Monday, 1 August 2011

The last one and a Big Bloody Thank You!

The day before I was due to leave for India, I was recommended by a handful of my close friends that I should write a blog to keep them informed. I have always written this for them, but I am so happy it has been enjoyed by so many.  The blog has had over 1,000 hits in 10 different countries. I have received comments from family and friends that have lifted me, surprised me and really shown me how special they are.  This blog has been a fantastic way for me to document what I have been doing and a good reminder for years to come. The fact that others have chosen to take the time to read and in many cases comment, has made my experience in India extraordinary. I would like to thank them for just taking an interest.

I would sincerely like to thank my parents for making the trip a real possibility, to thank David Crossweller and everyone at Wherever the Need. Antonysammy and his family at Bless for having me, feeding me and making me feel so welcome. To Laura Milner for making sure that the Indian telecom industry wouldn’t go bankrupt and to all my friends who have always supported me in this trip.

I am a little sad this is up now as I have really enjoyed doing it, but, as the title suggests, this is my last India post. The fact that I am no longer in India makes it difficult to continue. My thanks once again for the support in reading this and letting me know what you have thought. I hope that you too can find an adventure like this of your own, it is worth it, I promise.

The End. 

The Trip that ended the Trip

The hours in the evening seemed to take an eternity to pass. I was planned to leave at 12.30am, but once you are packed and ready, you feel that it is time to go, but left helplessly waiting. I showered late so I would be as fresh as I could be for the trip, it would be a long one. I was, to my surprise, emotional and sad to be leaving. Although home was certainly calling me and I wanted more than anything to be back, I had and still have so many memories that will always stay with me.

As I waited for 12.30am to come, I was presented with some gifts by Antony, and it was one of those real moments when you are completely taken aback and left a little bit speechless. I was really touched; as they have been so hospitable throughout my entire stay. They will be treasured. One present, which was wrapped and then opened in front of everyone, was a little glass statue/trophy expressing that I would be missed. It was cheap and tacky and at the same time such a lovely thing to receive. They actually meant what it said. Kevin, Antony’s son, also presented me with a metal bracelet, which was too small, but because of the growing crowd I forced it on. It is now past the point of being able to get off. I am, however, in no hurry to remove it.

The journey was easy despite me not being able to keep my 100% record of being in charge of an emergency exit. I did, in spite of previous failed attempts, try a little at the upgrade chitchat at check-in but as always this ended in disappointment. In my attempts to strive for a seat where I had responsibility I believe the check-in lady caught on to this and therefore allocated me a seat with one. I was not in charge of a spacious emergency exit but I was seated in baby world and surrounded my mothers who saw me as a good young helper.

Touch down couldn’t have come quicker, the baggage defiantly could have. In my impatience I started to question whether I really needed my mud covered clothes in my bag anyway. A girlfriend who I had not seen in 6 weeks was 100 yards away and with in touching distance and the bag suddenly became unimportant. Before I was taken over completely by impatience it did arrive. It was swept onto the trolley and I darted through customs as fast as the uncontrollable trolley would allow.

As the support of my family had been so strong over the course of my stay in India, they saw no need for it to stop here. Laura took me to Mayfair where I showered and changed into clothes that had been provided for me, and then taken for a oversized steak with my parents at Browns. I ate so much that I am yet to have even thought about a snack this evening.

I am back now, on my Mac, which feels weird to write my blog on. I almost need the occasional power cut or dodgey keyboard to be able to write this all down as I have been doing. I have technology in my hands, food in the fridge and comfort when I sleep. Sometimes you don’t realise you are homesick until you are actually home. I am looking forward to tomorrow, the next day and the day after that, where I can spend time with my friends that have been sorely missed (or maybe its just the fact I haven't had anyone to play a good game of football with). 

I am back now, and I don’t plan to be leaving anytime soon.

I tried to put on a brave face but I was exhusted.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Let the games begin

Last day in India. I leave at midnight to go to Chennia for a 5.00am flight. Trying to deprive myself of rest and sleep now so that I can sleep through the whole journey.

Today was a great way to finish off my experience at Redichavady. A whole sports day was organised for the children, which was a mix between apple bobbing, three legged races and cricket and football. I got allocated my own team, which was by far the smallest of all the teams, no one managing to exceed the 5 foot mark. (I think fully grown Indians often border on this mark anyway.) The events were fun although extremly hot. The children were both interested and perplexed into the sweat my body produced throughout the course of the day.

I am really looking forward to home now, despite really having a fantastic time here. There are so many comforts of home that I just cant go out, not to mention the people that are there. I leave in a couple of hours now and only have my last supper left. I will post when I am home. But for now, this was India.

This is Allwin, the boy who I have been teaching English

Team Win!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Drink it, I dare you.

Well I am back for the last time and tonight will be my last night in Pondicherry. Goa was a fantastic experience but I feel I have served my time now and home is waiting for me.

The trip back from Goa was easy but could have so easily been a drama. I did not calculate how long the journey to the airport would be in my mind, despite having made the trip when I arrived. When I arrived, everything was new and exciting and time always travels quickly in situations like that. It was due to this that I assumed the one hour journey was only about 25 minutes. The time on the way to the airport seemed to travel even quicker, but this time not in my favor. I did not want to sit around in Goa airport for hours with nothing to do, I wanted to arrive with little time to spare. As I recognised landmarks on the journey I quickly started to realise how far away we still were. 20 minuets to check-in closed came and went, as did 10 minuets, 5 minuets and then 5 minuets past closing. It was just one of those days where everything was taking an age and the drivers refusal to exceed 50km an hour started to infuriate me. I gave him his money and ran to the check in, 10 minutes after closing and with only 35 minutes until the plane was due to take off. I asked the lady behind the counter if I was too late, trying desperately not to use any charm or eager smiles that gave me no favors at Heathrow. She didn't say a word, looked confused at the hurry, took my booking form and asked me to put the bag on the scales. I had made it and was on the plane so quickly I saw my baggage being loaded after me.

Security is not quite the same as we have it at airports in the UK, although I was under the assumption there was some king of international code we had to follow. In my hurry I had forgotten about the bottles of water in my hand luggage that I had snatched from the hotel. My bag was kindly set aside when I made it through the metal detector. I pointed to it, accepting my fate. He pulled out the bottle and told me to have a sip, I did, and he ushered me on. Here the check is, if you can stomach it, you can have it. I hope the same doesn't apply to sword swallowers.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Inside luxury travel with Oliver Riley

Still raining here, so still spending most of my time in the hotel. I have ventured out on quite a few occasions but its always seems to disapoint me. I wanted to get some gifts and a brochure pointed out that there was a shopping centre near to the hotel. It was within walking distance and it was a good excuse to get out, explore and possibly come back with some goodies. As I approched it I did a walk by to make sure it was the right one. There were about 5 shops in this "shopping centre", that frankly made the Harpur Centre look like Westfields, and 4 of the shops had shut down, leaving the one solitary shop. As I entered I was greeted by around 6/7 shop assistants, probably all from the shops which had shut down all congregating into the one remaining shop. It also looked like they had very few customers, hence their excitement when I entered. It was clear to me in the first few seconds that I would not be needing anything from the shop, but I couldn't just walk in and then straight out. I wandered through the ground floor and then the second before looking like I couldnt find what I was looking for. I left relieved that I was out, but not satisfied.

I am yet to enjoy the pool, but for a number of valid factors. 1. it does rain a lot. 2. I dont have any swimming trucks and 3. when the sun is out I cant seem to get sun cream on my back. It is a real dilemia for people travelling on their own and there must be a Dragons Den invention that can fix this. I understand that as long as I am not wearing "budgie smugglers" that I can ask another man to apply it for me, but does this apply for strangers? The advert is incomplete. I wander the hotel, trying out the different resutrants and facilities and still feel a little bit like I am there for some purpose or reason, inspecting the hotel. I imagine this is what it would be like being James Fulcher, traveling and staying in the luxury hotels on offer all over the world.

I did, however, get 90 minuets of real entertainment. ESPN had the Chelsea Kitchee game, and I can assure you, you wont see a better display of football all season. The 4-0 win was a Frank Lampard masterclass of distribution, although I am slightly worried that in the last 4 games our opposition have scored 3 own goal. I don't think we can rely on this all season.

The unused pool

Nothing better than chilling out with a fosters (water) at the game (on tv)

Monday, 25 July 2011

The One in Goa

It was an early 4.30 wake up for a 5.00 pick up to Chennai airport. I probably should have pack the night before but I honestly didn't see the driver turning up 25 minutes early. I scrambled my belongings into my bag, had a quick wash and half sleepwalked into the car. I tried to continue sleep in the car but the sun was rising and there was little I could do to get myself back to sleep. I was excited for my trip, I actually enjoyed the feeling of being completely on my own, do it by myself and hadn't really had this with out the help of parents or Tom Turner. I felt in many ways, completely free. The journey was surprisingly pleasant. I flew with "Jet Airways" and I was impressed. I could check-in online and the planes were comfortable. I have become a master of checking in online and guarantee myself the emergency exit. 3 out of 3 now, little do they know that if there is an emergency I will be off like a shot. After plane 2 landed in Goa I got talking to some English girls on the bus to the terminal. It was nice to hear English voices and I was thrilled that I had made some friends. I was a little bit worried I would be a loner on the trip, so to have already met people before I got across to Goa's terminal was a dream. At baggage I was kindly introduced to their group which I struggled to work out quite how big it was. I was bombarded with names, some I don't remember and exchanged my phone number. I got into my taxi happy and full of energy for the day, despite having little sleep. On the 25 minuet taxi to the hotel I had my first sights of Goa. Due to my lack of research I wasn't aware that Goa is a state and not a city. It is a small state but there isn't an actual place called "Goa". The countryside was incredibly green, I'm sure due to the vast amounts of rain they have here, but it felt like I was in a jungle. Very different to the surrounding I have back in Pondicherry.

The hotel is fantastic, huge king size bed (don't know if you can actually have a "huge" king size bed, as "king size" is a standard measurement), air con, good food, swimming pool (haven't got any trunks but I can still look at it), and a TV that has had the cricket on non-stop. There is however one problem. I do feel that I am in the Friends episode where they go to Barbados and cant leave the hotel because it wont stop raining. They only difference is, they actually have some friends.

The first few days have been pretty relaxing, room service and cricket mostly. I have however, at the request of fitness coach Josh Lawson, gone to the gym a few times. Yesterday (my second day here), I had yet to have word of the group I gave my number to. I don't want to sound needy but the only friends I had made, hadn't text. As I looked at the phone number I had given them, and with no thought to get theirs or give my English number, I realised that it was a Pondicherry number and there was a possibility that without the area code the number would be unrecognisable. My heart sunk. I tried it in my hotel phone and after a lengthy talk of Hindi, an English voice said the dreaded words, "the number you have dialed is unrecognisable, please..." I was so angry at myself, I lost the only friends I had and, as my worries tried to tell me, spend the rest of the holiday on my lonesome. I went to the gym, still with a mixed emotion of anger and real disappointment. As I was doing my "35kg" bicep curls my phone went off. To my utter surprise it was them. I have no idea how the number worked but I really didn't care, I was delighted and we have all arranged to meet up tomorrow.

I didn't make it to breakfast the first morning, due to my body going into a mini coma from the comfy bed and black out curtains. I did however make it down today at 9.30. Now  I didn't understand at first but I think I have come up with a conclusion for why this is happening to me. I can see only 2 reasons why a white man would come to a hotel like this on his own.1 He is like me and just taking a holiday (with no friends) or 2 he is a hotel inspector. Now I think, that they think, that I am 2. At breakfast I was met by person 1 who took me to me to person 2 who took my name and handed me over to person 3 to take me to my seat. Person 4 then asked me if I would like some fresh juice, despite it being a buffet and 3 yards away from me. I went up to get some fruit where person 5  helped me plate it up, its still a buffet remember. After fruit I went to put my bread in the standard hotel toast conveyor belt, and person 6 insisted that he would do it for me and bring it to me. I got back to the table where person 7 (OK it might have been someone from before but there were a lot of them) was pouring tea and person 8 was asking how I would like my eggs. I felt swamped, especially as this didn't seem to be happening to the other guests who were left to fend for themselves. I did have a pencil and pad with me as I was going to plan out my day from the map, but for them this was just a tool for hotel criticism.

To bring you up to date. It is 11.30. I asked where the nearest Internet cafe was but they have assured me that I can use theirs and given access to their office. Again I'm not sure if this is normal hotel policy. This blog just adds to their concern that I am noting things down about the hotel.

Now this, as I am sure you can work out, is my bed.

 Not a great photo, but they only ones I have so far. Its raining btw.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

I'm Goaing away

Firstly, just a little apology for the title...

Things have been quite round here recently, and I don't want to spend my last week sitting in my room wondering if I am going to get an infection. I have booked myself a little holiday, 5 nights in Goa. (Hence the ridiculous title). I got an amazing deal and I am really looking forward to it. Its swings and roundabouts really. I will be away from the infection epidemic but they have malaria out there and I don't have the medication. I think I am working on the principle of, If Cheryl can do it then so can I, and the great Didier of course. (Mum, Dad, its only a couple of days, I will be fine, If I can get some tablets I'll buy them). Mummy told me I am not even allowed to use other peoples mobile phones; "because you can get infection through using other people's phones. When I was in Brazil...." (and so on). Despite only being a couple hundred miles away I couldn't get a direct flight and have to change at Bengaluru, I was however informed of this after I booked the flight. 45 minutes to Bengaluru, wait for an hour, then another hour to Goa. The change of scenery, food and overall luxury is going to give my body a bit of a shock, but I am going to go all out. I think food is the one thing I am really craving at the moment. I come back on Friday morning so I can finish off the work I have been doing out here. It will be a nice way to finish off the trip.

This is just a rough picture where I am going. I would recommend Googling Goa though. It looks beautiful and is on the coast. Lots of things to do.

P.S. Nice one KP, don't know why they keep going on about this Sachin chap either.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A Generals war

Just a little update on what has actually happened today. There has been a bit of a back log with the lack of power and internet over the last couple of days.
The epidemic has not reached fever pitch (yet) so we are ok for the meanwhile. I am selfishly cautious around the children though. It is a strange battle; as much as Laura and I want to help, we are not with the children the whole time like Claire. We are often in the office or out of the house. We went to see them today and Claire was with them. We kept distance but gave our support. It was very like officers having a fleeting visit to the front line before quickly retreating back to safer ground. As we approached the office we had to stop by Antony’s room to get a key. Their was a small meeting going on and rock, paper, scissors was in order to get them, as entering the room would inevitably  end in prolonged conversation. Despite winning, I was summoned in as well. Antony was meeting with another leader of another NGO, who made Michelle’s talking look short and sweet. Laura, to her detriment, got on well with him and he continued to focus his stories on her. The clock was in front of me and I kept myself occupied for the next 40 minuets by holding my breath or writing this blog in my head.  
Not sure what is planned for tomorrow, hopefully I will get to see what the women have managed to do about the clasp on the wristbands. As always, I’ll keep you updated.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Doctor, Doctor. Where the hell's the Doctor?

What started out as individual concern has now started to become a minor epidemic. If things deteriorate, I can see a new awful Nicholas Cage film being made about an outbreak in India.
Day 1 of this dilemma was, Monday (possibly Sunday…). Claire, a French girl here who has spent vast amounts of time here (totalling over 6 months) had an infection just above her right eye. She was worried and went to hospital. She stayed at the best private clinic in Pondicherry and I can assure you it was not somewhere you would want to stay for long. The infection got worse at an alarming rate. Claire stayed in the hospital over night and started to worry that by noon the next day she had yet to see a doctor. Nurses would come and go, but no one would tell her what was going on and all the forms were in Tamil. An operation was book for Wednesday and she was told she could see a doctor afterwards. She protested enough to be allowed to see one before. Procedure here is so different. At this point she had already forked out near to 5000 Rupees for staying at the hospital, but she was now told that she had to buy everything for the operation herself; medication, serillised gloves, etc. They do not have this at the hospital but they do give you a prescription (or list) so that you can go to a pharmacy and get it. She was put under a general aesthetic and they removed as much as they could from her face. Laura and I visited Claire on the Tuesday and I wanted to spend as little time there as I could. Balancing being polite and not staying long enough I could catch something I could die from.  She has to go back every day now as the wounds need to be cleaned and infection removed.
This is where the story changes from one girl to a mini crisis. Claire had/has an infection called staphylocoque and it has spread to 2 children here, who I think are going to the hospital today for treatment. Claire did mention that one was refusing to go. We sat down today to discuss what should be done. Disinfecting the clothes and bed sheets was top of the list as was more soap by the showers. I did suggest that we could just burn the infected children but my humour was met with the same response as Simon Williams’ jokes at Kings Cross.
I’m not too sure what the next plan of action is here, it should die down, just got to be careful. If anyone is too worried, I am more than happy to start up a Hilton Pondicherry fund.

This is the only photo I managed to get at the hospital, I think it is a dialisis machine, its next to a fish tank. I wonder if they use it for the fish as well...

Baggage compartment 62 to Thanjavur

Like every other weekend I get here, I filled it with traveling on trains to temples. The train, it turned out was one of my highlights of the weekend and was surprisingly enjoyable. I found myself a sleeper cart and although it was mid-day I was drawn to the fact that everyone was given their own little space, not letting the obvious lack of actual space get me down. (I had about 3 inches from my head to the ceiling.) From my top bunk, which was the top of 3, I could not see out of the window but was happy enough to people watch at a height that I felt hidden. It was encouraging to see families interact and play with the younger ones, pointing scenery out to them as we rushed through the countryside.  It was an incredibly relaxed atmosphere, which was probably the catalyst for my nap. I was awoken by a prod of a pen on my foot and confronted with a man whose look alone told me that he wanted to see my ticket. I gave it to him and he explained in broken English that I was not entitled to be in what may have been 1st class. He left with the assumption I would pack my things and move on further down the train. I did start this but a gentleman sitting below looked at me, smiled and with a wave of his hand dismissed the conductors advice to leave. In universal sign language he convinced me that I should stay.
I arrived refreshed but at the same time ill. I was glad I had some sleep, despite in no way needing it, but my stomach might have just realised that the continuous rice and poor quality meat was not going to stop any time soon. I was not physically ill but the entire weekend I was never 100%. I went to the largest temple in Tamil Nadu, which gates showed off its magnitude. It was old and beautiful and great but I always find myself comparing them to my first experience of Nataraja. It was very busy and full of rich Indians with their overweight over loved children; lots of photos being taken and crap being bought by the attention seeking vendors. There is a fine balance between visiting something really religious, somewhere were people go to worship, and something that is historic and touristic. Both are good in their own right, but it maybe unfair to compare them, my view will always be bias. Another interesting, and sadly flattering for me, is the amount of people who come up to me and want a photo with me. They don’t even think I am famous but just want a photo with a westerner. I remember Sarah Harrison telling me about this when she lived in Tokyo. I had 3 photos at this visit and plenty more conversations and handshakes.
The next day I visited a palace in Thanjavur, where I took photos in secret as I wasn’t prepared to pay a “camera charge” on top of paying an entrance fee. Is that even legal? The money certainly wasn’t being spent well and the palace was overrun with amateur graffiti on the walls where people had felt the urge to scribble their name and date. In all honestly I was quick to get round the palace as it was Sunday and Darren Clarke had a much more important round I wanted to see. I enjoyed his interview the day after, no one could tell if he was drunk or just really Irish, possible the two go hand in hand.
I arrived back on Monday afternoon. I rested, had some food, watched some Jackie Chan in Tamil and had an early night.

Baggage compartment 62

The gentleman who helped me keep my seat

Gates to the temple

Laura being asked to have a photo with a baby

Part of the main temple

Inside the palace

Palace corridoors

Palace courtyard

Business as Usual

Friday was full of Indian business for me (please note that this is nothing like the action we call “business”), and as a former student of the subject, I was able to put some theory into practice. I don’t know, however, if the same practical application can be used at home. I had a small meeting with Antony as I wanted to go through with him the figures and costs of me staying here. There was a lot of writing numbers on papers and passing it across the desk, sums of money was never discussed out loud. After an amount was agreed we took off, on moped of course, to the village that the women’s business was run. I wasn’t hopeful but had little else on my plate for the morning. I feel pressure on my shoulders as David has ordered 500 bracelets to incorporate WTN’s five colours.  This gives the company an instant boost which is brilliant but he has left without seeing any prototypes or any clue of what they will look like, it is down to me to produce something. I see frequent parallels with the protagonist in my book as he is sent away to a foreign country to learn more about the textile industry, I hope my story does unfold as his does however, as he quickly finds himself in the midst of the Great War. I am frustrated that the women aren’t really doing anything about their order and I really have to push them. Their minds are away with the ideas for watches or wallets, and I don’t think they realise that they need to fulfill an order. You often have to remind yourself where you are, the people you are dealing with and remember that it isn’t the same as home, relax. Despite what I thought, although ill give myself some credit, I turned up on Friday to find a 1st prototype of the wrist band. I was delighted that something had actually been done and that we were at a point where we sourced material and found a way to put it together that was pleasing to the eye. We just need to focus on the clasp, which is proving very difficult. One of the men working with the business, who has been appointed as salesman, reminded me that if I brought him any western product, he could have it made cheaply here and shipped back to the UK. Although the prospect of starting a business with products made here seems inviting, I enjoy working with the women the most because it is their company, their profits. I am not sure if I want to start playing with ethical and moral issues just to start a business.  

My escort

This is not a one way road.... Just India

Wristband HQ

This is it

I think I make a pretty good hand model...

Just £14.99 a month could provide a child in India with....

...the Internet he deserves.

I am sorry I have not posted for days. I was away for the weekend and been having major problems with the Internet. Got so frustrated today that I had not posted, I went into the city to go to an Internet Cafe, but was confronted with a city without power for the whole day. Back at base, we were without Internet for days and now we have it, the computer is broken. I am using a french laptop now, which is painfully slow as the keyboard is different. It feels as if I have never typed before and I am using one finger to type, scanning the keyboard for the appropriate letters. I am hopeful that this will all be updated properly tomorrow.

On a smaller note, I would just like to wish Alex Becker a happy 21st. I am sorry I am not there. All the best.

Check back tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Shake That Thing

Morning was occupied with a prolonged visit to a the neighbouring village where the women's business I was going to help with was. Due to the police being nearby issuing fines for more than 2 people on a scooter, up to 4 is common here, I was assigned to my bicycle. (Still haven't upgraded to the powered option.) I wasn't scared on the roads as I was preoccupied with fiddling with useless gears that only allowed me to be in 2nd, so as my legs span I didn't manage to gain more than a few miles an hour. When we got the the village the women were out and the salesman they had employed was there. We tried to work on some product design for the wristbands that they wanted to make but progress was slow. Not only because of the language barrier but because of the extreme lack of drive and motivation the Indians here seem to have. One of the main differences in conversational culture I have noticed is the body language when agreeing with something. When a man is listening and agreeing with you he will shakes his head from side to side, not with the axes at his neck but rather going from his nose to the back of the head, so the head is quickly tilting side to side. (Did you just try to do it?) This agreement often signals to me that he either does not agree or does not understand, causing me to repeat and reexplain and for him to get frustrated. We agreed a plan of action for the week and I left with little hope it would happen.

Cricket was limited for around 5 overs today. After some Swan like bowling I was hit for 6 but an older boy which resulted in a lost ball. Not great for a group of boys who only have one ball. There would be no umpire with a box that we could choose a new one from.

The rest of the day was hot and I was inclined to take a nap after my Tour de France experience. I lay on my bed with my iPhone playing away. It was strange how the music took me from one mood to another and how strongly it brought back some memories. I don't know if it would class as mediation, I think listening to music whilst mediating would frowned upon. The heat and Biffy Clyro reminded me so much of trying to sleep in Kos with Alex Becker and Michael Damiani, The XX of Spain and Tom Turner. I have to say that I would give anything to go down the pub, have a beer and be with friends.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Who's got "THE POWER"?

Nothing much has really happened in the last two days, apart from the whole moped saga, so I'll just try and fill you in on what it can be like here.

The days can get pretty long as most of the day the power is out. It is such a bad problem here and I am yet to work out if they just don't have enough power to go around or the system is just dire. Organisation isn't a strong point here so I am inclined to think it is the latter. It gets really annoying when you are using the computer and then it cuts out. They have a little battery thing which is connected to the computer and in turn gives you about 2 minutes after the main power goes. It allows you to save something or quickly finish something but always in a mad panic. When the whole place is completely pitch black it reminds me of how scared Jess Stone got when her electricity ran out in Newcastle.

On the question of "power" although not in the same sense, the man/woman divide here is really interesting, well for a man anyway. There is huge segregation and I really mean segregation. The buses for example, there is a male end and a female end, and apart from the fact everyone is the same colour here you would think you are in 1950's America. Rosa Park's would be turning in her grave. It is very divided, just like their cast system which I found out yesterday, the late great Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was in favor of. My own examples are clear when I am with either of the French girls that are here. The other day a guy asked us for the correct English word to use and although Laura came up with a sensible answer she was ignored and he waited for me to give him the thumbs up on it. I am not allowed to do my own washing and It is always me the men want to talk to, my protests aren't always as strong as they should be when doing the washing is the subject.

The cricket has come on leaps and bounds and the boys are getting more suggestible to the true form of the game. It is also really rewarding for me as through my "cricketing prowess" they are respecting me and looking up to me. I'm making friends, even though they are only 10 years old.

Haha, the power has actually gone!!! Doing this on the little battery!! 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

I'm gonna ride my bike until I get home...

I made it! I had been accepted! I like all Indians here was given a moped. I could travel freely and wasnt depended on lifts. I was so excited.

With little instruction, I felt you would need little (It's only a moped), I took off. 15 seconds later, after panic and screaming I disembarked and embarrassingly made my way back. I was in the ditch as the power took me by surprise. I have now been allocated a bicycle. I'm not happy!



Monday, 11 July 2011

Taking the bull by its horns isn't always that easy.... and pain free

I was offered my Michelle to spend a night in the village that he stays in with the Indian girl he visits. There was a local festival going on and I felt it would be stupid to miss such an opportunity. I cant remember the girls name, they seem to go in and out simultaneously, the pronunciation escapes me. I have worked out their situation. He has partially adopted her and he has no children of his own. So the relationship is very father daughter like. He comes here twice a year and stays at the house he has built her family. "The village was only and hour away" was what I was told, but it was longer, hotter and far more dangerous than I could have possibly imagined. Aman Chahal said to me that south India has problems, health and safety is by far one of the worst. I took the bus just outside Reddichavady, where I am staying. The bus was rammed so tightly I cant put it into words. I was forced to climb aboard and suffer the next 15 minuets in agony. This is the best way I can describe how I rode the bus:

There is an open door to get on the bus. There are steps leading up to the compartment of the bus. The bus is so full that the outside of the door has people protruding out. I am one of these people. Arms locked and at full stretch hanging onto the bus. I don’t know if I would actually class myself as being “on” the bus. I was so far out at one point that my bag hit a passing bus. One of my feet was half on half off, they other would switch to be completely off or managing to get some brief purchase. At every stop I was off and then running along side of the bus as it drove away, then jumping back on. Different position every time was entertaining but the pain constant.
I was literally hanging off. It annoys me when people use this word, “literally” but here it is very much the right word. There was no room for movement and the sweat of my hands made them slip on the metal I was able to cling onto. I was genuinely scared and could feel the strength in my arms disappearing. I had to count to keep my concentration. I was there for 9km and it seemed like an eternity. People were so close together the idea of personal space had been destroyed. This bus cost me 4 Rupees but I don’t know if I am willing to try this again for the pennies I saved not taking a taxi.
I finally got to Pondicherry, weak, hot and tired. We all met up and took another bus to Auroville. We got a seat and the busy Indian bus experience for me was over. As we arrived at the village we could start to hear some of the celebration happening but we headed to the house for a small rest as the main festival would not start till later. The house was nicely built, with marble floors, but there was nothing inside apart from some kitchen appliances in one room and 3 plastic chairs shared in the remaining 4 rooms. There wasn’t a toilet in the house or water, this had to be collected every morning. I don’t know if it was drinkable but when it is the only water to drink, I don’t know if you want to ask because you don't have a choice.
The festival was great and a large crowd quickly gather as they were preparing the fire on which all the men in the village, around 1000 of them, walk on. It was at this point that my camera decided enough was enough and died on me. A big ceremony started the event and a stampede of men ran to get a cross the hot ash. They ran across it and straight into the water, so it didn’t look to bad but I don’t know if I am willing to give it a go. After the celebrations we went back to the house where the power also decided enough was enough for that day and we sat in the darkness, had some food and slept; on the marble floor with nothing more than a thin pillow. I awoke with mosquito bites all over me.Only a stupid man would ask me how I slept that night. 
My plan for Monday, today, was to come back in the morning, but Michelle was insistent that I saw a few things before I headed back. This was fine, but because he is 75, everything takes ages and I didn’t get back till 6. We went to 2 real places of interest and of no interest to me what soever Although two both promised the same thing, they were so far apart in comparison. We first went to visit Matrimandir. I would recommend you Google it just to have a bit of background knowledge if you are interested. It is very spiritual, or so it claims, and hopes, in its plans, to one day be a true Utopia for people. Its is not finished and is very like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, promising that it too will possibly never be finished. It is centered by a huge golden globe which encased a room where you can meditate. Tourists flock to see it and wait 3 hours so that they can meditate for a 5 minuet slot. I was not prepared to do this and was well aware of the commercial approach that this place had. I don’t think this is quite what the founding fathers had in mind. We then went to an earth center that Michelle was insistent we go to. They call it scientific research but I don't really know how scientific it is. They experiment with different shapes of bricks and ways to construct buildings out of earth bricks. Not my type of thing but to an engineer or Simon Williams it would have been heaven. We went to Pondicherry to have lunch and after went to the Ashram. This is the place where Sri Aurobindo is buried and is a centre for meditation. This had a completely different ambiance and I would love to visit again, on my own when I have lots of time. He has a big following and has written many texts on how to focus the mind and heal the soul, etc. I do not believe, like the followers that I will reach enlightenment and that I will truly have a better soul and heart if I follow their teaching, but I do believe in relaxation, concentration and focusing your thoughts so this is something I would love to try. 
In Pondy there is an Elephant outside a temple dedicated to Ganesha. It is so well trained that is is not tied and if you give him some money it will take it and then tap your head. Its a good tourist attraction and I'm sure a good little earner for the chap behind but I didn't count on the fact that it would be so terrifying. I was completely taken over by fear when I confronted him as he was so strong and powerful. I just had such an overwhelming feeling and was taken aback by the size of the creature. It was an amazing 10 second experience.  
Michelle, despite his stories and endless talk, was a great host for the weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with him. You just need to go with it sometimes, not really knowing where you're going or what you will be doing or with who, but if you do, I promise it will be amazing. 

Preparing the fire

The chaos that followed

This wasnt my camera, im stealing the photos from here

Just put this in for Simon Williams and Alex Becker as they love their architecture and wanted to show them what it is like here

The Dome at the Matrimandir

Simon will love this

This is not just a small man. this is an Indian grown, rickshaw driving small man. (actually they are all like this)

Truly an amazing animal

Saturday, 9 July 2011

I dont like cricket... So we play a different version of it...

This morning I could feel a long and drawn out day where nothing was really achieved and nothing was really done. In many ways I was right. Two of Laura's friends arrived to have lunch here although God knows how they knew each other. One was a 22 year old Indian girl who lives here and the other a 75 year old French man called Michelle, (as in the girls name, LOL). Strangely they often acted like a married couple, it was a strange relationship. I slipped away pretty easily as I could see that the boys were starting to take some interest in the football. I had tried to talk to them at length that volleyball was not the way forward and I think it's got through. We played in the field at the back of the house. I can assure you that the 2022 World Cup is never going to work. The heat was incredible and I don't think I have sweated so much in my life, I'm not even sure if Anna Higgins' fitness could have stood up to the task. I battled through as I hadn't been able to kick a ball around for so long, and I also felt like the star. Something I don't get to have back at home. After 45 minuets of noncontinuous football we took halftime, but we all knew that it was finished. I looked like I had just stepped out of the shower and as I dragged myself back to the house I found David waiting for me. A little surprise visit before he went. I tried my best with AntonySammy to get out of it but I was forced to go with them to visit one of the villages. For obvious reasons I wasn't put in the middle this time. We got back and had lunch, I was so hungry and so unimpressed with plain rice that I could have cried. I really needed something to refuel me from the heat and football.

After lunch we proceeded to do the polite after lunch talks. We sat round in a circle chatting about the work being done out here. I was yet to have my shower and I was more than aware that I might not be smelling of roses. The talk was whittled down to AntonySammy, Laura, the French man and myself. He was old and was a stubborn as his age would suggest. He had a good heart but I really didn't agree with a lot he said and I was actually praying for David to be there to fight for his charity. Michelle didn't really agree with the Ecosan toilets and thought that pits toilets and septic tanks were better. (I'm not going to go into this, don't worry). He frequently stereotyped all Indians and I could often see AntonySammy get very worked up, yet he remained clam, collected and more importantly silent, the perfect host. He talked like no other man I have ever seen. At one point I am sure he talked, uninterrupted, for 20 minuets. My nodding was on autopilot with the occasional agreement thrown in, so I felt that I could let my mind wonder. I was caught out only once but I think I regained control. I was snapped back into the conversation when he was struggling for an English word and was promoting me to suggest one. I scrambled through what he had been talking about and managed to come up with "repeat?", he liked it and this allowed him to ramble on for another 10 minuets and allowed me to think about other things. In my wanderings I was watching how people react when a plate of biscuits are presented in front of them. Its funny. Everyone helps themselves to the first few with out hesitation, but there is never a scramble for the last one. It is always untouched, out of politeness. Its the second from last one you have to be quick for. Despite saying this, when the talking and nodding was over I took it as a reward. I really thought I deserved it.
A cricketish match was set up in the afternoon and it was pretty fun. They don't play how we do at home though. The pitch is about twice the length for some unknown reason, despite my protests, and everyone throws the ball rather than actually bowls it. I was run out by a suicidal run by my partner and although I laughed it off, I was pretty pissed.

Good guy but probably not the next Ronaldo

Well, Lord's isn't perfect either

Friday, 8 July 2011

The football playing, Eglish teaching, Boogey Man.

This was my last day seeing David as he is traveling around for a bit, visiting other areas of India before he departs home. It has been great spending a week with a real master, a truly gifted man and inspiration. (He said that he is going to read this when he gets home). The day was pretty standard and I have certainly seen my fair share of Ecosan toilets being built. It is good to see a Charity spending the money and this is certainly a charity that puts all there money to good use. Paramasivan used to work at Water Aid, but left when admin was taking up more than 40% of their contributions. He said the figure now is around 60%. The day was productive and David got the majority of the photos and film he needed to take home. Watching him take the video interviews is interesting. In no way does he script it or tell them what to say, but he does have to remind them frequently and ask them to say it in a certain way, often giving a false illusion that it is being read off a script and not there own thought. I think this frustrates him. One of the small girls today burst out crying when he tried to take there photo, she was even more terrified when he tried to show them the photo. I learnt today that if children are naughty they are told that the white man will come and take them away, I am sure we are familiar with our parents telling us similar tales. It is quite amusing to see some of their faces when we turn up, I now know that it is not a look of wonder I am seeing but slight concern and possibly deep thought about their behavior.
We had lunch at the small village I visited a while ago. (I took a picture of the room where I had a nap in.) I was really glad to be back there and it was so peaceful, just as before. We had lunch and were relieved to be out of the heat. This was certainly a nice life but David and I agreed that if you were actually given the choice, you would certainly stick with the one where you get Internet and an iPhone. After lunch we had some Jack Fruit, google it just to see what it looks like in full. I am haven't actually got a photo of it in all its glory. They are huge and produce up to 400 seeds. Around each seed is the actually fruit. Its slightly rubbery and not very juicy but has a fantastic tropical taste. And with the capacity to feed up to a 100 people at 20 Rupees a fruit, it is certainly good value.
When we got home I was glad to see that we actually had something to do. The children had received a football and some smaller rubber balls that could be used for cricket. We started with the cricket but the children soon lost interest, so did I to be honest. I was so looking forward to it, but the ground was so uneven and there really wasn't enough space. I miss playing at Biddenham nets with Laura Milner. I was more annoyed at the attempt at football though. The boys picked it up not really knowing anything about football and started playing volleyball, a more popular sport here, although not with me. They are really not into sport here, which really surprises me. I don't know if it is the heat but they are never out playing. I am 21 and still spend my life throwing, catching or kicking a ball. By the end though I was drenched and a double bucket shower had to follow.
At 7.30 my English class began. I am finding it very hard. Some children don't really speak at all and I am lost sometimes as what to do. We go through the alphabet but often come across problems when we try to find words that are mutual. K is for Kite is what I and I am sure the rest of England have been taught but these kids don't have parents, money or toys. How the hell will they be able to know what a kite is? I will have to come up with something better.

Take a look at the photos, I am now in the habit of taking some solely for this blog.

A very sweet girl at one of the schools.

This is the final product of the Ecosan, I was really impressed. It smells better than normal compost, I promise


On set with the director

1 of 400 you get in a Jack Fruit

 The meal, well starter. Hands were too messy to get the main.

This made me laugh because they were fighting over who should give me the present lemon. Like children.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Jackson Five got it wrong....

ABC isn't as easy as 1,2,3 (for Tamil people at least)

My usual pick up at 9am from David, promised nothing more than long drives and plenty of toilets to visit. I had had better mornings. There were five of us in the car and due to me being the thinnest, I was placed in the middle back seat, squashed. I don't think the fact that I was nearly a foot taller than anyone else was brought into play. All good naps start with the promise that you are only going to rest your eyes briefly, but sleep quickly takes over and the next moment you wake up 45 minuets later, often after snoring, fidgeting and resting your head on the shoulder of another without realising. This is what got me through most of the day. My sleep mode was very accustom to the frequent beeping now and does no longer believe we are approaching a fatal accident anymore. I hope my senses retrain when I get back to England.
I was first awoken as we entered through the gates of an all girls school, 1,500 of them. It was remarkably quiet as the girls were still in class, some taken outside in the shade, and we had time and space to investigate the newly finished project there. However at 11.10 all hell broke loose. Their only break of the 8am - 2pm day was not going to be wasted. A stampede of screaming, giggling, and in my opinion very frightening girls approached, must be what it is like to be Jack Wrigglesworth. They were all desperate to ask questions and talk to me, but for this I needed my interpreter. Paramasivan was patient and calm in his approach and I tried to follow his lead. Questions were flying at him and I am sure they were filtered before they came to me. Their main interests were why I wasnt married, why I wasnt wearing "normal" clothing and was the food the same in England. I did my best to give informative answers. Lots of photos were taken and when the camera was pulled out the pushing and shoving would have impressed some professional front row rugby players.
Lunch down the road was extremely hot, Indian style, and I was even glad to see some of the Indians with their tongue out trying to cool it down. I try to be careful not to fall into the trap of the HSBC man who keeps getting endless amounts of eels and I learnt to leave just enough to say I'm full, its a fine art. We went on to a few villages, just in case they thought I might be running out of lemons, and the heat bore down on us for the rest of the afternoon. In one of the meetings, which was large, me and David were presented with flower necklaces. They smelt amazing and I had only really seen them in films before. I felt very privileged for having actually contributed so little. I think I try to play up to the role a little sometimes, to justify my being there.
I got back at 6 and knew that for me, the hard part of the day had just begun. Yesterday I went to the classroom to ask the teacher if he could break the class up into small groups of about 5 or 6, so that each day, I could, for an hour or so, have one group to teach English. One older boy, who is not part of the class but part of the family here speaks very little English as he has problems with learning. I asked him if he would like to learn and he quickly dismissed it. I told him that it was fine, it was his choice and if he didn't want to learn I was certainly not going to make him. 10 minuets later, away from the class, he approached me. He did want to learn but I could see his concerns when younger kids were streets ahead of him. I agreed with him, that on top of the lessons, me and him would have one on one lessons so that he could catch up. Our first one was today at 6.30. We got through the first 5 letters of the alphabet and their sounds. It will be slow and long but also very rewarding. I am very excited by it. I thought that I had it covered with the class. I had just worked out a great system with Allwin, the older boy, and thought that applying the same system with the younger children would be effective. In the first 5 minuets they had the whole alphabet under their belts, along with sounds and words to match. My lesson plan was out the window before I was even settled. We improvised and made games about sports, which is always a good medium for young boys.
I am exhausted now and I have to be up at 7 to go through F,G,H,I and J with Allwin. I managed to make some use out of the lemons by the way. Made a makeshift crepe with sugar and lemon. It was more of a Nann with a hint of lemon, but wasnt too bad.

The photos:

The girls at class

Fascinated by seeing themselves on the screen

My patient interpreter of the mob

Spot the odd one out
Pink dress right?

3 in one go = Big village

A terrist house, family of 4 or 5 in each

 The chosen one, (They think anyway)

The board and work experience boy

 AntonySammy next to me

Local bus service