Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Flights and Is There Anybody There?

planeI'll be flying back to the UK in a little over two months' time. If all goes to schedule I'll arrive 20:15 at Heathrow on Thursday 1st October. On this visit I'll have to renew my visa. I currently have a Tourist Visa which is simple to get but doesn't allow me to work, even without pay. I've also heard that India is clamping down on back-to-back Tourist Visas because their regularity implies that something other than tourism is going on. I'm hoping to get an Entry Visa this time, which will allow me to work as a volunteer. I'll support my application with a letter from SISP but I don't know how successful I'll be and, because of the uncertainty, I haven't booked a return flight to India yet. And if I wait until I have my visa before booking, which is what they advise me to do, then the flight costs will soar because of the short notice. I wonder if there's a flexible ticket which can be cancelled or postponed and which isn't horribly expensive...

Does anybody read this blog? M&S do, and CWG does, and CCE and JEE, but anybody else? I know it's a subscription blog with only 20 members but I feel that most of you guys have lost interest. What am I doing wrong? What would you like me to write about? To make it worth the effort I'm wondering about opening it up to the general public. That will mean I'll need to go back over it and delete the more personal stuff so it'll be a while before I get around to it, if ever. Is it worth the effort? Is there anything of interest to anybody out there, d'you think?


Monday, 27 July 2009

Intruder Deterrent

glass on wall topnails on wall top
These two pictures show how some people attempt to keep intruders out. Nice, huh?! They used to put broken glass on walls in the UK when I was a kid, but it was later outlawed. I've never seen nails used before but perhaps that's because of technological advances in the last 50 years. It looks to me as if the glass and nails have been bedded into epoxy resin. And if that is so then epoxy must surely be cheap here in India - potentially useful knowledge for any future little projects I might have...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Teaching Success

After a day's work it's very easy for me to be weighed down thinking "this didn't work", "that was crap", "you're shit", and getting exasperated with myself and with the kids. I need to see the little successes and learn from the failures. If I had a psychotherapist I'm sure she'd agree!

It's hard though, when the successes are not obvious or are overwhelmed by thoughts of the failures. And what can you learn from failures? Only that something didn't work, not necessarily what to do to make it work!

During the past week we've had Craig, a young Scottish teacher, visiting SISP and working with a couple of our special needs children (for want of a better term - we all have special needs.) Our head teacher asked him to give a talk about modern teaching methods. You could say that his little presentation was an epiphany for me! He talked about the concept of multiple intelligences - the different ways in which we all learn. In his model there were eight modes of learning and when you split them all out they make a lot of sense. He went on to talk about Classroom Practice, Assessment For Learning, Assessment As Learning, Assessment Of Learning, Questioning and Discussing. I mode notes and can already see how I can improve my teaching. Fantastic!

Importantly for me, he singled out a couple of things I had done with my classes which he thought were particularly effective. That did my ego no harm whatsoever!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Karkidaka Vavu Bali and SISP

Genesis Duke album coverIt's mid-morning and I'm currently educating the neighbours, and their neighbours, with high volume Genesis. Perhaps this is how the temple priests feel about their "bloody awful racket!"

Today's a holiday at SISP, in recognition of Belgian Independence Day (the founders are Belgians) and "Karkidaka Vavu Bali". Apparently six medical teams and ambulances have been deployed around Trivandrum in readiness for ... what? The newspaper doesn't say but I guess it'll be alcohol induced mayhem! Vavu Bali or Vavubali Tharpanam is an important ritual observed by Hindus in Kerala in the month of Karkidakam (mid July to mid August). People offer 'bali' to the departed souls of ancestors on the day, which just happens to be today. I've been invited to have lunch with the neighbours so I plan to offer bali to my ancestors.

At SISP yesterday I had to do a drawing lesson with B-Group. They're aged 13 up to 19 and I have two such lessons with them each week. The constant dilemma of what to do with them... I decided I'd get them to make some cardboard folders for their artworks, but first perhaps they could make them from newspaper, and then again, perhaps they should first draw a diagram of what I expect them to make. I had a free period just prior to the lesson which I spent drawing up a technical drawing on the board. So, all they had to do was copy it at a 1/3 scale onto A4 paper. Easy! Or so I thought... they had no idea what a scale diagram was! Surely one of the older ones would know ... but no, not a clue. I was exasperated with them, but especially with myself for assuming they'd know what I was on about without checking first. Oh well, I foresee several lessons coming from this so I won't have to think too hard about what to give them in the next few weeks. And it'll give me time to find the cardboard for the folders. Clouds and silver linings!

(SISP website)

banana leaf mealPostscript Well, that was very weird. I've just had lunch next door as invited, and I'm back 35 minutes later! This Karkidaka Vavu Bali business was a real non-event! I went in, sat on the only chair at the only (low) table, and my meal (Keralan Thali) was already served on a banana leaf. The two kids and their father sat on the floor. Mother and Grandmother had apparently already eaten. Meanwhile the TV was on and loud, tuned and retuned to cartoons. Half way through, the father went out for a cigarette. Then a woman turned up, sat down and ate something then left again 5 minutes later. She barely said a word to the family and certainly nothing to me - in fact she completely ignored me, stared straight ahead and watched the TV! No, thinking about it, I'd actually say she actively avoided looking at me!! The kids barely said a word and just sat glued to the TV while the two women kind of hovered in the background. When they did say anything it was amongst themselves and not to me, even though I tried to converse with them! The Mother has quite reasonable English too, when she bothers to use it. Well, after they suggested I wash my hands, I was left with the feeling that they had better things to do (like watch more TV) so I said I'd be off and watched for a reaction - not a thing! It was as if the ritual was to have a visitor, any visitor, and give them food. The fact that nothing was said was of no consequence. Very, very odd. And even at only 35mins, I'm left wondering whether I overstayed my welcome.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Ears and Feet

Just a small update... My hearing is almost back to normal after deafening myself with metal drilling a couple of weeks ago. When I whistle I can still hear the ringing but it's a lot less now. Perhaps I should give up whistling!

And my feet, which were suffering from Athletes' Foot, have recovered after I started using Canesten cream on them regularly. It's an anti-fungal cream containing Clotrimazole and Benzyl Alcohol. The cracks between my toes are not so obvious now and certainly don't itch like they did. Just as well because they get a little mud-spattered between here and SISP, no matter how careful I am to avoid puddles.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

My work plagiarised!

I was irritated to find that some of my work on SISP's website has been plagiarised by a children's home. I wouldn't normally mind but, as it's local, it could appear that SISP has associations with it when it categorically doesn't. Perhaps I should feel flattered! The good thing is that it has caused me to review my words; my article wasn't so great after all and so I've improved it.

This damned internet connection keeps failing! We get a little powercut and then WHAM!! No internet! Like right now, this very second, I'm having to write this using Notepad, saving on my laptop and then uploading when the connection returns. Sometimes I phone the providers, Asianet, and sometimes they fix it by resetting something there and then. Other times they send a man out somewhere (or so they claim) and it takes hours. It's amazing how much I rely on the internet for my sanity!

Oooh Look! It's back up again!!

A Sobering Home Visit

The little girl next door has just asked me when my birthday was because she wanted to give me a present(!) I said Septober the 32nd and she went away happy. Oh, such deviousness!

Today I went to visit the home of one of our workshop ladies, a single woman in her thirties with two young children. Her husband had been killed two years ago in a road accident after drinking. Theirs was a "Love Marriage", not an arranged marriage, and neither set of parents approved or had helped them set up home which must have put a big pressure on them. After his death she was blamed for turning him to alcohol, the consequence of which was that she had no support from the husband's family nor from parts of the community, and had found it impossible to get a job until SISP had intervened. I met her, one of her daughters, two of her brothers and her mother, all of whom lived at the old mother's house.

younger daughterThe daughter was charming. A sparky four year old with a cheeky grin, she was very endearing. But I had forgotten the reason I wouldn't meet the second, older daughter - she was in a Children's Home/Orphanage because Mum couldn't afford to keep her at home. Of the whole household, Mum was the only one with regular employment and I know what her salary is - a pittance. I can't begin to imagine how painful it must be for this woman to send her six year old daughter to the home, twenty kilometres away, only getting to see her once every few weeks.
The house they all live in is brick with a palm leaf thatched roof. The two brothers and their mother occupy the two rooms and porch of the house. The woman and daughter live in the outhouse which is basically an insecure extended outside toilet - brick built with an asbestolux roof. The roof had collapsed in recent rains but had been repaired. It was just big enough for a bed and a wardrobe. In the house we sat at a small table on two plastic chairs, on the edge of a bed and on the bare floor. There were hardly enough cups and plates to go round. They get water from a well but it's not really fit for drinking because they're close to the sea and consequently the water is salty.

Lunch was delicious (rice, grilled fish, shrimp and squid, all locally caught and fresh) and we went for a walk later. You can imagine how I felt afterwards - the feeling of what can I do to help? Probably nothing. But wouldn't it be fantastic if some money could be found to build a proper extension to the house and bring the other daughter home?

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Toothpaste, Sweat, and (almost) Fisticuffs

touthpaste mouthI awoke today in a good mood. A blast of Steve Harley's "Come Up and See Me, Make Me Smile" and I'm out the door. Smiling, friendly kids and adults. And there's the very attractive 25yo daughter of the auto-rickshaw driver, brushing her teeth in the garden, white frothed toothpaste all around her mouth, and she still manages to beam and look attractive! Then it's in to school. After adult tuition my first period is free - or it should be. As with most days, there's a reason to fill it - someone's sick or taking a kid to the doctors or sorting out a birth certificate or any of n possibilities. I mind, but not much: certainly not enough to complain. And there's no time to really mind - I've got to sort out an activity for them to do. Today I just regurgitate something I did six months ago which they've all but forgotten. Then two classes with the older kids and it's lunchtime.

failed mitreIt being Thursday, I have the afternoon off, but today I'm making the mitre box out of angle iron, for mitre-ing the aluminium frames of the pinboards I'm making. It doesn't go well. Without a set-square, protractor or scriber it takes a while of irritated measuring, marking and assembling. At least my new drill bits don't go blunt immediately they see the iron this time! Cutting the 45 degree angle is difficult, requiring quite a lot of physical effort, and the blade wavers off course. This, with the backdrop of loud banter from the youths in the workshop and tinny noise coming from one of their mobile phones. I try to keep my cool. Then one of the kids accidentally/intentionally bumps me as he passes behind me. I accidentally/intentionally return the favour and he ends up in the box of coconut shells, scowling. It's hot, its sticky, I'm dripping in sweat and all surfaces and tools are covered in coconut dust. It's not nice. In the end I call it a day - perhaps I've made an inch of progress.

A welcome cup of tea and a sandwich nicked from under the nose of the cook. She looks fiercely at me, but then again she looks fiercely at everyone! Miserable Old Boot! And finally, as I'm about to leave, I turn and find two older youths with hands locked around each other's throat. Christ! I shout at them but it makes no difference. They're pushing and shoving and moving stiffly, suddenly and aggressively. Shouting even more loudly still doesn't work so I wade in to pull them apart and, amazingly, I succeed. One of these kids is backward, stunted, but very strong. The other, I can only presume, was picking on him. I try to find out what's going on and the normal kid intimates in his very basic English that they are only playing. Yeah, right. So no fists were actually flying but they were about to, or so it appeared. It's frustrating not being able to communicate effectively or understand or calm things down. In the end I drag them off to the head teacher, all the while with the normal kid beseeching me to give him another chance. I'm tempted, but decide that if this is a pattern of behaviour then it needs to be dealt with. They start getting difficult but I grab a passing kid and he calls the head. Thankfully he arrives quickly and starts talking calmly with them. I leave them to it, find my bag, and go home.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Listening to Music and going Deaf

itunesIt's Sunday, early afternoon. I got up at about 6:45 this morning, did the usual stuff, and thought I'd see if I could catch up a bit on this blog. Then I got sidetracked, as so often happens to me. This is where the time disappears to! It's so easy to lose hour after hour on the web and have bugger all to show for it!

What happened this morning was that I took a look at The Independent's website, read an article on how Britain has run out of bicycles due to the popularity of the Govt's Cycle To Work Scheme (fantastic news!) and then followed an article to their daily music playlists. They are linked to Spotify, so in the UK and other places you can listen to the music online (for a very small fee). Unfortunately I found that when I clicked on a BritPop selection nothing happened - Spotify can't have reached India yet. Then I noticed a Michael Jackson playlist (he died ten days ago) and remembered that I had none of his music on iTunes ... wouldn't it be nice to have just a few tracks, his best maybe, and I wondered if there was anything I could pull from the web... So I ended up downloading various tracks, individually, listening to them, discarding a few, and getting distracted by other singers etc. And so one by one the hours trickled away!

Well, maybe I do have something to show for my time - I do have some nice new tracks (and MJ tracks) on iTunes to listen to!

Unfortunately music doesn't sound right to me at the moment. It's all muffled, and it's not just my crappy loudspeakers - everyday speech is muffled too! I know the reason, and it's my own silly fault. Last Monday I tried drilling some angle iron to make a mitre jig for the pinboard frames I'm in the process of putting together. Only the drill bits I bought last weekend were feeble, went blunt very quickly, and then went black from the heat and became even more blunt. I persevered, pressing harder and harder, hoping that somehow the drills would make it through the angle iron, but they didn't. They made one hell of a screeching noise and had everyone in SISP's Coconut Workshop complaining. I should have stopped immediately, but I only had four 4mm holes to drill - how difficult could that be? Well, impossible with these pathetic Indian drill bits, it seems. So, with all the noise, my ears were ringing, and they've been ringing ever since. Even more than usual I'm having to ask people to repeat what they're saying to me which must piss them off - I know it does me.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Monsoon? What Monsoon? And Foot Rot

In this part of the world we should be having a monsoon, but we're not. Sure, it has rained a bit, quite heavily a couple of times, but not what you could call a "monsoon".

muddy feetIt rains lightly in the night time so there are puddles on my route to SISP. About a third of the way is on tarmac, but that's potholed in places and the holes fill with red muddy water. Then the rest of the way is on rough tracks which are either surfaced with sharp broken rock pieces so you have to walk on the smoother dirt bits, or they're just plain dirt. Whatever, it's very easy to arrive at SISP with grubby feet, especially wearing open sandals which everyone does. I arrive at around 08:30 and the cleaners are still in the process of washing the floors. We don't wear footwear in the school so my feet get wet from the cleaning, if they weren't already wet from walking there. What this is all leading up to is that I've picked up Athlete's foot and it's a painful nuisance. One little toe has become quite swollen and the gap between it and its neighbour has closed up so that air doesn't circulate. Not that circulating air matters a lot - nothing much is drying because of the high humidity. On both feet the skin between the 4th and 5th toes has become cracked and it oozes a bit. I managed to buy some Canesten cream which I use at least twice a day, and try to use some Betadine beforehand to sterilise between my toes. The cream at least makes things a little more comfortable. I think it will work.

tapiocaThis is Tapioca, otherwise known as Cassava or Manioc or other names, and it seems to get planted on any spare bit of soil that can be dug over. It's common in the tropics. The root is the important bit and it's basically pure starch. When the plant is mature, what you see looks like a bunch of sticks coming out of the ground, topped by leaves at about 2 metres height. When growing to that height the intermediate leaves die and fall off, leaving behind obvious nodes on the sticks. During harvesting the sticks are kept and at planting time they're cut into short lengths, each with a few leaf nodes. I guess each length is about 200mm (8"). The ground is prepared by loosening it up, removing the weeds and making little humps on a 1m x 1m grid. The sticks are simply pushed into the humps and a few days later leaves begin to appear from the nodes, just like in this photo!