Thursday, 30 October 2008

Tough Cookie Teacher

A better day than yesterday. School was more successful and I managed to get Asianet to visit my house and take out a year's Internet subscription.

At school, the first two hours were with the arts and crafts teacher. I'm always impressed how she manages to control the children and keep them interested. She obviously cares for them greatly. She brings her own daughter, who is severely mentally disabled, in to school. The child, who I thought was six but is actually fourteen, spends most of the day lying on the floor of the workshop. Her mother tends her every so often, as do the other staff, and it seems to work somehow. She's only a little woman and this must be a huge burden but she has a smile for everyone.

Then one hour with the youngest group (F) who were just copying out numbers and making a meal of it! Lunch was followed by two hours with three older children while the majority of the school went off to do sports. This was great as I could just work on conversational skills with them.

From 4:30 to 6 I worked with the computer class helping the Malayalam teacher, a nice friendly Indian guy of 27. He has a great rapport with the kids. I did little more than oversee the kids using Microsoft Paint to create all kinds of wild things! A great hit is my drawing of a bicycle which is quick and easy, and actually looks vaguely like the proper article!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

£25 loan for a fan

While I was out, the electrician came and fixed the ceiling fan in the hall and the light in the cloakroom. He left bits of insulating tape and screws and dirt on the floor - beneath him to pick them up, I suppose! The fan in the kitchen needs replacing and the owner needed to borrow the 2000Rs for it from me. (That's about £25). She said that this month's payment from her husband in Oman had been delayed. I suppose she had used the rent I paid a few days ago to pay other debts. Maybe I should say that as a "Diwali special" the 2000Rs is a gift. Clearly finances are tight.

A bit of a frustrating day at the school. Working with the 15yo backward girl in the morning, and then two little cheeky, talkative but bright boys who wouldn't shut up, in the evening. I suppose they are the extremes of what I have to deal with, and I felt I just wasn't getting through to any of them.

Despite me sending Texts to Asianet I've had no reply. I feel like telling them where they can stick their Internet service! Looks like the appointment I had arranged for this evening is off.

The kids from next door have exams tomorrow and Friday. I helped the lad do a bit of revision but he seemed to know all that he needed to know. Quite a contrast to the kids at SISP.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Paperwork for Asianet

Today, Tuesday, is the official day of celebration of Diwali. In fact, I saw and heard absolutely nothing!

On the way to KVM Junction I got offered a lift by a white German woman in a titchy car. She had squeezed some step ladders into it and there was just enough space for me. The car smelled of dogs - it transpired that she had seven of them. One had come with her from Italy where she had lived for a while, and the rest had been inherited from an English friend who appears to have dumped them on her. She looked the wild-haired hippy-type.

I've had a few Texts with Deepak Raj, Asianet representative. Connection in my area is confirmed, I just need to provide a copy of my passport, a passport-sized photo, the money, and a copy of the rental agreement. I don't have the latter, but the owner will get one for me tomorrow. I wondered if I would have to traipse into Trivandrum again to the Asianet offices but I was offered a home call from an Asianet rep - which is far more convenient and I've arranged for it tomorrow evening.

The neighbour's son went to the Electrician's house at 7a.m. this morning and arranged for him to come to fix the light and two fans this evening at 18:30. He didn't turn up...

Monday, 27 October 2008

Diwali Public Holiday

Today, Monday, it was very hot and humid but with no rain. I've been dripping with sweat for much of it. The ceiling fan in the kitchen has finally given up the ghost, after grinding away for a while. I've reported the fan to the owner and she's called the electrician, though I have no idea when he'll get here (today, tomorrow, morning, afternoon or evening...). I suppose he'll turn up when he turns up; it's not worth worrying about. He also needs to fix the fan in the hall, and the fluorescent light in the "cloakroom".

With luck, Asianet will come and set up the cable connection for the Internet tomorrow or Wednesday. Apparently the large length of cable piled up in the main bedroom was connected to Asianet previously, only it was used for cable-tv before. I pulled it back out of the bedroom and have re-routed it over the roof and into the hall where there's a big table which I can use. In fact, I'm using it right now! I expect to pay a one-off charge for 12 months for unlimited usage and a data rate of 384kbs of 10,000 Rs. That's about £10.40 a month. For a rate of 512kbps I'd pay £15/month - 50% more for 25% better data rate - it's not worth it. And it's expensive - for that amount in the UK I was getting up to 8Gbps!

The lad next door informed me today that he's never been to Lighthouse Beach at Kovalam! It's 4km away at most!! He's been to Vizhinjam, a fishing village about 2km away (and destined to become an international sea port in the next few years - prices of land in the area have soared as a result). I was amazed and have told him I'll take him there one day. Meanwhile I decided to see if I could walk to Vizhinjam and find a route to Lighthouse Beach - they can't be more than 1km apart. After going up the road I managed to take the wrong turn and got a little lost but fortunately got back on track easily enough. It was a baking hot day and the roadside chai was extremely welcome. Vizhinjam is the source of many of the kids who go to SISP - everything is centred around fishing and there is a lot of illiteracy as a result (the families are very poor and the kids are needed to work to bring in some income). I wonder what will happen when this town is wiped out by the new harbour... I suppose some folk will get jobs but fishing is all that a lot of them know.

En route I saw a white guy coming out of a side shop and decided to ask for directions. Turned out he was English and you've no idea how great it was to hear a familiar accent! He said that despite living there he'd never attempted to get to Lighthouse Beach from Vizhinjam and expected the route would be barred by hotels. I decided to give it a go anyway, and was successful! It wasn't too difficult either, and went past a fantastic view of the sea and rocks which needs future investigation. I also passed many "school pen" kids!

The German Bakery is a lovely spot, overlooking the crashing waves which one of SISP's volunteers surfs on. Both times I've visited it it has been quiet, and it's a great spot to spend a luxurious half an hour or so over a cup of Chai Marsala. Everyone else there was in pairs, I was the only solo.

Sunday, 26 October 2008


It is Diwali season here and tomorrow is a national holiday, but there are lots of celebrations going on today. Apparently it has to be celebrated with explosions and right now, at 6 in the evening, there are bombs exploding all around my house! There have been bangs going on all day but they were tame compared with these monsters! If there are any crows in the area they surely must be deaf!

There have been several occasions in the last few days when palm leaves have crashed to the ground from the trees as I've walked past. They are not small things, being about two to three metres long, and hit the ground with quite a thump. But worse are the coconuts. Falling from 10 to 20 metres, they would surely kill you if you were unlucky enough to be underneath. Fortunately, where there is some public liability, along roads for instance, the trees seem to be maintained - old branches removed and coconuts harvested. Mind you, near here I have seen the odd kernel lying at the roadside which must have come from somewhere!

The mattress arrived today! Sunday!! It was here when I got home after a walk - the family had taken delivery of it and were intrigued. I felt embarrassed telling them the price - 10,500Rs or £131, for a coil sprung mattress. A figure I doubt they could conceive of paying for a bit of bedding - after all, they'd make do with cloth-covered 75mm thick foam. And if not that, then at most a coir and foam construction costing 5,000Rs or so. It arrived covered in sacking which had been roughly hand-sewn together to enclose it - just as my father did with sacks of wool on the farm when I was a kid, only the string this time appeared to be hand-made. After taking that off (the grandmother whisked it away for personal recycling) the plastic wrapping was then taken off and that disappeared with equal speed. Then there was a band of printed silver film, which the mother promptly rolled up but which the little girl grabbed and used as a trumpet! Finally, the mattress itself - 48"x75"x6" from Springwel. It fitted the "cot" perfectly! Firm too, and came with an "all season" fleece blanket which looks a little thick for this climate. At most, a cotton sheet is all that I find I need. The family lent me a nylon sheet for the last week, and it wasn't the nicest experience I've had in bed! Sheets here are mostly patterned. In fact the shop I bought my sheet in had no plain ones at all and gave me an odd look for asking for one. I bought a sheet and two pillow cases for 530Rs (£6.20 - relatively expensive).

The children next door have got a cap gun, as many kids in the area seem to have. I certainly spotted a few at SISP's school. The gun cost 12Rs and a roll of caps 5 paise. The lad appears to have spent this week's allowance (20Rs) on the gun and caps, and will buy more tomorrow. He spent the evening firing at all and sundry, and shared generously with his sister. In fact they are really nice together - he looks after her - carrying her school bag to the rickshaw without prompting, for instance. It's lovely to see. I shared some of my misspent youth with them - showing them how to fire missed caps on old cap tape with a penknife, or simply by setting light to it. I wouldn't be surprised if caps were banned in the UK these days.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Bloody rickshaw drivers!

An interesting end to the day! The neighbour's lad and I had been in to Trivandrum to buy a few things. As they were bulky I decided to take a "rickshaw" home and, as luck would have it we found one immediately. He quoted 200 Rupees for the trip from the centre of TRV to Muttacadu which I thought was fair enough so didn't haggle. Once in the rickshaw he confirmed the price, which was reassuring. The ride was exciting to say the least! He drove like a madman - typical of rickshaw drivers. All over the road, overtaking everything possible, even cars indicating right! Just as we reached Kovalam the rickshaw hiccuped a few times but we kept going. The engine was probably red hot as we'd been driving flat-out all the way. Anyway, the driver started heading towards Kovalam Beach and I had to redirect him the 2km or so to my house. Not a big issue, so I thought, until it came to paying him. He switched off the engine, in anticipation of a bit of trouble I now realise. "400 Rupees" he demanded! Double! No Way!! In his broken English he tried to say that he had expected to go to the tourist area, not Muttacadu, and could therefore get a fare back again. No way was I having any of it. Even if he had genuinely made a mistake the tourist area is less than 4km from here, and is already over-supplied with taxis. I have heard of rickshaw drivers trying it on but this was the first time I'd encountered it. It took a full ten minutes, if not more, of him haranguing me first for the extra 200 Rs, then 40Rs, then 20Rs... although this is nothing really, to a Westerner, (20Rs = £0.25) it's the principle of it. And if I give in he's more likely to try it again withe next Gora he encounters. In the end, even with the support of the woman next door and her mother, with everyone at him, he would not be persuaded to go away, so I just told the others to go indoors, and I went inside myself and shut the door on him. Apparently he hung about for a few minutes and then sloped off. It's quite intimidating.

We'd gone to Trivandrum to get some bits and bobs - curtains, a curtain pole, fixings, pillows, bed sheet, pillow covers etc. We were successful with it all! Biggest bargain was the pole which we hunted high and low for, and then ended up on Bazaar Road, East Fort. It is long, narrow, with vehicles fighting pedestrians for space, has loads of shops and has just about everything imaginable - you just have to find it! There are no pavements, the roofs are gutterless, and it was chucking it down! Eventually we stumbled upon a little hardware store and could buy the pipe by the inch, individual screws, individual wall plugs, and the brackets. It all came to 66Rs - about £0.83! Pretty amazing I think, and a genuine, older, guy selling it. I'll use him again.

As Tuesday had been a day of strikes in Kerala, and school was closed, today (Saturday) was a school day to make up for it. I can't imagine that happening in the UK! For two hours this morning I worked with a 15 year-old girl. I think I mentioned her before - she's the one who can't do basic arithmetic. Not only that, but she struggles with Roman numerals as number representation. After two hours it was me who was struggling, I can tell you. Nearly tearing my hair out, in fact! I suppose 2hrs is too long a lesson, for both of us. We were trying to do simple subtraction - three digit numbers where each digit of the numerator was larger than the denominator, so they should have been easy. She started off using marks to represent the digits, and then crossed off the number of marks to be subtracted. Many times she put down too many or too few marks, crossed off too many or too few, miscounted the remainder, and then wrote down something completely different! I tried simplifying it to single digit subtraction, and then resorted to using counters (something tangible), and then tried getting her to write down rows of 1's, 2's 3's... even with that she made mistakes. I haven't given up but God, it's hard. I think I'll try money next - playing at buying things from a shop for instance.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Chai and Chat

On my way to the school each morning I have been stopping at a road-side stall for a chai to set me up for the day. I will often call in there after work too, for food before going home. I am getting to be known there and they are very welcoming. Indians as a race always seem curious to know where you're from, what your family situation is, where you're living, how much you earn etc etc and these guys are no exception. It's a little difficult as they have near zero English and me zero Malayalam, but they're gradually getting to know me through Indian fellow customers who often try to chat with me.

There seem to be three regular staff - one is the chai wallah, another makes all the barottas, dossas, chapattis, and so on, and the third fries the chicken and beef, and generally operates the till. The second guy is the most impressive - he stands at a huge block of marble-topped concrete, throwing the rice "dough" by whirling it around in the air until it's a big disk, slaps it down and slices it up, and kneads it. He has a continuous supply on the go, all at various stages, and has a big hotplate to his right which he slaps balls of dough down on, flattens them, and then flips them a few moments later. He can even can do omelettes at the same time - I had one this evening and it was great! He does all this with a constant rocking motion - which he maintains even in the brief periods of doing nothing! This is real fast food - from coming in to being served is usually less than a minute - staggering!

Work at SISP today was good - I helped the head teacher with a couple of English classes which is where I feel I can be of the greatest help. I have to keep my mouth shut, though, when he makes mistakes. They're only small errors but errors nonetheless, and some are even present in the text books. The rest of the day was spent helping with the computer classes - helping the Malayalam teacher - a nice guy. In fact, all of the teachers have been very friendly towards me. But the Head commands the most respect from the children - he has a certain knack, and the school hinges around him.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Torch and Mattress

A minor success this evening! I headed up to Kovalam Junction to get a bite to eat when I decided it would be sensible to buy myself a torch. The street to my house doesn't have lighting other than the occasional strip lamp or light from houses and it's pitch black at points - with mud and puddles to the sides. I got to the electrical store and had just made the purchase when all the lights went out - good timing or what?! It's an LED torch which takes AA batteries - and I have a set of rechargeables with me - so there's a decent amount of light and the batteries should last well.

As in the last few days there's been a teacher ill or missing for some reason. Classes are then doubled up and I generally assist with these bigger classes. They've mostly been art and maths - no English yet so I haven't had a chance to help with those classes, which is where I think I'll be able to help the most.

I helped one 15y.o. girl for maths today - just basic stuff. We were doing subtraction and I really think that she hasn't grasped that physical items can be represented by characters on paper - it really was that basic. We'd have a card which said something like "11 - 7 = " and she'd write down 11 marks and then cross off 7. Well, that was the theory! She'd often write more and cross off fewer, then even if she did end up with the right answer she'd write down something else! I think I could do more work here and hopefully teach her something.

This is in contrast to the kids who arrived at my house for tuition from the woman next door. They ranged in age from 6 - 13. Even the 6yo understood numbers and was doing sums mentally, and getting them right! I spent half an hour with this little group, reading them a story (which they found boring - was it me? or was the story incomprehensible?) and then doing things like sums, colours, items of clothing, parts of the body, sports etc etc, which they were much more interested in. They were lively little things, in contrast to some of the kids at SISP who look as if they've missed out on their childhood - no messing about, no eagerness, no spark - some look like little adults at the age of 6 or 7.

I haven't been able to get Internet for this place yet. Reliance has no cable to Kovalam. I need to try Asianet or BSNL, TATA etc but without Internet or a phone book I don't know how to contact them... However, one other success today - I did manage to find a shop and order a coil-spring mattress! It's coming tomorrow or the day after.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Downpours and Chaffing Briefs

It's 7 days since I arrived here in India and I've just had a second exhausting day at SISP. I suppose you must get used to it and relax a bit when you have the confidence of knowing what comes next, but I was struggling. Anyway, I've told the head teacher that I need tomorrow afternoon off to get a mattress etc. They will mostly be doing sports anyway which counts me out.

Last night it absolutely threw it down all night and continued into the morning when I set off for SISP. I have brought a rainproof lightweight jacket with me to India but it doesn't cover my legs and I've found that it clings to me when the going gets sweaty and humid. I need a decent umbrella like most Indians possess. Mr Nagaraj, who runs a stall up the road, gave me a lift in his hired rickshaw for part of the way which was very decent of him. The roads were running with rivers and had huge puddles. Since there are no pavements you spend much of your time dodging puddles and making sure you're not passing one when a lorry goes by.

The candle I've stuck to the bedpost keeps fizzing and crackling while I write this which is no good for my nerves. I'm sure I'm going to drop this laptop!

Must remember to get more boxer shorts. My briefs are causing sweating and chaffing which is most unpleasant. The boxers will allow a bit of air to circulate!

Monday, 20 October 2008


There's a strike on today. The reduction in traffic outside the house is very noticeable. Even the cockerel didn't start crowing until 5:30 - it was 5:00 yesterday! And the temple music seemed later today - around 05:45 - or perhaps it was drowned out by the ceiling fan which was on faster last night. The sound of it whirling away makes the noise of heavy rain in my imagination and helps reduce the intrusion of external sounds which is great for getting to sleep. The strike means there's no school today, but also unfortunately, because many shops are shut, that I can't get a mattress and sheets sorted out. It would have been the perfect opportunity.

It has been incredibly humid again but I did manage to check in at SISP for a brief talk with Paul, and then I walked down to Kovalam beach. I stopped for a chai at the German Bakery - a second-floor restaurant which is basically a few pillars covered by a pitched roof. Sitting back from the front means all you can see is the waves - not the hawkers and touts pestering the tourists along the path just below, or the black patches in the bits of golden sand. Those patches again make me wonder just how clean this sand really is. Still, from the German Bakery the view is fantastic, and the masala chai delicious!

I have been bitten to death by mosquitoes today despite being covered with Odomos cream - it seemed to make little difference, though without a control experiment who can tell? What the point of these little bastards is is beyond me. And why the hell do the bites have to itch so much after the blighters have left the scene? But I suppose at least you know you've been bitten and the reason for any malaria or Dengue fever that results. They are worst just after rain, and it's been raining on and off today which means lots of mosquitoes.

The heat and humidity made me feel exhausted despite doing little other than the walk, so much so that I ended up taking a couple of naps during the day. However now, at 8pm, it is absolutely throwing it down, and the air is so much clearer and more bearable. I sat with the kids from next door, doing some English reading and chatting, and enjoying their company. Their grandmother supplied me with several cuppas during the day, and even chapattis with some curried vegetables at breakfast time which I saved for lunch. Tasty too! Anyway, they are making me feel very welcome.

I bought an Indian dustpan from up the road - no accompanying brush was sold, and the lip of it was bowed, which I only found out after trying to use it! I had previously bought a broom type brush (like a besom) from the grandmother which she sells for 5Rs and was told that this was what I should use. She makes them from stripped palm leaves which must mean her hands are like leather because those leaves are pretty tough with sharp edges. I succeeded in flicking some dirt around but not in picking it up.

Indian matches! There's a knack to striking them which I have yet to master. They either lose their heads or ignite with a spark which flies off tangentially into the distance! You have to hold them at the end and push them very sharply down the sandpaper strip. When they do eventually light they seem to burn so quickly that you end up burning your fingers unless you move incredibly rapidly. And they stay glowing for 20s or more so you have to watch what you do with them. One day I'll get the hang of this and will wonder what the fuss was all about!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

First day at SISP

Breakfast was two bananas, with some sweet chai kindly provided by the neighbours. I haven't got myself sorted out yet, clearly! Work started at 9am so there was time for another cuppa en route. Almost the first thing I did when I got to the school was fall down the bloody stairs! My feet were sweaty and the stairs had just been washed - result was that it was like teetering on ice! I knew it was a bit slippy so was taking good care but there was nothing I could do about it. Result was a gashed arm and a bruised foot. The cut was treated by the school secretary - embarrassing or what?! The stairs are very smooth concrete with no tread or grooves, and sharp edges to the steps - lethal!

After an hour or so of keeping an eye on the kids as they arrived it was time for lessons - one teacher is off sick so I ended up helping an art class for two hours - mostly doing colouring-in by numbers. Keeping the kids interested for that length of time was a challenge! Break was followed by an hour of maths, being taught in Malayalam. It wasn't as bad as it sounds because we were doing sums based on Indian coins (25 paise, 50 paise, 1 Rupee, 2 Rupee, 5 Rupee) and I could just about make out the handwritten worksheet.

Lunch at 1pm couldn't come soon enough and it felt frustrating (but reasonable) to wait for the kids to be served before getting my own (rice with fish and a chai). There was a bit of computing before classes began and I was encouraged to help with that. The users were kids in the 16-20 age range. Difficult to imagine that up until a few weeks ago these young people had never used a PC! Many were working with Adobe Pagemaker 7.0 which must be several years old and seemed very clunky to use. Still, they were achieving something - even if only keyboard and mouse skills. The first lesson of the afternoon was a continuation of this but with younger children - around 10years old and using Microsoft Paint - a bit easier and more fun. Then an hour in a maths class being taught in Malayalam again. These were mixed ability kids (two different standards had had to be put together) and some of the lesson was intended only for the more able. This meant the others became disruptive and I became a bit of a peace keeper. Tricky when some of the kids were yelling answers and others were yelling abuse and I couldn't tell which was which!

Finally a break for a cuppa and then 2 hours of English tuition. I had four children who had come for coaching from a nearby school - two delightful girls and two cheeky boys, each around 7yo.

I survived all this but when I finally got home I felt shattered! It's all a bit of a learning process, especially keeping control of a group. There's no chance of having a quick break - you have to be on your toes constantly and at least one step ahead of the kids at all times.

Anyway, I found that the gas cylinder had been filled when I got home and so I connected it up to the hob and boiled a couple of litres water for tomorrow. Talking of which, rumour has it that there will be no school because of strikes in (communist governed) Kerala tomorrow. Great! It'll give me a chance to get a proper mattress to replace the thin thing I had to borrow from next door.

My mate MarkOh, and the best thing today was a phone call from my friend Mark at JET in the UK. I've been sending SMS texts to my children and friends daily, but it was great to hear for the sound of a friendly English voice.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Found accommodation

I've been getting quite anxious about finding suitable accommodation. Justin the taxi driver, who I'd hoped would be able to help, is now working 160km away. Neither the people at SISP nor my other contact here had any specific suggestions. The manager at Bakers Resort was telling me that I should avoid Muttacadu area, where I'd stayed before, because of trouble with youths, drugs, thieves etc. He said he'd check with his contacts but that it would take time. I wanted to get settled quickly so decided to check Muttacadu out myself. No one else I spoke to knew of any trouble. That included an English guy that a driver had pointed me to, who lived nearby.

I visited the flat I had in mind - it was much as I remembered it, only a bit grubbier. It's the ground floor of a house, the upper floor of which has yet to be built. It's attached to the owner's old house where two kids, their mother and grandmother live. The price was exactly as before - 6000Rs a month (about £80) so everything bodes well.

I was packed and ready to leave Bakers Resort hotel by 9 o'clock. The manager charged me a very decent rate which was good of him. I hailed a passing rickshaw to take me and my heavy suitcase - 50Rs. Perhaps a little on the expensive side but as I'd just saved 1000Rs or so on the hotel, I didn't mind. At the new rented house I was greeted by the family whose names I am struggling with, but intend to eventually master! The only furniture I have is a couple of wardrobes, a table, some plastic chairs and a bedframe - no mattress! There's a fridge and, later, a gas hob appeared from nowhere. The empty gas cylinder will be filled in a few days time through some system involving ration cards. So, the first priority was a mattress and bed linen. The family booked me a taxi - the idea being that the driver would put the mattress in the car's boot or on the roof - but we eventually found that the Big Bazaar in Trivandrum had very few in stock, those they did have were the wrong size, and all other bedding shops were closed as it's a Sunday. It wasn't a complete waste of time though - I bought sharp knives, towels, cups, plates and, importantly, buckets! The water in the bathroom is heated by an electric heater but any half-decent flow results in tepid water so I need to trickle it into a bucket and then use a cup to throw it over me. And, typically Indian, the tap marked "C" is actually the Hot!

There's been a longer-than-usual power cut this evening. Fortunately the 11yo lad next door had suggested I buy some candles and mosquito coils and incense just in case... and I needed them all almost immediately! The cut has so far lasted 6 hours from 4 o'clock and therefore was mostly in darkness. The lad next door asked for help with his homework and this took up nearly all the time, with us working by candlelight. Like most kids he had left it all until the last moment! It was fun though, and involved his mother and grandmother when it came to writing out an Indian recipe for a dessert in English.

So tomorrow I start helping at SISP. Not sure how I'll find time to get the mattress but I don't want to take time off on my first day there. Somehow it will work out...

Internet Cafe

I finally got an Internet connection in the evening, here in Bakers Resort Hotel! I plugged my laptop directly into the router to lessen the risk of viruses etc. It was great to have contact with the world again!

Today I decided to visit Trivandrum. I caught a bus at about 10am. Cost 7Rs!!! That's about £0.10 for 15km. Cheap or what?! Return was 8Rs - no idea why the difference.

Trivandrum, especially the main street - MG Road, is hellish. Cars, buses, lorries, motor bikes, scooters, auto-rickshaws everywhere. Noise and oily fumes, and horns blaring constantly. And then there's the people and street vendors... mayhem! I made my way to the Reliance Netconnect store to enquire about a data card which would give me a roaming wireless connection to the Internet. About 1000Rs a month with no restrictions - but I found the data rate would be slow at around 80kbps. And I'd need a permanent resident with ID to support my application - I'm not sure where I'll find one of those.

The bus was overcrowded in both directions and a bit grubby too, and the drivers drive like they're possessed - well, as much as the tired old engines and the pot-holed roads allow them! There's definitely some unwritten convention about where women and men sit - both times the women sat on the right in a group, sometimes with an elderly man amongst them. This needs further observation. Anyway, got there and back with no major incidents.

I met with the head teacher today and that was a lot more encouraging than my previous visit to SISP. We discussed the timetable and what my role might be. I'll start next Monday, from 09:00 - 18:00. Kids start to arrive at 09:00 and need supervising. Then lessons are 10:20-11:05, 11:05-11:50, break, 12:10-13:00, lunch, 14:00-15:00, 15:00-16:00, then they have a slice of bread and jam and many go home, while other children arrive and stay 16:00-18:00 starting with the bread and jam and then having tuition or doing homework. I should be able to help with the English during many parts of the day, but my first week will be spent mostly observing.

Somewhat jet lagged

I met with Paul today, manager and founder of SISP, the NGO I'm going to work at. Have to say I was a little disappointed by what appeared to be his lack of enthusiasm to have me. Almost the first thing he said was that the tourist visa I have was not applicable for volunteer work and could get me into trouble. I know that, of course, but there is nothing more suitable. He took great care to question my motives. Naturally it's only right that he's cautious - it's just that his caution felt much more like reluctance. Anyway, I filled in an application form and have an appointment to speak with the English teacher tomorrow.

This contrasts with the more enthusiastic message I got from our email exchanges... oh well, if this doesn't work out there are plenty more places I can go to. And I am jet-lagged so might be misreading all this!

I brought a mains distribution block with me from the UK, and today bought and fitted a 6A round-pin plug on the end of it. It's in use right now, topping up my laptop's battery, following a mains black-out 19:00 to 19:30. Apparently it is scheduled for every day - the hydro dams have insufficient water this year.

I also did my first bit of clothes washing, doing it as many Indians do, in a bucket. I'm not sure if they'll dry tonight; although hot it is also very humid. During the day I watched and chatted with a young chap doing ironing on a hand cart. He had a huge charcoal-filled iron and a pot of water, and some sheets of newspaper, and that was about all. No mains lead to worry about but you'd need strong wrists. Still, I suppose the iron's weight helps press the clothes flat. He was doing an excellent job.

I decided to have the leg length of my Rohan trousers altered (20Rs = 27p) at a tailor's across the street. While out, I bought two delicious bananas for 9Rs for supper. Bananas here come in many sizes and colours and I expect to have fun checking them all out! Lunch today was a filling Indian "meal" - a rice dosa and many pickles or sauces plus chaia for 35Rs + 5Rs.

I had a walk down to Kovalam Beach and seriously wonder why this place is so popular! OK, there are three sandy bays but they are not so big or clean. The waves roar fantastically and some parts are palm-tree fringed but there's not too much sand to sit on. There are loads of hotels and loads of touts, and quite a few tourists even now, out of season. And I spotted what looked suspiciously like a sewerage pipe, emptying onto the sand. It might only be street run-off but there was a slight smell... No, I can't figure this place out! Mind you, sitting in one of the many sea-facing restaurants or verandas and chilling is probably quite pleasant!

I spotted what appeared to be a huge bat as I walked home in the evening along the unlit road (there are street lamps, they just don't work!). It glided past at tree-top height with barely a flap of wings, black silhouetted against the slightly less black cloudy sky. A fruit bat perhaps? It's a bit like some of the "rickshaws" here - they don't turn their lights on (or perhaps have none) so you only see them if there's a car with lights behind. Crossing roads at night time is kinda interesting!

Friday, 17 October 2008

I'm in India!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Flew Heathrow - Colombo - Trivandrum with Sri Lankan Airlines. The main flight was 10hrs 45mins and exhausting, not helped by an additional two hour wait on the tarmac before take-off to fix a fault. Still, better safe than sorry! I chatted with an interesting guy ("JK") from Sri Lanka who was studying Disaster Management at Coventry Uni. 35 yo and, up till now, a permanent student. He had another year to go until qualifying and returning home to his wife and hopefully a government job in a new disaster relief department.

At 10:30a.m. I finally got out TRV airport after exchanging £50 at a crap rate but I wanted to have cash immediately (India Rupees are a closed currency, not available outside India). I was met by my old friend, Justin Hawar, a taxi driver, who took me for my first chaia (tea), and then to Baker's Resort Hotel in Kovalam.

I found it incredibly hard to take a nap - even though extremely tired I just couldn't sleep, so I eventually got up and had a walk to the supermarket - I had remembered razor blades but taken the wrong handle! Everything seemed so familiar - which of course it was, since I was here at Christmas last year. I then visited SISP, the NGO I intend to work with, was shown round by a proud school secretary, Mrs Kumari, and was amazed by the size of the new school building - a great improvement from the old, cramped, rented place on Harbour Road. Set back from Kovalam Junction down a side road, there is no road noise now, though the kids seem to make up for that!

With the help of Sherief, an employee at Bakers Resort, I managed to fix myself up with an AirTel Lifetime SIM card (the only condition being that I have to top it up at least every six months). And with the help of Justin I visited a potential accommodation... but really it wasn't suitable. 500Rs a day (about 15,000Rs a month or about £200) for a room in a shared house. It was very comfortable and well-appointed, but much too expensive for me. I want to pay about 6000Rs a month (£80) for a small self-contained apartment.

As I write this I spotted a big black creature out of the corner of my eye, scurrying across the floor. Turned out to be a huge cockroach! I eventually tracked it down, hiding inside a wooden chair, hoiked it out and dispatched it. Yuck!

Have to say I'm feeling a bit down. Meeting the SISP kids didn't magically make up for leaving my children, friends, work and home in England. I'm expecting too much, I know, and I'm jet-lagged. Still, I was able to text my daughter and some old friends, and their replies kept me afloat.