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!

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