrive opened, and last time my chocolate had been stolen. i am lucky though, many of the girls have has whole parcels stolen, katie once got a bar of chocolate with a few rows snapped off. i wrote a complaint to the post office, but this wont do anything, sadly. we have to accept that india is a corrupt country in many ways and that perhaps the post office workers need these things more than we do…i also feel thats its stealing and its wrong, and so i shouldnt just let it go without doing something! However, I’m really enjoying India now and feel that I have actual work to do that is benefiting somebody.I’m still finding communication with the sisters very trying, but this is teaching me a lot as well! My words are often twisted, but I am discovering ways to avoid this, and often just not trying to talk about something can be the best option. Communication can also be very frustrating when trying to get things sorted, or starting new things, as announcements are often not made, and the girls (like us a lot of the time!) do not know what’s happening. This is the Indian way though, and is something I have to accept and find ways around, like making the announcement myself. we have also come across barriers with the students too; if something is not directly linked to passing an exam they do not want to do it, due to the Indian attitude that the only thing that counts is written qualifications (hence the multitude of doctors and people still studying, doing their 3rd degree in their 30s…).I have written an article for the school magazine about ‘my experience of India so far, so we’ll se how that goes down. it is honest, it says both the good and the bad…one beautiful thing to add…I’m learning that Indians look after their personal space very well, but communal areas are no-ones buisness, consequently the bathrooms are appauling. i will do a hygiene class with the hostelities. without going into too much detail they use the wash cubicles as toilets (they also dont like the squat loos..interesting…) and we have found everything…i am sure i will find this amusing in years to come!So, we’re off to Hyderabad on Saturday/Sunday and then on to Goa for New Year on the 27th, coming back on the overnight train and starting work the same day, on the 3rd :$… (‘It’ll be fine…’)
9th January 2007
For christmas, four of us (katie and I and the girls from the Scrikakalum project, Hannah and Katy) went to our representative Bharavis house. The jouney to Secunderabad was an interesting one… we missed the train becuase we were directed to the wrong platform, I suprised myself by how calm and practical I became when Katy really freaked out that Christmas was ruined, so in the end we went to the bus station and managed to get a state bus, miraculously, since I had been told there were no spare seats on any bus until 4 in the morning (it was around 11pm at that point) I couldn’t sleep so watched the traffic instead, whichreafirmed my original impression that Indians drive like complete lunatics!! i thought it was organised chaos but actually theres nothing really organised about it…they all overtake on single carriagaeways even when there are cars comming, regardless of it being a blind bend, it means that the headlights are constantly comming towards u and often they all have to brake at the last minute when they can’t get back in…i saw 2 major crashes – one was an upside down wagon, and they are massive, heavy wagons and the drivers cab was completely crushed.. – in 15mins and then i stopped looking! Something that surprised me was that people were just carrying on with their business around the crashes, for instance, in the other crash i think there was someone inside the car, and there were people just walking about and a woman casually sitting at her fire about 3 meters away, thats the thing with indian though, you dont interfere, as long as its not your problem u stay out of it…We were however, always perfectly safe, despite my english perception, and my christmas was suprisingly really good! i knew not to try to expect it to be like the christmas I’ve aways known and i think because of that it was just a really nice day. I remember being shocked by Bharavi’s house, which i saw as utter squallor when we first got here but 4 months on it was completely luxury! It was amazing to see how much my perspectives have changed. Bharavi has such a nice little house, with four rooms – a kitchen, living room and 2 bedrooms. we couldnt find a church service to go to on Christmas Day, so we had the most lovely little service with christmas candles that my mum had sent, and we sang christmas carols (the bits we could remember!) and i picked out readings from The Message, and even Bharavi, an atheist read some. At the end i got the shock when Bharavi said, “i’d just like to take this opportunity to say that iv discovered…” and told us all about his discovery that the Hindu religion has 10 reincarnations of god on earth, but he comes to kill all the bad people, and something he’s noticed about the christian faith is that God came to earth, in the form of Jesus, not to kill, but to save the sinners. Religion is such a large part of Indian culture, and it was really interesting to hear his comparison of those two religions. It was the most unexpected thing and made christmas really lovely! we went to a great, crowded bazar in hyderabad on christmas eve and bought each other some really nice presents and wrapped them up in newspaper, so we all had loads of presents to open on christmas day even though two of the girls presents from england had got lost. My parents sent a shoebox full of little things and it got here unopened as it was scanned at Chennai cutoms innstead. When I recieved this a few weeks before christmas i was very excited – a parcel that hadn’t been tampered with!Christmas day was mainly just relaxing; we watched love actually on HBO and Bharavi had a DVD of King Arthur. we had pasta for lunch(!) and pancakes for dinner (english dosa…), but what really made my christmas was being able to wash with hot water! AMAZING!For New Year Katie and I met the Tamil Nadu girls (Tasha and Rosie) in Goa, and spent a few days at benaulim beach, which isnt so touristy, for a lovely break. Select beaches in Goa are about the only place in India where foreigners can go in the sea in swimsuits/bikins (or as my Indian friends say with disgust ‘go and be naked’). For me, this part of India still felt like india, but people have a much more cosmopolitian way of thinking, which made me feel more relaxed to be there, knowing that I wasn’t going to accidentally offend someone. It was a refreshing change! We stayed in a little beach hut, with paper-thin walls, and just a bed, and shared bathrooms. It was really sweet – basic and 4months ago i would have thought it horribly dirty but i loved it… and it was right by the beach. On New Years Eve we headed for Palolem beach, where there was a lot more going on. Palolem beach is beautiful, despite the sea of beach shack restaurants and people. The back of the beach is lined with palm trees and its just so beautiful! We managed to find a beach hut for the night, thankfully, since it was the busiest night of the year and most people in Goa had done the same as us and headed for Palolem for new year’s eve. We went to a lovely restaurant for dinner and sat on cushions around a low table, and then we welcommed in the new year on the beach with loads of people and lots of fireworks. We met lots of interesting people and spent most of the night/morning around a bonfire on the beach chatting with other travellers and people on holiday. Like Christmas, it was different but very special and we had a brilliant time!After a 21hour train journey, which went suprisingly quickly, we arrived back in Vijayawada at around 6 in the morning and went straight back to the college and started teaching the same day. I love long indian train journeys. In contrast to the bus jouneys, the trains move very slowly and appear to have a mind of their own. They saunter through the beautiful countryside and when they leave a station the start gliding very slowly, as if the train itself has decided its time to go so starts moving all of its own accord. My parents are comming in just 3 weeks time so I am really looking forward to that – I wonder how they will find India? I love teaching now too. I’m very busy and feel like I am able to do it all. I was enjoying it before we left, but had been so busy that i felt i needed a break. Now I am refreshed and ready for the next 2 and a half months till the summer! Its all going so quickly now and I really love India! (My new years resolution is to love India more..)It’s the opening of the SKCV girls village today (although it won’t actually be fully finnished until April) so that should be great to see; all the children are going to see their new home!
31st January 2007
Time is still going very quickly! The inter students have exams at the moment so things have become a little less hectic. As well as all the normal teaching, here’s what else we’ve been up to…A few weeks ago Katie and I went to see Navanjeevan, another street children’s NGO (for more info google it – they have a website all about them). They also work with child labourers too. It’s quite a large, catholic organisation. They run different programs. They have boys and girls homes for street kids and for child labourers as well as bridge schools and camps. Child labour is a large problem in India, with no simple solution, as if children are taken out of jobs, the families’ economic difficulties force them into another job. NGOs like Care and Share sponsor these children by giving money to their families and then providing the child with education and meeting their other needs. Navajeevan (which means New Life in India’s ancient language, Sanscrit) works by putting the children into bridge school or homes. There are some European volunteers already working there. On saturday, we went with one of the Dutch volunteers to the government run Vijayawada boys Juvenile Home. I was suprised to find that it really was a home – just a house. Through the barred windows you could see into the house next door, the home of a regular Indian family. The boys (about 35, though last week it was 45) live in 2 small rooms. They complain of leg pain becasue they get no exercise and have to sit for most of the time. We played games with them for about 2 hours, and I was beaten several times at Chess and learnt an Uno type game. Katie taught some english. They were quite open and it was very interesting talking to them, in amix of telugu and english (mainly telugu – how exciting! I can say that now…) I couldnt have done it 5months ago because I wouldnt have been able to communicate with them. They are legally not supposed to be in there, awaiting trial, for more than 4 months. Many have been there for 5months. They are supposed to be between 13 and 19, though many confessed to being 12 or 20 (though they were very young-looking 12 year olds..) There is also a wide range of crimes, from stealing a bike to murder. Alex, the dutch volunteer, and his wife Marly are counsellors and are training (telugu) counsellors to work at Navajeevan and places like the Juvenile Centre. Most of the boys are re-offenders, which, when compared to juvenile centres in Bangalore and Visakhaptnam, where the boys are counselled and so most are first time offenders, shows the need for it. Occassionally I thought ‘I’m locked in a room overcrowded with boys, some of which are accused of murder and rape, shouldn’t I be scared?’ but I wasn’t at all; the boys are all very friendly. We saw no fighting, they all seemed to look after each other quite well, they’d become friends, and almost like brothers. We were of course completely safe; Alex is very tall, and so I don’t think any of them would have messed with him, and of course there were guards on the other side of the door, and often they came and sat in. Most of the time however the guards don’t come into the room, but delegate responsibility to the older boys. They are not supposed to do this. It creates a hierarchy. One game we played (Alex’s invention) was a ‘stand up, sit down’ game for which the winners got sweets. Its a good exercise for the legs and mind. On the 9th we saw ‘new shiny white people’ (very exciting…) at the SKCV girls centre opening, and again watched the kids dancing (including the amazing fire dnce we saw on Nov 5th)On the 15th and 16th we had a few days holiday at the college for Pongal (or Sankranthi), the Hindu harvest festival. Like most Hindu rituals, it serves a practical purpose. It is a way of ensuring a good income for farmers in the first week of the harvest. Typically, theres lots of eating involved. The first day is ‘Boghi’ and involves burning all the rubbish and leaves. A fire has to be kept burning the whole night outside every Hindu home (even on the road, which adds an extra thing for the cars to dodge). The result of this was that you could hardly breathe the next morning, the air was so thick with smoke, stinging your eyes. We were invited to a Hindu family’s celebration. They had got all the dolls in the house and made a shrine for them all, and ‘put them as gods’ and then the 3 youngest children were sat on chairs while everyone put a handful of flowers, coins and small fruits on their heads. The youngest didnt know what was happening and spent the whole time crying. On the 15th and 16th, Katie and I got a bus to Tiruvuru to visit another street childrens NGO in a village about 2 and a half hours away, called IDEAS. We met their German volunteer and their Indian organiser a few months ago at the college, and so we went to see the work that they’re doing. It was a fantasitc 2 days – the countryside is so beautiful. We had lots of motorbike rides (some a little scary – I’m going to start thinking very carefully about getting on the back of motorbikes with 3 people on, without helmets, with young drivers without liscenses….lots of praying involved and I have vowed not to be so stupid in the future!) through the most amazing countryside; miles and miles of green paddy fields, glistening in the sun. Can’t describe it. Rural indian life is so relaxed and lovely. We went to a reservoir with the boys (in a customised auto, the organsiation isnt big enough to have a vehicle). There were only about 10 boys because many had gone to see their families for the holidays, but usually there are about 50 boys. It was a much smaller organisation, and was really just like a family. Shouri (the head of the organisation) lives there and so does the cook, and the boys were very happy. Playing marbles with coins on a dirt track at 6am wouldn’t have been to appealing a year ago! There was a tortoise in a bucket, who now lives in a big tank, thats my bit for saving the animals… It was just a lovely chilled out few days messing about with the kids and talking.We now have a friend who works in Vijayawada’s first (and only) call centre. She is stuggling with the Birtish and American accent, and has been shouted at by a woman who couldnt understand her. She is working throughout the night in the call centre and then studying during the day, and going to lectures on sundays, for her degree. I will now, I hope, be more understanding towards those Indians I get through to when I call my bank or insurance company! (while in Mysore I had to call my bank and when I called the english number I found I was speaking to someone in Bombay…) We went to her house for lunch on saturday and were fed sooo much. Its a Hindu thing, they keep putting more food on your plate and no amount of ‘chaleau’s (enough) make any difference! I don’t think I have ever been so full in my life – you can’t leave anything, because waste is really frowned upon, but once its been on your plate, a Hindu won’t touch it. When Hindu’s drink, the bottle or cup never touches their mouth.Katy (from the Srikakalum project) has gone home to England. She left on thursday, after having been very unhappy in India. We will miss her lots, but we’re also glad that she is now happy. She didn’t like India, but most of all she missed home. I don’t think any of us fully understood how long a year is. I’m really glad I’m still here, it would have been very easy to have gone home at the start when it was all so miserable but I’m so glad I’m here! I’m looking forward to being home and seeing everyone, and having my old bathroom and bed back (which my brother is sleeping in! ) but right now I just keep thinking how lucky I am to be here! I’m happy and I just can’t get over how amazing this is! In Tiruvuru I was in awe that somewhere like this exists on the same planet as my world back in England and I’d just been completely unaware of it for 18years! So now Hannah is on her own in Srikakalum but she’s being very brave and coping really well! My parents are comming on monday and we’re taking them to Visakhapatnam for 5 days, near the coast. And I’ll be 19 on tueday…I’m getting old! I’d quite like to stay 18, I like it. Well, it’s another sign that things are going really quickly!My friend, who manages an organsiation in Vijayawada, is setting up a home for girls. She’s a brilliant, modern lady and she does the work she does out of love for her community. Despite being a Brahmin, she reaches out to anyone who needs help. Vijaaywada is in need of organisations for girls. SKCV and Navanjeevan help some girls, but have more fascilities for boys. Care and Share sponsor girls, but have no home for them. No other organisation helps girls. So there is a huge need for it, and so my friend, with her experience at her current organisation, is setting up a home for girls. I have no doubt that it’s going to be a great project, and meet a need. It will be called ‘Girls India’. She is not afraid to ask other people for advice and the girls will have a good education and all the councelling and love they need after their traumatic starts in life. So…if anyone (perhaps people at school?) is doing a charity event, perhaps a cake stall or whatever and you are looking for something to support, can I ask you to consider this project? So many people have supported me in comming here, and I am very very greatful to you, and many people already support great charities. I am mentioning this here to raise awareness of this particular organisation, should anyone be looking for something to support (when I was at school we were always being asked what charity we wanted to support in class fundraising things). We don’t always know how money we give is spent and from my (limited) experience I have found that smaller organisations tend to make the money go further, and here I know that the money would directly benefit those who need it. They need 2500pounds to set it up and 720pounds per month to cover rent, bills, staff wages and to maintain the 20 girls it will start with. If you would like more info please ask, otherwise, I won’t mention it again. I really hope this does not offend anyone.
February has gone incredibly quickly! First, there was my parents visit, from the 5th to the 16th. It was a little strange seeing my parents in this context, but it surprisingly helped me to sort out a lot of things in my head. I have realised at the grand old age of 19, when I feel I should really be growing up, how lucky I am to have my mum…but enough of that! Katie, Hannah, my parents and I went on a trip for a few days to Visakhapatnam, or Visag, a local place about 6 or 7 hours drive from Vijayawada. We went in an air conditioned car and stayed at one of the famous group of ‘Taj’ hotels. The running hot water, showers, comfy beds and TVs were all a bit weird, not to mention the bar and swimming pool! It was interesting to see how the wealthy elite of India live. There were 2 weddings while we were there, one huge one for a very wealthy family (the father owns a shopping mall), which was quite laid back and was mostly about the guests comming to be fed. The 2nd however was a ‘Maruti’ wedding (a different class), this one was very lively and involved lots of dancing and interesting clothes. We went to the beautiful Araku Valley and saw some amazing caves, that were discovered when a cow fell down them. Being a sacred animal, they got the cow out, and now there are lots of little shrines in the caves. The driver wouldnt walk underneeth the bats, another Indian superstition. I wanted my parents to go home having enjoyed India, (hence the a/c car and nice hotel!) but still having seen something of the real India. They said they enjoyed it, so mission accomplished. The hotel they had booked in Vijayawada amazed me; I spent a while playing with the flushing toilet and running hot water! I can’t stress how amazing hot water is to me now. I wonder what I’ll think of that when I’m home?So they left and then mine and Katie’s new mission was to find some more work to do now that the inter students are on study leave. We have got lots to do from the English department, mainly corecting english and editing articles submitted by the students for the college magazine. I have also started teaching at Navajeevan, an NGO that works with street children, orphans and child workers. I teach the staff on saturdays. However, upon discovering that there were around 50 people, of mixed ability Katie has come to my rescue and we are doing the class together! It’s quite a challenge; until now we have mainly been teaching spoken english, but now we need to explain english grammar and things too, something I don’t really understand, I just speak it! Theres a lot of them and now I have a microphone. Indians like their qualifications and theres a great emphasis on being a professional, so as an unqualified english ‘teacher’ standing in front of 50 people all older and more qualified than myself, its a little daunting! However, its a new challenge and I’m excited about that and I have asked people I know for advice, including the lady we met and stayed with in Bangalore, a professional English teacher, and she’s given me some great pointers!SKCV is still going well. The girls are completely used to us and will listen to us and trust us. We have started spliting the group into 2 and taking one half each. We now use the blackboard more in order to teach reading and writing as well as spoken english. I don’t think this would have been possible at the start, the girls were too boistrous and wanted to play games, so this shows progression! Radhika, the manager of the Girls centre left yesterday, which was very sad. The girls cried a lot, but Radhika is very good with them and did lots of counselling so that hopefully they won’t feel that another person has abandoned them. Theres a silver lining to this though, which I hope I will be able to talk about in a few months!The last few days have seen ‘functions’ for the Principal’s retirement and welcomming the Vice Principal into her new role as Principal. Just when we have figured out what our Principal wants and how she works, we have another one! Still, at least we can’t get bored or complaicent!This morning Katie and I started karate lessons with a local teacher. He is really professional and I think I may be in pain tomorrow – it was a good workout! It’s quite interesting too. So now its karate 3 mornings a week before college starts.Katie’s parents come in a week and a half and then on the 15th March we go on our big travels! We’ll come back in June, after a few months that will hopefully help us to understand this country, the culture and people more! There are still things I think I don’t understand, though today is our 6 months-in-India anniversary!I hope you are enjoying all that snow I have been hearing about! I am so jealous! It is getting hotter here. The things people tell us of the summer are a little scary; Indians can’t cope with it!
20th April 2007
Theres so much to write about I really don’t know where to start, or if I can remember it all! Thanks so much for all your messages despite me being away and not replying much or sending updates – I’m sorry.So… we left Vijayawada on the 16th March with Katie’s parents and went to Bangalore (in 2nd a/c class on the train – courtesy of Katie’s parents – omg amazing! It was like being in the early twentieth century with a curtained off area just for us and pillows and sheets for the bunks!)After a night in Mysore, we went to the Karnattakan rainforest and stayed at an eco-tourism organic plantation. We learnt about organic farming, in a way that isn’t intrusive to the local ecosystem – it was really interesting! In India big pesticide companies have convinced farmers to spray copious ammounts of pesides, which is not so effective, especially with the loss of the rainforest. Without going into loads of detail, this has resutled in many farmers committing suicide. At the place we went, they worked with the local ecosystem using science to do things like planting other plants to deter pests. They do workshops with local farmers and try to promote organic farming, giving local farmers as much help as they need.We met lots of interesting people at the retreat, mostly westerners and we had a really great time! The thing I noticed most was how quiet it was, and then I realised, after 7months of living in constant Indian city noise, that I have a permanent ringing in my ears :$ (its getting better though so it’s ok!)We went on lots of walks through the rainforest, and then went to an elephant rescue place. It was very touristy, and we washed the elephants with lots of people. I didn’t enjoy it though; it was disheartening seeing these magnificent creatures made vulnerable and reduced to obeying the tiny humans around it.The next day we went to a really nice wildlife park and saw lots of wild elephants, deer, gaur, monkeys and birds on a boat safari and a jeep safari. Unfortunately at this really nice place I got really ill. Then we had to drive for 5hours to Kalicut, in Kerala – it was an interesting experience! We just stopeed over for a night in Kalicut on the way to Kerala’s capital, Cochin. Kerala looks a lot more developed, thanks to it’s portugese influence. Missionaries came and built lots of schools, and this with the state’s communist government means it has the highest literacy level in India. Tourism has brought a lot to the economy too. I woke up and looked out the window and saw something I’d not seen before in India; people running (with personal trainers) along the promenade! People vary rarely run in South India and exercise is not so popular, apart from yoga…One of the highlights of Kalicut and Cochin was sunset over the Arabian sea! I love sunset over the sea, it makes me feel like everything is alright with the world, and at that moment in time where I am or whats happening in the past or the future is irrelevant.Cochin was very touristy. It was strange seeing white people everywhere! Many wore clothes that were not sensitive to the culture and I felt sad for the image they were giving the local people of ‘all westerners’. Yet I know I was once like that myself before I came!Cochin is touristy because of its wonderful culutre! We saw a Kathakali performance, which I saw in Hexham a few years ago, when a visiting company came from Kerala to the Queen’s Hall. It is derrived from an ancient form of temple dramatic art, which was used to tell Hindu stories, usually to the upper classes, as they were in Sanskrit (India’s ancient language, like what Latin is to Christianity). When the players were no longer financed through the temples, they created Kathakali for the streets. Nowadays, Kathakali is only performed for tourists, but its ancient form still exists in some temples in Cochin. The impressive thing about it is the costume and makeup. It takes at least an hour to make up a Kathakali dancer, their faces made bright green (hero), yellow (woman), red (anger) or black (demon) with special stones. The hero has a rice paste solution applied to his face and a piece of paper stuck on to frame his face.Kerala was insanely hot and humid! A real experience! Its getting hotter and hotter – its supposed to be somewhere around 41degrees C, though its quite dry where we are now which is good! (I was in Aurangabad at this point)Next we left Katie’s parents and went to Valpurai, in the hills of Tamil Nadu, to visit our friends Tasha and Rosie, who are Project Trust volunteers working in a school. Valpurai is in the middle of nowhere, a four and a half hour bus journey up 40 hair pin bends, from the nearest city, and it is beautiful! Its a little tea picking hill station and a small community so ‘Miss Asha’ and ‘Miss Rose’ seem to know everyone! We had a really lovely time seeing them and the work they’re doing and we even made a speech! I spoke about the need to understand and not just learn the text book by heart…my little Indian education bug-bear!We were sad to leave but we did, back down the beautiful hill (the driver actually speeding up for the hair pin bends with the bus actually crammed-full of people! somehow you just feel safe with indian drivers, perhaps because I know they’re doing better in the mad traffic than I could, and if you don’t believe they know what they’re doing you’d go nuts!)….5 buses and a train and a day later we arrived at Hampi. Hampi’s on the Goa hippie-tourists trail and so a real travellers hangout. At first it was a welcome break, we sat in a rooftop cafe and watched sunset over the strange boulder-scene and ate hummus and pita! However, after 2days we felt we’d been there just long enough – it has become it’s own little bubble, very touristy and not so indian anymore, despite being one of the oldest and sacred Hindu sites in India. Hampi is surreal because it is a small town built amongst millions of big round boulders, perched on top of each other, left there by a volvano years ago.Katie and I did what we are very good at doing and missed the festival! This turned out to be good though, as we left Hampi when just about the whole of Karnattaka was piling into it, and so our first bus was empty, after we had watched an amzing ammount of people pile out of it, like the bus was a larger version of Mary Poppins’ handbag! The festival was to celebrate Lord Shiva (the creator god) and Pavoti’s wedding anniversary. They were supposedly married in Hampi and their son, Hanuman (the monkey god, of, I think, wealth?) was born in one of the small peaceful boulder caves. For this reason, there are temples built all over Hampi, perched on top of the boulders, which are perched on top of more boulders. We walked up the highest hill one evening for sunset with some other westerners and stood at a hilltop temple. you could see all the little temples from there. I was really hot and tired after that climb, so it was amazing to think of the dedication of the early Hindus, who did these climbs carrying huge slabs of rock (which they cut by making small fire holes along the rock, so that now you can see unnatural, jagged edges on the rocks – cool to think theres that connection with the past still visible, left as it was!). Oh, there was a huge cliff drop on one side, which i edged (rather timidly…) up to…you couldnt do that in the UK! They’d have barriers all over it.So then many busses and trains later we arrived in Mumbai! I miss Mumbai! We had such a great time. Mungo, Katie’s friend from her hometown of Dunbar, who has been in Darjeeling for 6 months with ‘Gap’, another gap year organisation, met us at the station and then Kislay, a Couchsurfing ambassador (www.couchsurfing.com we try to couchsurf as much as possible, because it helps us to meet interesting people and really learn about the area we are in and understand the culture a lot better, by staying with them) met us and helped us get to our couchsurfer in Goregaon (an area in the huge Mumbai). We stayed with Akhil, who works freelance in the Bollywood industry. We loved staying with Akhil – he has to be the happiest, most chilled out person on Earth!So Mumbai…is HUGE and there were more people than I’ve ever seen in my life! People live everywhere, on every square inch of space – the pavements, beside (almost on) the railway tracks…there are appartment blocks everywhere and whole extended families can live in one room. I don’t know how they don’t go crazy – in Mumabi you are never alone, always visible to somebody, but you just drown it out. The local trains are like the London underground only much more crowded (and not underground!). I read a great book called ‘Maximum City – Bombay Lost and Found’ before I left, in Vijayawada, so I was a little bit prepared but its just such an amazing experience! People hang out of the open doorways, because there’s not a tiny bit of room left in the carriage, by just one foot, or by others holding them in. I read that something like 8 people a year are killed this way, when they hit hanging cables and things. The Indian attitude is beautiful though; “theres always room for one more. We can adjust”. We were told to move up by the lady next to us, on an already very tightly packed bench so that one more lady could sit down, and miraculously more room appeared. In ‘Maximum City’ theres a beautiful passage about a hand comming out of the crowd to grab you when you’re running for the train and people are already hanging out by one foot/hand, because people know that you have to get to work too, and might be supporting a whole family. When you think that we find it hard to extend as much as a smile to a stranger in the street, thats pretty powerful. Indian’s have so much love for others. Poverty in Mumbai is just like the rest of India, but more intense. People flock to the city in search of jobs, (like farmers who lose their land to big multinational companies, and young guys hoping to make it big in buisness/Bollywood, or just street kids who need somewhere to run to) but like one lady we met said, “people don’t starve in the city”. Just as poverty is more extreme in Mumbai, so is wealth. The slums are massive, theres someone sleeping everywhere, someone begging everywhere, but then there are areas like ‘Malabar Hill’, where cricket players live and by the seaside in Bandra, where the famous Bollywood actors like ‘Shal Rukh Khan’ live, in their beautiful appartments with a/c, everything they could wish for, chauffeur driven jeeps…and shopping in western style air-conditioned (and ridiculously over-priced) shopping malls. There were some tourist attractons we didnt go to because of the ‘foreigner prices’. As volunteers, on an Indian budget, we have to be selective about where we go to when theres a foreigner price of 250Rs and upwards, where Indians pay 10Rs. This really annoys me, especially when I see the ‘elite’ pay their 10Rs and I can’t help feeling ‘Why arent you teaching or volunteering, when it’s your country, and you can afford to go wherever you want, but only because you’ve exploited the poorer people to get there?’ And then I realise what a terrible attitude that is. I chose to come here and I’ve been benefitted so much by it! They didnt chose to be born in India, and they have only done what every other Indian is trying to do, they just succeeded.So…what did we do in Mumbai? We had a great time with the couchsurfing community there, and so saw a bit of the “pubs” and “clubs” in Bombay! We met some really interesting people; indians (mostly middle class) and westerners living and working in Mumbai as well as other travellers. One guy we met works in a bank, but then works as a volunteer with an NGO. The NGO works with the children of construction workers. The don’t go to school, because their families are always moving about for work. So the NGO provides education and creches and when they move, the NGO follows them. After my feelings of foreigner prices and the rich middle class, this guy restored my faith a bit! People tend to get stuck in Mumbai, and I can see why, theres something about it that makes you want to stay, and I found myself thinking ‘I could live here’. We had a great time with Akhil too, and driving through the city on the back of his bike meant I saw lots (I’m sure much of this was dangerous/illegal, but I felt safe at the time!)So then it was on to Aurangabad, in Maharashtra – I’ve never felt so much like I didnt really want to leave a place before, but I knew that it was time to move on. We nearly missed the train too! It takes quite a while to get anywhere in Mumbai because it’s so big! In the rush, I managed to lose my mobile. I actually feel relieved in a way now, because I have 2 expensive things that I can’t afford to replace, and I have no baggage insurance. One is my phone, and one is my camera. (My camera is broken too, some kind of fault with it!) So I have spent all my time in India a little bit apprehensive and waiting for the day when the inevitable happens and I lose it. Now it is gone, I can’t worry about it anymore. It does, however, leave me feeling a little vulnerable. Rushing to get on the trian, I bought everyone water and then realised that I couldn’t remember which carriage we were on. I couldn’t find the others and the train was due to leave any minute and I had my huge bag on and water bottles on my hands and I wished I had some ability to contact Katie and Mungo! It was ok though – Katie found me! And then I got ill again…yay! India just wouldnt be the same without it! Getting ill on a train, and having to lug a big bag about (you get really tired) is a character building experience. We arrived at Aurangabad at 1am in the morning, after a very kind man had woken me up, realising that we were supposed to be getting off. So we landed on the platform, half asleep in the middle of the night, surprised to be there so early. Katie phoned some places though and we managed to find somewhere that was open and slept some more.We had 2 days in Aurangabad. theres nothing really to see there, we just used it as a base to go to Ajanta and Ellora. The first day we went to the Ajanta caves, which involved a bus journey and being dropped off in the middle of nowhere and then being accosted by local shopkeepers of overpriced tourist shops. However a walk and another bus later (where we sat at the front of the bus because we were too cheap to pay the a/c charge!) we arrived at the caves and tried to get in for the Indian price with our letter from the college, unsuccessfully. The caves were quite amazing though. They were found in the 20th century, by a Bristish man out hunting and are a mixture of 10,000BC Buddhist caves and some later ones. It was interesting to see the progression of Buddhist architecture, and so the Buddhist religion. The earliest cave temples feature a huge stone ‘stupor’, which is supposed to be representative of Buddha, however, in time this changes to huge statues of Buddha in his teaching pose, (eerily similar to the Hindu temples with all their gods). The next day we went to Ellora, a similar site, also run by the ‘Archaelogical Survey of India’, but nearer to Auranagbad. There are 3 different types of caves at Ellora, spread over a larger area; Buddhist caves, Hindu caves and Jain caves. What struck us was how similar their styles were. They all had statues/idols, and the decorative carvings were very similar. The first cave we went to was very impressive, with huge statues of elephants and various chambers and a very elaborate temple. They feature mostly errotic carvings and it was very interesting to see how – particularly the Hindu – image of women has changed. They seem to be respected and fairly equal to the men in these earlier scenes, and a lot more confident and involved in society than Indian women today. The clothing is very different too, nowadays women are affraid to even show a little bit of flesh (even the small part on their left that is shown by the sari) for fear of men taking advantage. Outside of their home, women are cautious, if not scared, but this doesnt seem to have been the case thousands of years ago.I learnt a little more about the 3 religions too. Mungo, Katie’s friend, has spent 6 months in a Buddhist monastry in Darjeeling and so he was able to tell us a little more about Buddhism. (However the monastry he was working in seems a little corrupt, with monks drinking and visiting whores.) Jainism and Buddhism both came from Hinduism, so it’s not surprising that their styles are similar. Jains rebelled against the Hindu caste system and developed a similar way of living to that of the Buddhists as far as finding enlightenment is concerned. It must be terrifying to be a Jain child. If your parents decide to, you renounce everything you own and become a pilgrim, living the life of a beggar, and males and females of the same family never see each other again. I’d be terrified. All the hair on your body is plucked out too.That evening we got a train to Bhopal, in Madhya Pradesh…and discovered that we were ‘waiting list’, so our seats weren’t confirmed. This meant that we had nowhere to sit or sleep for an overnight trian. Katie and I had booked the tickets, but the men on the train wouldn’t believe this and so they told Mungo off for not booking early enough and so traveling with women without bunks…very irresponsible! haha. People were very kind though, they try to make room. Our problems came when people started putting their bunks up and going to sleep. A very kind man said he and his daughter would stay up a little longer so we could sit there, but his wife wasn’t happy. We found other places to perch and another kind man let me sleep at the end of his bunk. Then something wierd happened. Some transport police got on at one station and walked down the carriage, they stopped at us and realised that we had no seats. About 10minutes later 3 of them came down the dark carriage with their huge flashlights and without saying anything walked us down to the next carriage, where there was a free bunk. They walked down the carriage and got off at the next station. The bunk turned out to belong to another man, who was either being kind or didnt want to sleep. He sat on the edge of his companion’s bed and talked to us a little bit until it was 1am and we arrived at Bhopal. Akhil is from Bhopal and so when we arrived at Bhopal, one of his old school-friends, called Akhaleque, met us and his friend drove us to Akhil’s mother’s (‘Aunty’ – I never knew her name) house, where we stayed for the 2days we were there. Aunty’s house was fairly big for an Indian house, and had 2 floors. Her elderly mother slept in a downstairs room and Katie and I shared Aunty’s bed, while Mungo slept in the spare room. The next day we had difficulties convincing Aunty that we would be ok to go alone to the Bhimbekta caves. Eventually we succeeded and she asked her neighbour to give us a lift into Bhopal on his way to work, as Aunty’s house is on the outskirts of Bhopal. He was very kind, and flagged down a bus for us, and we went to Bhimbekta. The bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere (we’re making a habbit of this – people motion, shouting (because you shout when people don’t know your language, perhaps if you shout loud enough they will undertsand..) in Hindi and we get off, and the bus drives away and we look around to see where we are) and we walked 3km in the midday heat, with only one bottle of water between us – clever, eh? When we arrived, there was one man in a little hut there who gave us some of his own water and we decided to splash out and pay him to be our guide. The caves were quite interesting. They have drawings in white from around 10,000BC and in red from around 450AC and some later drawings in yellow and green. The women drew scenes from everyday life, mainly hunting and animals their husbands had brought home, as well as some dancing, while their husbands were away hunting during the day. Most are stick men and animals. As time goes on, horses start to be drawn, as people start invading and introducing horses, so the women started drawing these strange new creatures. At first they are drawn as if the horse and rider are all one. As they became more accustomed to seeing these creatures, the drawings get better.Then we walked back the 3km and found the Indian equivalent of a service station where we drank lots of 1Rs packets of water. Then we started waiting for a bus. We realised that everyone else were hitching lifts with trucks, and after a while it became apparent that no bus was going to come. So for the first time in my life, I hitch-hiked. How exciting. (or stupid…I duno!) Several trucks stopped, but we were cautious, we wanted to find a miracle of one with a woman on board. One stopped and the guy said ‘no money, just helping. I’m a christian’ and he probably was, but we were too chicken. Then a car pulled up with two young middle class men, and we decided it was the best option. We hardly spoke the whole way because they talked in Hindi to eachother the whole time, and they didn’t want any money. So perhaps we were lucky. People are generally very helpful and kind in India. Then we went to Aunty’s office, where a ‘function’ was on, so we were ushered into an office and given some snacks. Then we got lots of buses to a cultural centre. It was clean and turned out to be an art gallery! How exciting. After a while Aunty got bored (she’d seen it all before) so we went to a big lake and went on a speed boat ride. We went back home via the market in some interesting vehicles. One was a cross between a mini bus and an old jeep and felt like sitting in a bomb shelter. Staying with Aunty was good, because I was able to talk with her about Bhopal – its the site of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster, when an American chemical factory leaked poisonous chemicals all over the city because they were trying to cut corners and save money. Aunty described how people woke up in the morning to find bodies piled in the streets ‘like bags of rice’. Money was available afterwards, but typical Indian corruption, most of it never made it to the people who needed it because generals and other people made false claims and stole the money. Now, Bhopal is unusual in that many people live on the suburbs, because the water in a 2km radius of the factory is poisonous. Bhopal is clean (the first thing we saw outside the station was some ‘modern art’ raising awareness for looking after the environmnet) and of course you wouldn’t be able to tell that 20 years ago this horrible disaster happened, but many people have health problems and when you talk to them, you realise that everyone knows someone who died, and most have family members who died, and above all the things people saw and experienced have left a huge impression on them.The next day we went to the ‘Museum of the Man’, which is an open air museum of examples of tribal houses from different areas across India. It was quite interesting, they were built very well so that most were cool and everything you’d want in the environments of the areas they are built for, and so don’t need electricity or a/c. However, I was still pretty ill and we were all tired and unfortunately got bored – theres only so many mud huts you can take in! Aunty brought lunch with us, and she made me eat bright red Hibiscus flowers because they are apparently good for your stomach. She tried to get Mungo to do the same, bacause they’re good for diabetes too, but he wouldn’t. So for the first time in my life, I ate flowers too! Aunty was very caring and I enjoyed talking with her, though I think we all felt that we needed some independence, as it can be quite tiring respecting the indian culture and not offending people, in areas where the traditional cutlture is still strong. Akhalaque came with our bags, which we’d left at Aunty’s old house in the city earlier (it was very dusty and covered with huge cobwebs! I did ok, though after a while I decided to wait ouside on the steps!) and his cousin came with a bigger and newer car and took us to the train station. We had discovered that we were waiting list again and so wanted to get to the station early to try to get bunks, but Akalaque’s cousin wanted to go for chai and we had to persuade him to have it at the station. This was a bit taboo in the indian culture and made us look kind of rude and ungrateful, however much we explained, so we felt really guilty. The waiting list system works by assigning you a bunk if there are cancellations. We were waiting list 99, but luckily we got bunks!So then we got an overnight train from Bhopal to Ahmedabad (capital city of Gujerat)…at Ahmedabad we went across town to the bus station to find a bus to Bhuj, at the other end of Gujerat…the bus station was the worst bus station I have ever been to. Katie and I went to find a toilet and I had a really horrible experience. (If you’re eating, finish and come back later) The toilets were so badly looked after and disgusting that people had given up using them and would just walk in the door and go on the floor in the corridor. Katie and I, unsuspecting little innocents, walked in and I stood in human faeces. If you’ve ever had this vile experience happen to you, you will completely understand – it was sooo sickening! Anyway, enough of that…the bus station was very dirty, even by Indian standards, so our first impressions of Gujerat got off to a great start! However, this got better. We had a very hot 9hour bus journey on a very full bus and arrived in Bhuj in the evening. Gujerat surprised me as it looks so different to the other area’s of India we have seen. It is dry, dusty and flat. We went through 9 hours of wilderness, just complete nothingness. It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t the opposite either, it was just all the same, dusty, flat land with shrubs, and very little habitation, since it has become clustered in the cities.We stayed with a lovely family in Bhuj, who Katie had contacted through ‘Hospitality Club’, a website similar to Couchsurfing. The son, who is on the site, used to work for an NGO, working with the rural people living in the Kutch desert, which surrounds Bhuj. The huge earthquake in 2001 has meant that NGO’s are still doing a lot of (very good) work in this area of Gujerat. Kuldip’s family live in a relocation site, the closest thing to a housing estate I’ve seen in India. NGO’s built houses in a planned out grid and sold them at low prices, not making a profit, after many people lost their homes. At least 10% of the population died in the earthquake. In the hostel we have 2 girls from Gujerat, who told us once about their experience of the earthquake. They were in school, and saw their classmates die. Later that day, they had to travel home in trucks full of bodies. The earthquake damaged many buildings, so there are constant reminders of it everywhere. We visited the palaces, most of which you can only access the ground floor of, the higher floors are still unstable. There are huge cracks all over the buildings. One palace was eerie and surreal but really interesting; it had just been abandoned, and so was a home for millions of pigeons. The Maharaja who built the palace had tried to copy European styles, so that there were lots of falling apart and decaying stuffed animals, huge Greek plaster stautues (complete with very stylish gold paint…) and everything was cracked and damaged from the earthquake and covered in dust and the results of the pigeons. Typical India, no effort had been made to clean it up, tourists come to see it exactly as it had been left. There was something eerie and sinister about it but yet it was facinating and you felt drawn to it.In one palace, the Maharaja’s bedroom featured big ugly mirrors everywhere. Very vain people these Maharajas…Kuldip’s mum also taught us a little bit of Gujerati cooking, which was amusing and showed me up to be the most incompetent cook in the universe! She spoke no english, and I spoke no Gujerati, but it became quite funny that we couldn’t undertsand each other, and felt really good when we did! She was married at 16, and left 8th standard to do so (legally children are supposed to complete 10th standard, which is like GCSE). She was very pretty, but came across as quite young, despite having 2 grown up children. Kuldip’s brother is studing in the UK, doing an NVQ near Birmingham. His parents mortgaged their house so he could do this. Kuldip’s mum has recieved an offer from a Gujerati lady living in the UK to come and be her maid, and cook for her, so she is considering this. It’s easy to see why someone would want to pay her to come all the way over to the UK – she was an awesome cook! Gujerati food, like most areas of Northern India is very focused on breads, where southern food involves insane ammounts of rice. So we ate chapatis for lunch and dinner, and the leftovers for breakfast. Her cooking involved lots of oil and ghee, but tasted really good!We went to the police station and got a permit to go into the Kutch desert (you need a permit because it borders Pakistan. However, the border is well patroled so it is not very dangerous), but unfortunately there was no space in the jeep (a jeep for the NGO Kuldip worked for was going, and this is the only way to get to the villages in Kutch and back in one day) so we couldn’t got in the end. We did go to the coast however, and saw Gujerati ship building. They were huge wooden ships, that looked like something you see in history books about the Vikings. We saw another big European style palace, in the middle of nowhere, that overlooked the sea. It was beautiful, these Maharajas lived very nice lives while their subjects were living in slums and dying of hunger and disease every day… They filmed a Bollywood movie there – the kind of location everyone dreams of living in.We enjoyed Gujerat, mainly because we stayed with some really nice people, and had a good balance of independence during the day, and spending time with them in the evenings. One evening Kuldip’s friends came round and played Gujerati and Hindi music for us. Kuldip played the harmonium and his friends found pots about the house and used them amazingly well as drums, with the help of their rings too.I managed to miss the exciting moment when a Cobra was found in the street and the whole neighbourhood went outside to watch as the men chased it and battered it and then threw it off the cliff.One of the best bits about Bhuj was that we all slept on the roof under the stars. The housing area is outside the town, in the middle of the wilderness, so you could see all the stars. It was really hot and dry during the day, and then quite cold at night.After 2days, we got an overnight trian from Bhuj to Ahmedabad and then slept for a few hours on the metal chairs in the crowded waiting room (here the lovely, kind, indian people turned into soldiers fighting for survival in the dog-eat-dog mission to get a chair to sit/sleep on) and then we got on another train (we were again waiting list, but again got seats!) up north to Jodhpur, in Rajastan. We arrived in Jodhpur (yes its the home of those Jodhpur riding trousers!) about 8pm and found a really nice guest house to stay in. The family that run it are very friendly and we got a nice room, with a TV and a shower and an AIR COOLER! (luxury or what?!) and managed to barter the guy down to our usual budget, because it is the off-season (because nobody in their right mind comes to Rajastan in the summer…’mad dogs and englishmen’).In Jodhpur, we visited the fort and the Maharajas palace. When the Maharajas lost their power, the current Maharaja turned his fort and palace into a museum, hotel and living place for him and his family. We had to pay a 250Rs foreigner price, but this also entitled us to use our cameras and to get an audio tour thing (very high tech!), so we didn’t mind so much. This meant that we learnt lots about the Maharajas, the fort and Rajastani culture. The architecture in Rajastan is beautiful! Its the kind of thing people think about when they think of beautiful Indian architecture – Northern India. Here, there’s lots of sandstone and marble and beautiful, intricate carving and detail. The man let us pay the student price of 200Rs too, because of our letter. Here, I felt the system was very fair.Gujerati clothes were very different to those we had seen in the south, especially the saris, which are tied totally differently. Rajastani clothing is different again. Turbans are traditionally worn here too, and the colours are symbolic. Colour can denote caste, for instance pink means the wearer is a Brahmin, or the wearer’s personal situation, for instance darker colours, like dark blues and greens can mean mourning or sorrow, but these are also the colours worn by Muslims. Moghuls wear black. The colours of a woman’s sari can also be symbolic; young women wear bright cheerful colours, especially unmarried women.We found a great omlette street stall called ‘The Omlette Shop’. In touristy places like Rajastan, and Hampi, shops have cottoned on to guides such as the lonely planet and now advertise their recommentations on their shop signs. It makes you feel like a total cliche!Today, we went to a beautiful memorial/tomb, which was all in white marble. There were loads of pigeons, which flew around us and out into the desert. Katie and I sat on the grass (sitting on grass is a luxury! The only nice grass is well kept by gardeners and so you can’t walk on it) in front of this beautiful building and did some yoga for the first time since we started travelling. We walk around a lot, and the locals think we’re mad, walking in the sun, when we are obviously rich white people and should be in chauffeur driven jeeps with a/c and tinted windows. I am starting to get really tired of ‘hallo!’ and ‘(What is) your good name?’ and ‘Your native place?’ or ‘Which country?’ and have started having some fun with it. The latest is that my name is Mongoose and I am from Madagascar – no-ones ever heard of Madagascar…or mongeese… This might seem cruel, but you’ve already made their day by talking to them anyway, they will go home that night and tell their family they talked to a white person. I’m looking forward to not being a ‘white person’ or a ‘foreigner’ anymore! Although it may be a bit of a culture shock not to be famous anymore!So, I’m really enjoying my time travelling. It’s tiring and there are some not so nice moments and times when I’d like to just be in familiar England, but if you put a plane in front of me now, I wouldn’t go home. I’ll be really sad to leave India when I do (which is the 8th August!!), but also excited to be going home.Tonight we’re off to Jaisalmer and in a few days Mungo leaves us because he is going back home to the UK and we will carry on up north on our own, until we meet Hannah, Alice, Buffy, Tasha and Rosie – hopefully – and pehaps Alex, the guy we met on the way to Goa, at different points.
April 2007 – Travels
Thanks so much for all your wonderful messages since the last update – I love to hear what you’re up to! Some of you will have read parts of this update, since an unfinished version was accidentally sent to everyone. It was unfinished, and included a lot of raw things that were not worded correctly at all and that needed time to be put into something balanced. I’m deeply sorry for any concern or offense that update caused. Please know that these were just initial ramblings, and I do not believe some of the extreme things that came across in such a badly worded email.CAUTION; THIS BLOG IS NOT WRITTEN TO CHILDREN. THERE ARE SOME THINGS WHICH YOU MAY NOT CHOOSE TO SHARE WITH UNDER 18S, PLEASE EDIT FIRST. THANK YOUSo…we have finnished our travels…and what an amazing, interesting, educational experience it has been! I’m going to get the unpleasant part of this over with now… The next place we went to after the last update was Jaisalmer. I thought Jaisalmer was beautiful and historically and geographically interesting, but sadly tourism seems to have ruined it. We were bombarded with touts before we’d even got off the train and ended up staying in a hotel that wasn’t recommended by the lonely planet because it was cheap. This turned out to be a really bad idea as later on in the afternoon, we had another bad experience with an Indian man. I had been feeling really ill (theres something unusual for India! haha) so we were back in our hotel room, with the door open because Rajastan is HOT. I woke up to find Katie and Mungo talking to the hotel manager, who had edged his way into the room, and was now at the end of the bed. He was stoned and without going into too much detail, started to pleasure himself in front of us. I screamed at him to get out and shouted about how it wasn’t acceptable and he just about jumped out of the room. The door was locked behind him but unfortunately poor Mungo didn’t really understand what was going on and answered the man’s pleas to open the door so he could ‘talk’, with doing just that. I didn’t appreciate quite how stoned he was until this point. We packed up and got out the room as fast as possible. I phoned another hotel from the Lonely Planet and they picked us up from the bad hotel, which was really good of them. If anyone (female) is thinking of traveling in India, I’d urge you to seriously consider taking a guy with you – it makes you feel a lot safer and lets you avoid a lot of hassel. However, this isn’t fail proof, as this incident shows, since Mungo (a 17 year old guy) being in the room didn’t appear to make any difference! It is very difficult to talk to an Indian about anything remotely to do with sex, so and so phoning Bharavi later on didn’t really help much, but laura (our PT desk officer) and lots of other people who have been through similar experiences have emailed some really good advice! (Thank you!) However, Bharavi did advise us to go to the police in Vijayawada, with him, if that was what we wanted to do, as the police would likely hassle us if we went in Rajastan. This is because of the corruption among the police force and the politicians in India. There are a lot of really really nice, friendly, genuine people in India, but unfortunately there are some misguided people too, and we were incredibly unfortunate! This kind of thing happens in every country, but there is a cultural reason for it in this case, and so I’ve decided that it’s important to talk about it here. This is the 4th time a similar circumstance has happened to Katie and I in India, and then theres all the gropings and comments… At first, I wasn’t particularly affected by it, my mum’s cautions of “all men are bastards” (meaning “be careful”, as if you think they are, you’ll watch out) prepared me to think “oh well, thats life” but this time I think it had happened one too many times and it really freaked me out. I started to feel really unsafe and vulnerable. Even walking down the street I was terrified of being within arms reach of a man, and there are lots more men on the streets than women, and they’re often narrow streets. It was horrible – an experience like this leaves you feeling like every man in a perve. Before, if i was sufficiently covered up, I wouldn’t mind going out without my chuni (scarf) on, but now I feel naked without it! I think this is good though; it has made me more culturally aware. You also start to blame yourself, but this is ridiculous; we do everything to avoid this (our door isn’t usually open! And we’re a lot more careful now… I got to the stage at one point where I wouldn’t even open the door if Katie wasn’t there…I think I was neurotic!) These things happen because of the terrible image many Indians have of “westerners”, and this is perhaps because of a number of reasons. In Jaipur, I was completely amazed to see a European woman wearing what I can only describe as a black bra with a bit of black lace over her navel and tight, ruffled, cropped trousers. Her hair was piled high on her head and to top of the whore look she was wearing bright red lipstick. She was walking round a palace and at first I thought she was doing a photo shoot, partly because of her attire and partly because, predictably, every Indian man asked to have a photo taken with her, to which she happily obliged, loving the attention! I find this amusing now, but at the time I nearly said something to her, (but sadly chickened out, feeling it wasn’t my place). She was with her partner and was likely staying in a 5 star hotel and traveling in a/c tourist coaches, and so I doubt she ever got any hassle during her short holiday in India. However, tourists like her re-inforce this image of western women, and so some men behave inappropriately when they have the chance. It annoys me that we have to be so careful and yet despite that still get hassle, largely because of the ignorant behavior of others. On the other hand, I have come to learn that a lot of this image of western women comes from the ‘blue’ or porn movies, most of which are made with western actors. These women are often in need of money, and so it is not as black and white as just blaming other people. These are just reasons that explain where this false image has come form. (So apparently, its Miss. Hilton I have to thank! hehe) Unfortunately, we are traveling as 2 young girls, and on a budget, so staying in very cheap places, and so we don’t have the protection that lady had. We do however, dress conservatively. I almost always wear Indian dress (and people love to tell me that I look like an Indian, or have developed the mannerisms of an Indian girl, which is really sweet!) and I am careful to wear dark glasses and try not to even make eye contact with men, never mind talk to them! (I sound like I’ve become a nun, haha). I imagine this sounds very dramatic, like I’m developing a problem with men? Let me explain. Most Indian women are very shy towards men. The majority of marriages are arranged and it is not appropriate for a boy and a girl to socialize with each other. A girl will not look a guy in the eye, never mind talk to them. So sometimes, the English way of making eye-contact with someone and smiling in a friendly way can be received in completely the wrong way! I’ve found this behavior very difficult to change, because I quite like smiling, and I didn’t realise how much I did it! (Isn’t that nice? haha) At first I learnt some bad words in Hindi, the idea being that this would be strong enough to show that this was not acceptable. However, the Indian friend I talked to about this thought that this would only heighten the ‘bad girl’ image, as only city women would ever use these words, and only in extreme circumstances. So I have learnt something much more useful, and more in line with Indian culture;’tum hare ma, bhen, kay kahro?’ which means ‘would you do that to your mother or sister?’ This isn’t offensive but will, apparently, work…so I like that better!I would like to mention, however, that I do not think that all men are perves, (or what my mother informed me I should think!- she was only joking!) As I said, we have been really unfortunate in these incidents; talking to the other volunteers and other travelers, while some have had some minor incidents, none have had anything as serious as we seem to have had. Please don’t let this put you off coming to India. Let it advise you, and take the right precautions, but you are safe in India, because these things are so taboo, and because older people tend to see it as their duty to look out for you. India is an amazing country and I have found the people so friendly and kind. Also, because of the thinking behind these incidents, these things have been applicable to Indian men, however, I love Indians and have nothing against them (please don’t think I’m racist!). There are, sadly, people who do these sorts of things all over the world. I have thought a lot about whether to include these incidents in my updates, but I have always tried to give an honest, ‘real’ account of our experiences in India, and this has been a major thing in my life learning curve, and so I have felt it important to include it, along with the good. This isn’t going out to children however, and I leave it to your judgment how you edit my words, should you want to share it with others.Moving on… consequently, we didn’t really enjoy Jaisalmer. It is the Golden City, as it is all sandstone, and so really looks golden! Mungo left for the the UK, via Delhi and Calcutta on the 22nd April and then we went on a camel safari in the Thar desert. We were supposed to be going on a day and a half’s safari, sleeping out in the desert, but there was a sandstorm the night before (very exciting, the power went – as it does in India if theres a little bit of weather! – and the whole city was plunged into darkness. The next morning, the neighbors were out banging the sand out of their rugs and sweeping their porches) and the other 2 westerners who were supposed to be coming with us decided to postpone. So, after our recent incident, Katie and I thought it wise not to put ourselves into the middle of the desert, overnight, with 2 men we didn’t know, on our own, and so we went on a short safari in the afternoon, with a French man and his 7 year old daughter. This little girl was amazing; at the age of 7 she has traveled most of South Asia and some of Africa, as well as Europe. I imagine she’ll have a very interesting outlook on life by the time she’s an adult! This trip was just a short tourist taster kind of thing, but it was interesting to see the villages in the desert and the desert in itself was very interesting, and beautiful. Most of it is wilderness/scrub land like Gujarat, but then huge, beautiful sand dunes rise up out of nowhere. My camel was called Manju and was the youngest at 7 years old. Camels live for up to 30 years. We watched sunset and then headed back. The way back was also very interesting as another sandstorm started. The lightening was almost constant and we were driving straight towards it. We were in an old, open jeep and so the rain (coming down in sheets) came in and the canvas roof began to leak. It was exciting. Haha. Rain is always exciting in India! The next day we left Jaisalmer, and we were glad to be moving on. In Jaipur my feelings of being unsafe around men began to lessen and by the time we reached Delhi I was back to normal. Jaipur is touristy, but not to the same extent as Jaisalmer. It is the red city, because the main architecture, particularly in the old city within the fort walls, is made of red sandstone. Rajastani architecture is beautiful! It is what you think of when you think of Indian architecture. There are lots of windows made out of small holes, set in a pattern, to allow the women to look out, but to stop other people from seeing them. Maharajahs (like local kings), used to travel in Palanquins, which were either carried by 4 men or an elephant. The women would travel in a covered Palanquin (it must have been very hot!) while the men’s would be open.Something that strikes me about Moghul architecture is that it is a huge shame the most amazing buildings are not lived in; they are tombs. We saw some amazing white marble tombs, set in locations with beautiful views. The carving is intricate and amazing. Of course it must have been nice to have a place like that to mourn your dead, but I just couldn’t help thinking “how cool would it be to live here!” (minus the dead body..) The Taj Mahal is the greatest example of this – more in a bit…So…we didn’t spend long in Jaipur, and we didn’t need long, we saw everything we wanted to see in the first day and then went and watched a typical Hindi movie! It’s caption was ‘a story from engagement to marriage’ – I don’t think I need to say much more… It was all the Indian ideal; rich people, an arranged marriage where they also happen to fall in love with each other at first sight…lots of emotion, and loads of melodrama (the heroine’s house burns down and she gets 3rd degree burns and nearly dies saving her half sister, earning her respect with her Cinderella-style step mother). It was just what we needed though to just stop thinking for a bit, since we don’t see TV or films very often! The cinema itself could be a tourist attraction! It looks like a Disneyland palace from outside (its baby pink, with turrets) and inside it looks like a bad, Disney-stylee interpretation of an 18th century British ballroom. I risked taking a picture and suddenly lots of security guards jumped out of nowhere. It was worth it… The next day we found a nice cafe, where we chilled out until it was time to go for our train. I called my mum too, even though its ludicrously expensive, but it was nice to talk to her, since I hardly ever call home.So then we got a day train to Delhi…and got an introduction to North Indian trains… Southern Indians are very chilled out, and their timings are laid back too; everything happens 2 hours later. In the North, life has a faster pace. But apparently no-one told the railways that, so southern trains are usually pretty punctual, but in the north they’re hours late! So eventually we arrived in Delhi, at the wrong station, 2 hours late. Rahul, Akhil’s cousin (we stayed with Akhil, a couchsurfer, in Mumbai) met us there with his friends and a car and we had a really great time staying with him in Delhi. We stayed about a week in Delhi, and saw the tourist sights; the red fort, Connaught Place (the main centre of Delhi, which is comprised of 2 ring roads and lots of cool shops, like People Tree, and the great ‘Char Bar’, great if you think you know something about tea(!) if you ever go to Delhi!), more Moghul tombs and the India gate, which is a memorial to the Indian soldiers who died in the WW1 and WW2. And of course Parliament… While Bombay is the Bollywood capital of India, Delhi is, of course, the political capital. Rahul and his friends worked for various news channels and so we soon came to know that the press card holds a lot of power in Delhi. The media have power (and knowing a politician or two is power too) in Delhi, whereas anyone in Bollywood holds the power in Bombay. So, when 2 drunken policemen on motorbikes stopped us during our ‘Delhi by night’ drive, our friends pulled out their press cards and avoided a bribe (not that they were doing anything wrong, the police just wanted money…) And of course we took a day trip to Agra, home of the Agra Fort and one of the 7 wonders of the world: the Taj Mahal. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical about the whole ‘wonder of the world’ bit; I thought it would just be another nice little tourist attraction. It was amazing though. Its sheer size is impressive, and the work on it is so intricate and beautiful. It is carved with floral designs, with flowers inlaid with semi-precious stones. There are 2 buildings on either side to make it symmetrical and of course, the famous gardens leading up to it. It is even more beautiful because of its story. The guy built it out of love for his wife, who died giving birth to his 14th child (poor lass…) so it is supposed to be romantic. Anyway, I thought it was that beautiful before I learnt that most of it’s semi-precious stones have been looted – it must have been incredible originally! The down side was that we had to pay an extortionate ‘foreigner price’ of 750Rs, while the Indian nationals sauntered in for 25Rs. We have a letter from our Principal at Maris Stella, explaining that we are volunteers and so unpaid and so would they please let us in for the Indian price. (Foreigners living in India can pay the Indian price if they have a special card.) This does sometimes work, which is really nice. People show you respect because you’re not just a regular foreigner – Indians love it when you live or work in India! When the security guys see our Indian tickets, their faces light up and they look at you (after looking down during their regular routine of taking tickets and moving on to the next person) and ask things like ‘You are Indian?’ or ‘You live in India?’ Its nice.. We got a free 500ml bottle of water and shoe covers for our 750rs though… (a 1l bottle is 10rs…) yay… I won’t do my rant about foreigner prices or the rudeness or rasicm of it…enough said already. All I will say is, Indians, when you come to Britain, not only will we charge you no more than we charge ourselves, but we’ll even give you free health care and education for your children…how nice are we?And then we left Delhi. I’d like to go back to Delhi someday. It has an attraction similar to Mumbai, although it’s completely different. Delhi feels like a European City, especially New Delhi, which was designed (by a German). There are lots of green, open spaces, and the roads are wide and well maintained and have pavements(!), and so they can cope with Delhi’s traffic pretty well. By comparison, Mumbai’s roads are much too small for the traffic, and the city is built over a smaller area than Delhi, so there are far too many people for the amount of space, resulting in terrible congestion and pollution, but the public transport, on the other hand, is pretty good, better than Delhi’s – in Delhi you need a car.We stayed with Ashu (see later…), in Manali, and it has been interesting talking to him. He never went outside of Manali, never mind Himachal Pradesh, until he married a Canadian last month and she got him to go down to Delhi and Rajastan. Having never been to another Indian city, he thought Delhi was dirty and the exact opposite of what I’ve just described. So I guess my impression is only comparative to the other cities we’ve visited.After a great week in Delhi, Katie and I got on a train (or rather sat on a dirty platform for hours and then got on a train… getting pretty used to that…hehe…gotta love India!) and woke up the next morning in Amritsar. On the train I didn’t get much sleep because there was a woman across from me with a baby who screamed and cried the whole way. In the morning, I was surprised when I saw the lady’s face; she looked like a child, yet she had a young child and a baby and a husband who looked much older. We stayed in Amritsar for less than 24hours, but we had a great time! We got a free bus from the station to the Golden Temple, which was Amritsar’s first plus, and an introduction to the feeling of being welcomed, that in my limited experience, seems to accompany Sikhs. (There has been riots all over the TV right recently in Amritsar because of outrage over one guru’s actions, but towards us, they were very friendly, and peaceful, and generous.) As we got off the bus, it started to rain, that same magical downpour I keep going on about. We ran with the rest of the crowd into the entrance of the Golden Temple dormitory accommodation… and then I turned around and saw one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in India; lots of moving colorful turbans connected to people running in bare feet, some carrying small children, amongst the sheets of rain, with the stunning Golden Temple in the background. When the rain lessened, we all started to disperse, as if we’d never all been crammed into the same tiny area together, and Katie and I left our shoes with the shoe keepers (also free…it really does give you a much nicer impression). I had my chuni, but Katie donned a brightly coloured rag to cover her head. Pictures later…hehe.I don’t know why the Golden Temple hasn’t joined the Taj Mahal as one of the wonders of the world, and some of the other volunteers have said that too; it’s equally impressive. The temple itself, is surrounded by a huge pond with giant koi in it. There are women washing dishes at all the four corners of the covered area that surrounds it, and at the centre, theres the Golden Temple, with it’s solid gold roof and intricately decorated walls. We were allowed in all the way, and inside found musicians, surrounded by worshipers. There are 3 floors, all of which look down onto the musicians, and are lined with people reading various texts.On our way out, following clockwise with the other visitors and worshipers, we sat in a big hall on hessian sacks and ate chappathis and dahl. You held your hands out to receive the chapathis; it was all really respectful and peaceful. We were so impressed we left a donation.After this, we went to the Jallianbagh park, where in 1919, a British officer ordered his men to open fire on 20,000 peaceful protesters. They were protesting against a new British law that allowed Indians to be imprisoned without trial. 2000 people died (the official number is 364). 120 people jumped into a well, committing suicide, to escape the bullets. I actually felt ashamed to be British. Katie and I stayed here for a bit, and I slept on the grass (grass is so amazing!). Then we met Sachin, a couchsufer (after squeezing off a really packed bus!). We stayed with him and his family, who were absolutely lovely. Sachin and his young wife are hoping to move to Australia soon for 3 years while his wife does a health course. She’s a Reiki master! Sachin’s brother is now an air-host, but until recently was a model. As usual, we were shown the family photos, which included his portfolio (with him wearing nothing more than a bag in some) it was slightly strange…not exactly the sort of pictures you show people you’ve just met! It was interesting to experience how the culture is evolving under western/modern influence though. They were quite a wealthy family and at dinner we were presented with lots of dishes and things. I’d never come across Indian etiquette like this – I hadn’t a clue what to do – they must have thought we were complete slobs! We went with Sachin to the Border Closing Ceremony, at the Indo-Pakastani border (it’s not a dangerous border, don’t worry!). It was really interesting. The Pakistani side had much fewer people and was interesting to see, in comparison to the Indian side; there were separate stands for men and women, and the womens stands were just a sea of black. They seemed to be much more reserved in their cheering as well. On the Indian side however, people seemed to be genuinely having a lot of fun, more fun than I’d seen at any of the weddings in Vijayawada. People ran up to the border gates with Indian flags and shouted ‘Bharat Mataji’ (Long live the Mother Land) with the answer ‘Jai’ and ‘Hindustan Zinzabad’ (Victory to India). The actual ceremony was a great display of macho melodrama, with lots of stomping around and walking up to the gates, before the flags were lowered on both sides at exactly the same time, symbolizing respect and truce.The next morning we got up very early for a 5am train (Sachin very kindly drove us) and then discovered that we may as well have stayed in bed for another 2 hours… However, eventually we reached Pathancot (pronounced ‘Patankowt’) and got a bus for Mcleod Ganj, in Himachal Pradesh, via Dharamsala.Himachal Pradesh is beautiful! Mcleod Ganj is a lovely place – I really enjoyed our time there. It is full of western tourists, and mainly hippies searching for ‘something’ spiritually, meeting Buddhist gurus, and meditating with the help of the beautiful, peaceful mountains. However, it is also the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. My initial thoughts (and generalizations) of Tibetan people, from our experiences in October, were strengthened; I find Tibetans very kind, friendly, open and peaceful people, and this despite everything they’ve been through. As a result, Mcleod Ganj doesn’t feel ruined by tourism. Tourism is certainly the main industry, but there is not the same pushy attitude that we found in places like Rajastan. I learnt a lot about Tibet too, which was extremely interesting. We had a really great day on the Sunday. We got up early and walked just outside the town to the old British church and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Reverend had allowed a group of Swedish students, who were staying, studying and volunteering in the area, to pretty much take over the English service. Consequently, worship involved lots of modern songs that I knew, and one guy with a guitar. The students spoke and shared their testimonies, and it was great to talk to them afterwards. It was exactly what I needed after 2months of having not been able to go to a church. It really reaffirmed my faith for me, as I realized that, surrounded by so many religions and spiritual theories, I knew that I have found something true and amazing. I do serve and know an awesome God and Father. Its just so wonderful to feel this way when so many people around you are searching for what they want to feel is ‘the right thing’, when I feel so strongly that I have no confusions in that respect, and that there is something that amazing!After church, we visited the Buddhist complex. We couldn’t see the main temple, because there was a meeting going on, and so what seemed like the whole Tibetan community and many visitors had gathered in front of it. So, we walked around the complex. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise where we were walking until we had gone too far to turn back; we were supposed to be walking clockwise. No-one said anything about us walking the wrong way (because Tibetans are just so unbelievably lovely), but it is a terrible thing to do and we felt awful. It was really interesting to see all the prayer flags and prayer wheels. The next day we visited the temples, and I decided to spin the prayer wheels. I decided, after much debate, that there was no harm in spinning them to the God that I know. Some of you might not agree with this, but it felt right and I feel at peace about it.
We also went to the Tibetan museum (if you ever go to Mcleod Ganj, definitely go here, its really interesting, shocking and eye-opening – so make sure you are not there only on a Monday). It has a great visual presentation of photographs and videos that explain the history of Tibet and the feelings of the Tibetan people. The Chinese destroyed more than 3/4 of their sacred temples, monasteries and monuments in their ‘Cultural Invasion’, and banned the Tibetans from following their religion. Eventually the Dalai Lama escaped over the Himalayan mountains and sought refuge in India. Many more followed, through the dangerous Himalayan mountains. Many got frostbite along the way and arrived in Nepal and India needing their toes/feet/legs amputating. I am in awe of the amazing attitude these people have, as I described earlier, despite the terrible treatment they’ve received. You could understand if they were a bitter, angry people, but they are the exact opposite.We also did quite a bit of walking. We walked to Bhagsu, and saw it’s waterfall. Some guys asked why we were not swimming and we said, ‘its difficult to swim in India, as a woman’ (sometimes I think it would be easier to be male!) Then we walked to Dharamcot. Another day we walked to the Dal lake, a sacred Hindu lake. No-one seemed to know why it was sacred, it just was! Sadly on the way back, one little thrill-seeker grabbed my chest and then ran off into the woods. I shouted lots of things after him but nothing obscene. I was completely covered from head to foot in Indian dress…perhaps this makes it worse? However, it was great to be somewhere so beautiful and with such a pleasant climate. On my first trip up to the roof of our guest house to hang washing, I actually gasped it was such an amazing view!So after about 3 days, Katie and I got on an overnight state bus to Manali. What an interesting trip…neither of us got any sleep! At first, it was mainly other westerners, and then it filled up with lots of other people – it got very crowded! I’m in awe of the Indian ability to stand on a crowded bus for so long!I have a lot of respect for bus drivers in India. They’re like ballet dancers; they just glide the bus round sharp bends, with great confidence against the sheer drop on one side of the narrow road. They glide to a stop…more drunken men get on and the swarming the mass of people standing nose-to-nose in every inch of the bus ripples to accommodate them, and then off the driver begins his dance again.In this way, we reached Manali at around 3.30am and sat around a burning tyre with a group of omelet stall wallahs and auto rickshaw wallahs hoping to make a fast buck out of unsuspecting tourists, taking them to a hotel where they get commission. One of Wynne’s friends (we worked with Wynne in Vijayawada, a wonderful, generous lady from Tynemouth) Ravi met us and we drove to his village just outside of Manali. We stayed there for 2 nights, seeing Manali and sorting out money and train tickets and boring things like that. We stayed in Ravi’s guest house, which was lovely, and really enjoyed it; there were amazing views and the village was a really peaceful place. Theres an Osho ashram there and it was interesting to talk to a couple who go there 6months out of the year. It was really interesting to meet Ravi’s family. Their house was interesting too. Himachal houses are a work of art, and built to withstand the cold, without needing central heating or anything. They are made with strong Teak wood, and a mixture of local mud and things and have wooden walls inside. They have lovely, pretty balconies and downstairs lives the family’s cow. Ravi’s house was a modern version, minus the cow. His family have a big apple orchard, a cash crop in India. Then we moved to Ravi’s brother-in-law, Meharu’s, village, where we stayed for the remainder of the 2 weeks we ended up staying in Manali, in his half-built house, with his brother Ashu. The village was wonderful! I’m really glad we had such a great experience – we’re so fortunate! The village was untouched by the western world. We had to be very careful not to go into anyone’s house, because there is a belief among the villagers that foreigners are Muslims. Also the caste system was still very prominent; if we ate with people from a lower caste, we wouldnt be able to eat with Meharu and his family. From the village, we could walk through a wood to Old Manali, a travelers hangout. This walk took about half an hour and we got lost quite a lot! Unfortunately, we made some timing errors a few times and ended up walking back in the dark – not a sensible idea! The 1st time, I prayed the whole way back that God wouldn’t allow it to get dark until we were back at the house. I felt at peace, knowing that God could do it, and I felt protected by Him, so I didn’t worry. The sun usually goes down around 7/7.30pm, that day we reached the house at 7.50pm and it was still light.We found a great cafe in Old Manali, with lovely staff, some from the USA, and great coffee and chocolate cookies! They told us that there was a church service on Sundays at the Mission Hospital. I went the Sunday before we left. It was really nice. The service was in English and in Hindi, with the sermon translated – this takes a lot of concentration! You have to tune into the English bits, but because I’ve been so used to just tuning out of talks I don’t understand (its the only way to get through hours of Telugu talks!) I kept tuning out for too long, and missing bits of the English! I’d also be trying to listen to the Hindi, in an attempt to learn more Hindi, and then I’d accidentally tune into the Hindi, and tune out of the English! Sounds easy doesn’t it? Just listen to everything…it’s really not that easy! It was fun though; in typical Indian style, we all sat on the floor, crammed into a tiny room, with some guys with a guitar and a cassio (no-one plays the piano or the keyboard in India: they play the cassio) with the men on the left, and the women on the right.We also met 2 really interesting Canadian Professors, also friends of Meharu’s. One of them had decided to hire a jeep (and a driver) for a day and go up the Rohtang Pass. We couldn’t afford this but he really kindly said that we could come along too anyway. He has done a lot of work in Russia and it was really interesting to hear about his experiences there, especially in comparison to India. We started very early, getting up at 5am. The road is only open in the summer, and goes all the way up to Leh in Ladakh (have a look on the map – go north from Himachal). To open it, they have to melt through several meters of snow, creating snow tunnels. We drove up the twisty windy roads and about 10am we reached the Pass. We saw some dangerous things, like a bus full of people crossing over an area where there was a blowout in the hillside directly underneath. The pass was interesting; the bridge has to be rebuilt every year, because the glaciers knock it down, and since the road had only been open for 3days, the bridge was yet to be built, so we watched buses and really overloaded jeeps driving through the river and trying to get up the bank on the other side. We have a great video of the jeep in front of us doing this. There was luggage piled on its roof, about the car’s height again, so it was just too heavy to get out of the water and up onto the bank. Then people start getting out of the jeep. Indians have an amazing ability to squeeze more people than can surely fit into a small container, while still obeying the Laws of Physics. One by one, more people got out, first the men, then the women, until the jeep eventually made it up. It was like Mary Poppins’ handbag. It was hilarious. Then we sailed across with only 4 people in our jeep. I think we all unconsciously held our breath as well.It was amazing to get up to the top though – just snow everywhere! Most of the Indian tourists from Delhi stayed at the Pass, where they had joy rides on ponies and went down small slopes on tyres. For most of them, it was their first time seeing snow, and they wore huge fake fur coats, which are for hire along the road up to Rohtang. Ashu and Meharu’s sister, Kowsalia, owns a shop like this. (She’s a brilliant woman – despite living in a very conservative village, she has decided that she doesn’t want to get married, and so her and a friend run this shop, allowing her to bring in money for her family, so that she is not a burden to them, unmarried.) Anyway, we hired our dreadful fake fur coats too. It was cold and it made for great pictures!We also went on a 4 day trek with Ashu, who works as an adventure sports person, organized by Meharu, who works in the tourist industry. It wasn’t very challenging and we finnished it in 3 days. It was great to walk through the nice, cool, Himalayan foothills – it was so beautiful!! We had ponies to carry our things, which made everything easier! Ashu also brought lots of cooking equipment and so we ate chappatis and veg curry, made from scratch, and omlettes and porridge and pasta…slightly different from our D of E (Duke of Edinburgh’s Award) expeditions with our ‘Pasta ‘n’ Sauce’ packets!When we finnished, Ravi met us in Kulu, and we all went white water rafting, which was fun. We got completely soaked. Katie accidentally wore the boots I’d bought for trekking too, so they got soaked too! oops.Since we’d done the trek quicker than expected, we decided to go on a day and a bit trek a few days later. This trek was much harder; a great challenge! We went up the Rohtang Pass and started walking at 3700m. It was all uphill and very steep the whole way. I was tired to start with and the altitude made it hard to breathe. It was like I just couldn’t get enough air into my lungs, or like my body wasn’t recognising the air I was breathing as air! I used to eat pretty healthily and go to the gym around 5 times a week before I came to India, but in India I haven’t been able to get very much exercise and I could count the number of meals I’ve had that haven’t been fried in a swimming pool of oil, with 2 hands…so Katie and I aren’t the fittest people in the world right now! Consequently, I found these 2 days a brilliant challenge, and physically very hard! Painfully, we reached 4300m and camped for the night. The 3 of us shared a 2 man tent, and it was very very cold, so we didn’t sleep too well! There was an amazing hail storm, that left the area covered with a layer of perfect, small, white balls of ice, all exactly the same size – nature is incredible! Ashu told us to come out of the tent and when we did I saw one of the most amazing, beautiful things I’ve ever seen. There, at 4300m the cloud had separated and formed a line, halfway down the mountains. I can’t describe it – it was just so, so beautiful! It was like views you see on the TV or on postcards, but it was right there in front of us! For about the millionth time in India, I was just like “look where we are”! Sometimes its hard to believe that we’re actually where we are, seeing something that most people in the world will never see!We also met a really interesting girl from Australia, who lives in London, also called Fiona! Our 2 groups walked up to a frozen lake the next day, walking up to 5000m. This was also very hard. We were sinking in snow up to our knees, sometimes up to our waists. I wasn’t really equipped for trekking, so I did this in a churida (thin baggy trousers,and a baggy cotton dress type top. I had no jacket, no waterproofs…and no boots. My boots had still been wet when we left, so I walked some of the way in my trainers, and when we got to the snow, I changed to small ankle high black wellies. When we sunk into the snow (just about every step) my wellies filled up with snow, soaking my feet and making them very cold. Sensible this, isn’t it? haha. By the time we reached the top, my feet were so cold they were really painful. I tried to dry my feet etc but the first step on the way back down soaked them again. My feet were starting to go numb, and realizing that this probably wasn’t great, I decided I needed to get down to the tent as soon as possible. Luckily, mad or fun-loving little me had decided that I’d be really fun if we took a carry mat to aid the way back down….My 1st attempt was a bit of a disaster. If you’ve ever tired to control a long, thin piece of carry mat on newly-fallen snow down a red or black level ski slope you’ll know what I mean…am I stupid or what? There was a group of school kids from Delhi snaking their way up the slope, but Ashu said it’d be fine, so off I went…I ended up off the carry mat, going sideways down the slope and eventually stopped at Ashu’s feet, in the middle of a group of very amused and curious school kids, on their first sight of snow. My next attempts were, thankfully, more successful, and did get me down faster, all-be-it with chilblains. Then I got dry trainers and stopped worrying that I was going to have a toe-less life…hahaIt was so beautiful up there. We took loads of pictures, but it just doesn’t even capture half of it. IT WAS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!!Then I nearly went para gliding, but decided that I couldn’t afford it and it was really only a rubbish tourist thing.Then we slept!!!I made another mistake too. I folded my sunglasses up with the tent on one of the days of the 1st trek, so I couldn’t wear my sunglasses on the 5000m trek. At 5000m everything is covered in snow, so its completely white, and its India, so the sun still shines really strong. The result is a blinding sea of intense sunlight reflecting off white as far as you can see. So I came back with red eyes and they’ve watering and stinging and just going a bit weird. oops. Better get that checked out… silly girl. You live, you learn – it was worth it for the amazing experience!We met Alice, Buffy (who are working on the Suryapet project, 3 hours away from Vijayawada) and Hannah (on the Srikakalum project) on our last day in Manali, before they went on their trek. It was really great to meet up with them and hear about their experiences traveling! We haven’t seen Alice and Buffy for a long time because they’re not the greatest fans of Vijayawada, so it was great to see them! We also met a welcome addition to their group – Emily, who was on the Suryapet project last year! PT wouldn’t give her any of our details but in an amazing coincidence, the girls ended up sitting on her knee in a shared auto and got talking, and realized who they all were! Emily was a great girl to meet; really interesting and full of enthusiasm! It was interesting to hear about her experiences of going back to the UK after her year here in India.So…after a great stay in Manali, Katie and I finally decided we better leave, so we got another very early state bus down to Himachal’s capital of Shimla. This was another 11hour journey. There was nowhere to put our bags, so I had to put mine in front of me, and so sit cross-legged for 11hours. Thats a long time to sit in one position!Shimla was an interesting place. The population of Himachal is much smaller than other states, because of all the hills, it being in the Great Himalayan Range, so it doesn’t feel like a big Indian city. It was the summer home of the British Raj in India, and its where a lot of Delhi-ites escape to from the summer heat, so its effectively the Summer capital of India. It was a lovely, weird experience – the streets are like London’s cute little back streets, about 150-200 years ago. Its actually like a little London, plonked down in the middle of beautiful hills, with Indian buses and people flooding through it. I liked it. It was high season in Shimla and we realised a little too late that it was going to be very difficult to get a room, and almost impossible to get one in our budget. Couchsurfing to the rescue, we met Akhil, who met us at the bus station and took us to his friend’s hotel. This was way over our budget, but we only stayed 1 night. Then we moved to Akhil’s quest house in a lovely town called Tutu, about a 15minute crowded bus drive out of Shimla. This bus ride was lovely. Eventually a bus stopped and Katie, being the ‘sensible one’ said “We can’t fit on” but I being the, err.. stupider one(?) said ‘no, no, no it’ll be fine just get on…’ There were people hanging out of the door, but somehow we got on the bus, and as usual in lovely India, the other passengers “adjusted”. A space was created for us in an aisle of nose-to-nose people and not only that, a little voice from behind me said, “put your bag down”. What? Where? The little voice came again. So I can’t see, but I take my arms out the straps. My bag is really heavy. And then it becomes weightless, and I turn round and another space is created. The man behind me has taken my bag and put it on the floor, surely by some magic trick. Thats the kind of generosity you experience all the time in India. Its beautiful. Our room in Tutu was also lovely with a great view. It was interesting talking to Akhil and his brother. In contrast to Ashu’s family, Akhil’s family have done a lot of traveling in India.In Shimla, we saw the lovely English church and Hanuman’s temple, at the top of a really steep hill. The monkeys have been a problem here, attacking anyone with a bag that looks like it could carry food (clever things…) and stealing anything not held down. They’re really viscous things, monkeys. On our way to the station in Varanasi we were walking along a narrow street when a monkey dropped down from a tree and went for a man coming round the corner. The monkey’s teeth were out and its eyes were huge, and fixed on this man. He had probably just looked the monkey in the eye. The man ran, knocking me over, and I couldn’t get up in a hurry with my ridiculously heavy backpack on, so I’m very lucky the monkey didn’t take a dislike to me too, because there would have been nothing I could have done about it, and it was only about a meter away from me. Exciting stuff.One thing that amused me at the Hanuman Temple was a sign that said “Please keep this place neat and tidy. Cleanliness is the place where God lives”…no gods in India then…The rest of the time we just chilled out in Shimla, we walked around the town, and had coffee at the ‘Indian Coffee House’. We went to the Ritz cinema, which looked like a tattier version of the Moulin Rouge from the outside, but was really plush inside. We saw a Hindi movie called ‘Metro’, which was a complete rip off of ‘Love Actually’, but set in Mumbai. It was quite good though; instead of the usual song and dance cheese, the director answered the box office need to have at least 6 songs in the movie by having a band walking about the streets, where the actors were. I guess it was a sort of half-way point. More importantly, it was failing Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty’s first film since her publicity exploitation of Jade Goody.After less than 2days, we got an overnight semi-deluxe (!) state bus down to New Delhi, where we sat in the crowded waiting room at the train station for a day, before getting an a/c train to Varanasi. Interesting people watching in that waiting room. Interestingly, it had a unisex bathroom too.From here on our trains were booked at the last minute and so we started having problems. Forking out 4 times the price to travel a/c class solved our ticket problem on this journey. This was probably very lucky, as it is a route that is notorious for theft and inappropriate behavior towards women. A day later, Rosie, one of the Tamil Nadu volunteers traveled from Agra to Varanasi and had her bag stolen, losing her diary, which she’s been writing since October, money and other things.So then we arrived in Varanasi, knowing that all the trains east from Varanasi were so full that we couldn’t even buy waiting list tickets on any train for the next 2 weeks. We figured something would turn up.We met Hannah, Buffy and Alice at the hotel and left the next day, after a short reunion with Tasha and Rosie, who arrived the day after us. Varanasi is an interesting place. It is one of the most sacred places in India, because of the Ganges River. All along the river are ghats – bathing ghats, pooja ghats, and burning ghats. We went up to a derelict building and looked down onto the main ‘burning ghat’ and learnt more about Hinduism. The Ganges is sacred because Lord Shiva, the creation god, stepped in it or something. This means that the river has healing power. If a person dies and is dipped in the Ganges, then their wrongs will be washed away and they will go straight to ‘Moksha’ or Heaven. So, lots of people come to Varanasi to die. When they do, their body is wrapped in white, orange and gold cloths and carried through the streets to the burning ghat, by workers from the ‘untouchables’, the outcast caste, and followed by the male members of the family, who chant Krishna things. Upon reaching the ghat, the body is immersed in the Ganges, and then left to dry a little bit. Then, the procession stands around while the workers build up a fire around the body. The family then all congregate on a watching platform a little further off and the body is burned. This costs a lot of money so it is a big business. The body can be burned with low cost wood right the way up to expensive sandalwood. The workers are very skilled and know exactly how much wood is needed to burn a body. Actually, far from finding this whole process sacred, I found it very practical. The corpse was clearly visible, actually burning. People stood around, and even the cows, – who are everywhere in India – mooched between the burning piles, just a few feet away from the burning bodies. However, they say no-one cries in Varanasi; they know that they’re loved ones have gone straight to Moksha.Here, old ladies were begging, not for food – they had allowed themselves to die – but for money for the woodman.Under 16s are not burned, because they have not ‘seen the light’, and so are innocent. Instead, they are floated down the Ganges. As you might imagine, Varanasi is really dirty, and the Ganges is possibly the most filthy water I have ever seen in my life. Yet millions of Hindus come to Varanasi on pilgrimages, and our 5.30am (oh my gosh…don’t get me started – I am not a morning person!) boat trip showed us a sea of colourfully dressed people bathing and swimming in it! To you or I it seems impossible to believe that such dirty water could bring healing, but yet so many believe it. I never touched it – it was more likely to give me some terrible disease!Call me cynical, but I couldn’t help thinking that this could perhaps have been something the authorities invented centuries ago, in answer to a lot of very serious problems in India. It gets sick or diseased people to voluntarily leave the cities and their homes, from all over India, and all go to one place. Thus controlling outbreaks of contagious diseases. Also, cremation is important in a hot country, where there are so many people. Interestingly, lepers cannot be burned. In addition, it brings peace to bereaved families, and provides hope for the dying, the terminally ill, or diseased. Many old people, who have no families, come to Varanasi and allow themselves to die. This in a country with no social welfare system.Perhaps I am being cynical, either way the system works, even if I find it sort of horrifying myself, coming form the culture that I was brought up in.So, after our very early boat trip, Katie and I went to the train station, where Katie stood in one of the huge queues in the Unreserved Reservation Hall (yes..hall, not queue). This was an entire hall, the size of a school assembly hall, where every line went to the back of the hall, and all passengers wanted unreserved tickets for that day’s trains. It was unbelievable. However, amazingly, they actually queued! While Katie settled into the queue, I went off looking for another way of getting to Darjeeling. A really helpful guy found me (I’d say I found him, only he really found me, I must have looked lost – Indians are really very kind and helpful!) and told me what I could do, and then I found the tourist information bureau, where another really kind guy helped me out. He looked through every option and got us a/c tickets for the same train as Alice, Buffy and Hannah were traveling on that afternoon. To cut a long story short, we were very lucky to have friends traveling that route, because otherwise we would have been stranded in Varanasi. You are not really allowed to be on an a/c carriage with unconfirmed tickets, but because we were young white girls, and we had 3 friends with confirmed tickets, the conductor overlooked it. So we topped and tailed on the little narrow berths and got to New Jalpaiguri, in West Bengal.At New Jalpaiguri, we eventually found a share jeep where the passengers weren’t falling out with the drivers and went to Darjeeling. I’ve often wondered how Indians can drink so much tea – where does it come from? We drove for 3 hours and all I saw was valleys and valleys of tea plantations. Now i understand how Indians can drink cups and cups of strong, milky, sugary tea and still have more to export to the rest of the world! I loved Darjeeling! Its a cool (as in cold) place, in the beautiful mountains, and its full of Tibetans! Lovely, kind, for-the-good-of-everyone-else-over-the-individual Tibetans. We walked to the Tibetan Refugee centre, and saw lovely old men and women tailoring, painting, carving amazing wood carvings, making leather goods and kids playing basketball. Tibetan refugees could never be accused of being lazy; they have supported themselves the whole way since their exile. Their attitude is so inspirational. Then Katie and I walked for miles along roads and tea fields before finding out that the tea factory we wanted to see was closed…nice walk though. We had a great time at ‘Glennary’s’ in Darjeeling. It had the best bakery we’ve found in India, with a coffee shop, so we could sit at big windows with lovely views and drink Darjeeling tea, and downstairs there was a proper bar!! Complete with interesting travelers and a pool table. How exciting! Upstairs there was a restaurant with good food. There was also an internet bit and an STD/ISD (pay phone) inside an actual British red phone box (in the middle of the shop). What more could you ask for?We met a guy in Glennary’s who has visited Bhutang. Bhutang is amazing. It is the perfect fairytale kingdom. The King genuinely works for the people, to the point where he is in the front line in war, and the people are happy. It had no currency until about 5 years ago and is almost completely self-dependent. There is no crime, and the environment is really well looked after, so it has beautiful forests. However, it is also sadly unsustainable. The Royal family has now grown so big that there are power struggles and so the King himself has decided to build a democracy instead. Very interesting though if you ever get to hear anyone talk about it who has been.We stayed in a cheap place with no hot water (it was pretty cold, so this was something to endure -very refreshing…) while the others, who have been traveling for only about 6weeks (and so have more money!) stayed somewhere a little better up the road. Emily flew to Darjeeling too! Emily is from the same town and school as Rosie, just to add to the coincidences! In our bathroom there was an enormous moth. It looked like a piece of bark, but had huge beady eyes. It was incredible – an amazing example of evolution! Nevertheless, it was huge and the eyes were freaky, so I asked the lovely old Tibetan ‘Aunty’ to come and remove it. She came with her broom and it had a trip into the toilet, before deciding that she was ok and attaching itself to her, so she walked out of the room. Amusing, and I felt like such a girl!Tasha and Rosie came for about 12hours, after their train was badly delayed, and then left for Calcutta. After about 2days, Katie and I got a share jeep down to New Jalpaiguri and waited in the train station for our 2am train to Calcutta. However, at about 12.30am, I went to find out if the train was on time…then I had another amazing experience. I found 4 or 5 men all dressed from head to foot in white, sitting in an office, with nothing to do (in the middle of the night…). I showed my ticket and then heard the words you absolutely do not want to hear at 12.30/1am in a train station in the middle of India, as 2 young white girls… “this train has already left”. The day before. We were then informed that all trains to Calcutta were fully booked. However, these men just told me exactly what to do. They told me not to worry. I bought an unreserved ticket and then came back. They said they’d do what they could, and that it would all be ok. Later, one of the men came to the ladies waiting room and introduced me to the train conductor for that train. I have no idea how the train conductor was there, when the train did not terminate there, but he sat me down and went through all the lists of passengers. He told me that the quotas were full for that station (so even if he could find me a free seat he technically couldn’t sell it to me) and there were no seats. He said they would find something when the train came. We came to sit in his office, so that we were safe in the station, and then when the train came, the conductor sat us down on and a/c berth and told us to remain there. The man in white who had been helping me even came to the platform and did not leave until he knew that we had a berth and not only that, but that it was in ordinary sleeper class. He seemed to know without me telling him that we couldn’t afford a/c. Eventually, the conductor came back and at 4 or 5am we were taken through the staff quarters and the kitchens (another interesting experience!) to 2 berths in sleeper class. This was on a completely full train. Then we never saw any of these people again. I am convinced I met angels that night.I’m in Calcutta now, waiting to go to the train station for our train back to Vijayawada. Yesterday, we met Tasha and Rosie again in the Salvation Army Guest House we’re staying in. We’re staying in the girls dormitory, with lots of interesting western travelers, some of whom are working at the Mother Theresa home here. There are 200 volunteers there! Yesterday we all walked around Calcutta, got a metro for the great experience (so clean!) and went to an art gallery and saw the Queen Victoria memorial and its gardens. It is insanely hot here, at about 38degrees C and very humid. It will be hotter in Vijayawada. Last time I looked it was 45 in Hyderabad, and its usually hotter in Vij. Help! Still, at least we’ve been sort of eased into it a bit gentler by comming here to Calcutta first! Tasha and Rosie have now gone to get their 27hour train back to Chennai and then on to Valpurai, back to their project. I’ve really really enjoyed traveling! It was so much more worthwhile and exciting than 5 star hotels in tourist holes in the Mediterranean! India is a fascinating country, full of wonderful people! We’ve had bad experiences too, and met all sorts of people I’d rather not meet again, but we’ve seen something that is real, and learnt to appreciate it all. I think I’ve taken something away from everyone I’ve met; they’ve all changed my life is some little way, and I’m really grateful for that. Its been meeting people that has really shown me the real India, and we’ve had all our ideas and everything we’ve ever thought shaken upside down and changed. What an amazing experience! I feel so thankful to have had these opportunities! I could so easily not have been born in the west and then I might not have been able to have done any of this. When I found everything so hard at the start, it would have been so easy to have gone home, and then I’d never have done this – thats a really scary thought! Thank you so much everyone who supported me financially, it was because of you, that I knew I couldn’t go home! Now, I’m really excited about going back to Vijayawada! Its a new start, with some new pupils, and now I’ve had my trial run. I’ve figured out, I think, what the girls need (alas it’s only taken 9months!); to understand their text books. If they can understand that English, they won’t have to learn the text books off by heart, but instead they’ll be able to understand what they read, and think about it independently. So that’s my aim. I’ll let you know how it goes.
6th June 2010
So, i guess this email may be interesting when compared to the first update I sent 10 months ago…I LOVE VIJAYAWADA! haha. After everything I felt at the start and during those 1st 3 months of culture shock, I don’t want to leave! I feel like a donkey being dragged by it’s reigns towards its stable again! I went through a stage of feeling ashamed of what I thought at the start, but I also realise that without that low, I couldn’t feel this happy now; so I’d go through it all again if I had to!However, our time is comming to an end and i just can’t hold on to the day for long enough -we are really busy! We have lots more classes in the college and Katie and I are going both separately, and together to SKCV to try and give them every other spare minute! And then theres teaching the staff at Nava Jeevan (a mission on a bus across town) and the office class, and the hostel classes every evening, and the individual classes….its all go. And its GOOD!Vijayawada is a pleasantly wet and windy place at the moment due to a cyclone nearby in Andhra. It is the start of the rainy season, and with it, it has brought floods and destruction. Poorer people experience damage and often destrection of their homes, which have been built either by themselves, by shoddy construction workers (who are in abundance in this ‘democratic’ society) and often with poor materials. The newspapers are full of death and destruction everyday. In addition to this, there is usually a small article about yesterday’s road accidents; death is usually caused by the dangerous driving of wagons and auto-rickshaw drivers, and often theres a motorbike involved too.However, the cooler weather brings relief too, and so we are all happily welcomming this cyclone!In personal news, I have started teaching a wonderfully enthusistic and very intelligent disabled girl from my church 4 times a week. She is an inspiration with her fierce independence and ambition. She has a 16 year old maid, who she is encouraging to study, and who carries her around between the autos. She is studying computing, after practical work in her intial accademic love, science, became too much of an obstacle, and wants to get a job in Bangalore, where she will earn more money. She was told that she needed to improve her fluency, in order to be able to communicate with international clients, and so this is hopefully what I am helping her to do! I don’t think I would have had a clue where to begin if she had come at the start of the year, but now I feel more (but by no means totally!) capable of doing something for her.Before our travels, I did a few classes with another guy from my church and he called me while we were in Mumbai to say that he had finally succeeded in getting a call centre job, a job he had originally been turned down for because of his accent and fluency. His determination saw him through, and it was very exciting to hear of his success!I also taught another girl, who came to me one day after being in tears the previous day and night. She works in Vijaywada’s first and only call centre and had been shouted at by an American client who hadnt been able to understand her and then consequently by her employers. By the sound of it the trianing they are given is minimal and of poor quality. She has now told me that she is happy in her job and feels more capable.So this is a nice time in the year; seeing people’s sucesses and improvements!I cannot believe we go home in a month’s time! It seems like no time at all, and I would be quite happy to stay; I like our life here. Life is simpler, and we have built up friendships and a community where we feel welcome and loved. I am trying to make it widely known when we are leaving so that it does not come as a shock and so that people can come to us for help in good time. I have started thinking about the next 2 volunteers who will follow our work. Then I think of how much this project, like us, has changed over the course of the year. I think it is a great project now with a lot of potential. Our location in the middle of the city means that we can get involved with so many other things; Vijayawada has one of the biggest railway junctions in India, which gives it one of the highest populations of street children in India, and with that, lots of voluntary organisations (NGOs, or charities) that work with street children, orphans, and the children of beggars. Very few foreign volunteers who stumble across Vijayawada are able to work with as many of these organisations as we have been able to, because we are primarily based at the college, rather than one of these organisations. So I feel really lucky in this respect. The main organisations we have worked with are SKCV and Nave Jeevan, and some of our friends are setting up a new organisation. I mentioned this a few months ago and can now reveal more…’GIRL India’ is an organisation set up by some of my friends, who have a lifetime’s experience working with street children and orphans in Vijayawada. They know the problems and they know what is needed in Vijayawada. More importantly, they have developed the most amazing love for these children. There are an estimated 20,000 street children in Vijayawada and only a handful of organisations. Culturally, it is only acceptable for organisations to have separate sex hostels, and because there are, on average, more street boys than girls, there are more organisations catering for the needs of boys. So GIRL India aims to fill the gap left by the other organisations in providing for the many needy girls in and around Vijayawada. If all goes to plan, the first 20 girls will be brought to the home in August, now that it is a registered charity and has some of the funding for the intial costs. If you want to know more, I can put you in touch with one of my friends, part of the organisation, who is based in the NE of England. Larger organisations are able to recieve large ammounts of funding from major trusts, but organsiations that are less than 3years old are not usually eligible for this funding, so it is a really good one to support if you are looking for a charity to support. And I can guarentee that any support will directly benifit the children who need it.On the subject of street children, this week Katie and I had a brilliant opportunity, when Father Koshi, head of Nava Jeevan asked me to read the voiceover for a documentary about Vijayawada’s street kids, which has been sent to the Telugu Association, TADA, in America. So of course I dragged Katie along too! It was a lot of fun, and a fantastic experience as we got to work with a great man who works in Andhra’s thriving movie industry. He also gave his time as a volunteer, because of his love and interest in the work that is going on in Vijayawada.I talked to some ladies today who said that I should not leave, because I have become accustomed to Andhra’s culture and am able to work here effectively, but the 2 new girls who come will have to adjust like we had to. In some ways, it does seem a huge shame to be leaving now that we have become so settled and learnt how to do our work! But next years volunteers, will, I hope, bring something new to the project, that we havent been able to do, and as such, not only carry on our work, but enhance it.In other news, now that I have henna’d my hair black and am wearing saris to teach in everyday (the other lecturers do and so it helps with classroom control!) the Aunties have decided that what I now need is “a nice Andhra boy” and have asked me more than once if I would like them to arrange a marriage for me. “Udu, udu…” (a bit like, ‘I don’t want’) I reply…. haha I take this as a huge compliment, as I have always thought the greatest complimet would be to be accepted as an Andhra girl. Now, not only do they say that I look like and have the manerisms of an “Andhra girl”, but this recent (and slightly scary!) thought shows that they have accepted me into Andhra.