Wednesday, 30 September 2009

England, here we come!

Tomorrow morning I fly back to the UK. So ends my first year in India! I think I'll have to save my thoughts about my time spent here for a future post - I haven't finished packing yet and I've got to clean the house and tidy up before I'll rest!
Flight is 10:20 from Trivandrum with a 3 hour stopover in Dubai, arriving at London T3 at 20:15. (Emirates EK521 and EK005, total time 14.5 hours.) My sister has insisted on picking me up and whisking me back to her place in Guildford. Damned decent of her - thanks, J!

I'm looking forward most to catching up with my "children", C & J, and the rest of my family, and hearing all the news and stuff. And, in between, I hope to see as many of my old friends as possible too!

Friday, 25 September 2009

News Update for my old colleagues at JET

This is a copy of my latest contribution to the "CODAS Chronicle", a newsletter at JET, my old workplace.

I've been here in India almost a year now. Time has whizzed by, especially the last six months. And during all this time I have never once thought that I'd made the wrong choice. So, to those (few) naysayers who reckoned I'd be back working at JET within a year, I hope you didn't bet money on it because I'm going to disappoint you!

I will, however, be coming back to the UK for a short visit in October, to see family and friends and to renew my India visa for at least another year. In fact I'll be applying for a two-year visa though it's by no means certain I'll get it.

Just in case you've forgotten what I'm doing here, my main role is teaching "Computing" to the children at SISP through office and graphics applications. The children are aged from 6 to 20 or so, and all come from impoverished backgrounds.

So, what's been happening? On 15th August we had Independence Day celebrations, commemorating independence from us Brits in 1947. I expected to encounter some animosity but found nothing of the sort. In fact, if anything, all the Indians I've met have a preference for the British. Unfortunately it doesn't extend to getting discounts in the shops! White skin = full manufacturer's recommended price.

Then in early September we celebrated Onam, Kerala's main festival. At SISP we held a competition for the most beautiful 'pookkalam' - essentially a pattern or picture made with flower petals. These could be seen all over Kerala, adorning pavements, shop fronts and bits of empty road-side land. Generally a big temporary roof is placed over them because Onam happens to coincide with the monsoon season and they'd be washed away otherwise! Some patterns were small - just half a metre in diameter. Others were huge - maybe a 3D scene with an area of 25 square metres! SISP's pookkalams ranged from 600mm up to 2 metres in diameter - anything bigger would have cost too much and also have taken an inordinate amount of time to construct. As it was, our classes spent a morning making them and even had to raid nearby rough ground to find sufficient petals!

This little fellow is a House Gecko and he, and a few of his mates, live with me in my house. He's quite harmless, and earns houseroom by eating some of the spiders and cockroaches that are foolish enough to come his way.

I just had to show you these photos! These are on the covers of our latest consignment of exercise books. They depict Ajith, Vijay and a couple of other Bollywood/Tollywood/Kollywood film stars. The kids love these guys, and I got them to make me a poster with them on to brighten up the computer lab. There's some rivalry between fans which has resulted in an adornment of moustaches, glasses and extraneous appendages.

Finally, here's a paan-chewing fruit seller, trying her luck at Kovalam beach. She asked me to photograph her after I'd told her umpteen times I didn't want her pineapple, papaya, bananas or mangoes, so I felt obliged. And anyway, how could I resist the gappy smile and blood-stained teeth? Or her machete...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

And so to bed, only to find...'s not made.

Wish someone would invent a bed that made itself. I'd be first in line!

Hmmm... bet I wouldn't be alone, either. Perhaps there's money to be made here?!

I have only one set of sheets so I have to do a 12 hour turn around. Not so easy when humidity is high, I have no modern appliances, and there's a fair risk of rain. I have strung a line under an outside overhang which is reasonably effective at keeping things out of the rain and in the breeze, but it gets no sun and tends to get forgotten. Hence the late-night pain.

Stop procrastinating, Clive!!!

I wonder if I could sleep on the bare mattress...

Busy Doing Nothing

Hiya! Sorry that I haven't blogged for a couple of weeks but there's a very good reason for that - there's nothing to report!

Well, nothing very newsworthy anyway :)
But guess what! I'm gonna tell you anyway!! If you get bored easily, switch off now...

I've started the ball rolling with my India visa application - I've filled in the on-line application form at the VFS agency and I've written a letter offering myself a voluntary position at SISP. That's what you need when applying for an 'Entry' visa - the type now required for volunteering. It's all above board: I'll ask the managers at SISP to approve it and sign it. I've applied for a two-year visa in the hope that I'll get at least a 1 year. There are no refunds - if it gets knocked back to 1 year then I'll lose £60. It's a gamble I'm hoping will work out.

Last Saturday I spent four or five hours wandering around Trivandrum, trying to get inspiration for gifts for friends back home and failing miserably. Sorry you guys - I tried, I failed, I got sore feet. Fancy a keyring from Heathrow?

What else? Oh yes, bloody mosquitoes! I always say (to myself, mostly) that a good day starts with a dead mosquito. I try to get it before it gets me, and one day last week, in the shower, I got five! Yes, good going, but it means there are more about, and don't I just know it?! I've been bitten, and I've scratched my legs till they bleed! I can't help it - I even wake up finding myself scratching away! I'm going to have to cut my nails down to nothing because my legs look red raw and truly 'orrible!

I've been trying to work out where I'll sleep, who I'll see, what I'll do and so on, when I'm back in the UK. That's a work in progress....

Oh, I've finished my third noticeboard and attached it to the wall in boss Paul's office. It's a big one at 5ft x 3ft. He doesn't need one that large but it sort of justifies me having one the same size. Wouldn't want to usurp the boss, now would I?!! Above is a photo of one of the small ones - see how good those mitre joints look at a distance!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Onam Lunch - Friday: Wedding of Vijayalekshmi and Rahakrishnan

The laundry man from up the road has been asking me for months to go to his sister's wedding and so I went! I didn't know either the bride or groom or any of the families but I was made to feel very welcome, and Uday hugged me like a long lost brother!! The sister and her groom were in their forties so it was a little unusual from that respect. I imagine it wasn't an arranged marriage, but if it was a 'love marriage' then it was a little odd because they hardly looked at one another!

I was placed near the front so got a good view of the proceedings and will appear in many of the photos and videos. I guess I was the token white guy - there were no others. I think Uday was pleased to be seen connected with a Gora!

So what about the event itself? Imagine a lot of noise, incense, people, lights, talking, photography and videoing and you'll get the idea! I suppose vows were said but I didn't notice them. However, there was the usual walking around the little temple three times and perhaps, once performed, the deed was as good as done.

I didn't actually have the wedding lunch because I was feeling so bloated after days of eating rice for breakfast, lunch and supper, and all the (rice) Payasam I kept being offered.

The wedding hall had a dining hall attached to it with several rows of long tables and benches. Meals were eaten in three sittings - there were a lot of people! Portions were served by a well-organised squad of helpers, one of whom was my hairdresser!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Onam Lunch - Thursday

I had another Onam invitation - this time to R's house in Kovalam. She's the (almost) 19 y.o. girl who is being sponsored by some friends of mine to continue her mornings-only education at SISP. I think her mother felt she owed me something for setting it up. I arrived at 10 o'clock as invited, uncertain as to whether food would be included. It was! It came after an hour and I noticed that I was the only one to be given the special Onam food.

I looked around. The house was brick with a tiled roof. The bricks were probably baked mud held together with a muddy mortar. There were gaps between some of them. The roof was broken in one part and let the rain in. The building was basically one big room with chest-high walls dividing it into four. There was the kitchen area, the clothes-hanging/drying area, some other section I can't quite recollect, and the living area. In the living area the girl, her mother and her 6y.o. sister ate, watched TV, and slept on the thin mat. Yes, they had a little TV; it occupied the only table they had. There was a shelf with some pictures R wanted me to see but it fell off the wall when she touched it. It was a piece of a wooden crate resting on two sticks which had been poked into gaps in the wall.

R showed me the photos which were of her and a previous sponsor. The sponsor had stopped giving money which R speculates was because some rickshaw drivers had spread gossip about her receiving other support. Even if she had, which I seriously doubt and she says not, you only have to look around to see that they have next to nothing.

The little girl was a delight. Friendly with a big smile just like her mother. They had lived there all their lives and, when we went for a walk afterwards, everyone greeted and welcomed them. This family had some serious hard-luck stories to tell and I guess that the community had closed around them and tried to support them. Good to see.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Onam Lunch - Wednesday

kids busy colouringI had a long-standing invitation from a woman at SISP to go for a family lunch on the first day of Onam. I mentioned a while back that she has two young children, the older of whom (6) is in an orphanage the other side of Trivandrum because she can't afford to keep her at home and has no space. She lives in a brick outhouse with the younger one. When the mother goes to work, the little one (4) goes to school. She can afford that, just. The older one gets free education and keep at the Christian orphanage.

When they went to collect the older girl a week ago they found she had two-week-old burns on her chest and under her arm. The staff said it was from spilt tea but I saw it when she visited SISP and it looked very odd - like a long black wavy line with a deep, raw wound. Apparently the little girl has since revealed that this was caused by a hot fire iron used by one of the staff to punish her for wetting the bed. Jesus! I, as a non-expert, would say that that version is more consistent with the appearance of the scarring. The police were called, they're treating it seriously, and it's been on TV and in newspapers! The mother said the orphanage had been sealed off and the culprit had gone on the run - not sure if I should believe that or not. The orphanage still maintains it was hot tea...

Anyway, the little girl was very happy to be at home. She was even happier to receive a colouring book, wax crayons and a couple of bangles. She spent 3 - 4 hours solid colouring in!

After this there is no question of her going back. The current hope is that she is now old enough to go to SISP, so she can travel to and from with her mother. The two girls and their mother will have to squeeze into the outhouse at nights. It's not big enough to swing a cat.

Meanwhile we had lunch. It was very nice and I was told they hadn't had a party since the old man died, though I wasn't aware we were having a party. Then the woman's bossier brother said "You will give me trousers. With double zip-off legs. Yes, and a white T-shirt with a pocket". I thought I'd misunderstood so I said "Oh yes? They're expensive! Where will you get them from?" "You will give me them!" "For Christmas present." "Get when you go to UK." "When can I have them?". That kind of knocked me aback and I muttered something about trying but no promises. It seemed so out of place and unexpected yet the others just ignored it as if it was nothing. I've checked a little about Onam and read that the family head distributes clothes to his family during Onam. I wonder if that's it. Or just the common practice of fleecing the gullible Westerner. Anyway, it pissed me off.

Later a couple of local politicians came and talked about the little girl's burns for the next hour, in Malayalam of course. They weren't going to shut up in a hurry so I took my leave. The brother tried to do a deal with a rickshaw driver but I snubbed him by walking home, a distance he was too fat to consider. I much prefer the other brother who, I think, has mental health problems. He was much more straight. And skinny!