Thursday, 29 October 2009

Return to India

I'm back in India again. Unlike on my return in April I haven't hit the emotional low or had the bad heat rash I experienced then. Fingers crossed! Having said that, I do miss my family and friends in the UK.

The weather here is still hot and very humid. We've had a few heavy showers which must have raised the humidity even more. And the sun at around midday feels very intense. We've had a few rumbles of thunder but they've been mainly out at sea. The air is very still under all the palm trees. There's the occasional breeze near the beach but then, without the trees, there's little protection from the sun. What I'm trying to say is that it feels damned hot!

In Gatwick I had a minor panic with my luggage: my ticket said I had a 30kg baggage allowance but the staff said 20kg. My bags weighed in at 29.8kg!! Fortunately they used their discretion to let me through - I had visions of dumping all the goodies intended for SISP (PC, art materials, craft materials etc). I can tell you I was very relieved that it didn't come to that!

I shared my return flight with Antje from Germany, who will be at SISP for two months. She's very good company and is now using the spare room in my house. I've been able to show her around the area a little and introduced her to the people at SISP.

We arrived in Trivandrum at 4a.m. (on 21/10/09) and spent almost an hour getting through Arrivals and Baggage Reclaim. My luggage was marked with a big chalk "X" and I was pulled aside for questioning. When I explained that I had a dismantled desktop PC in my case they seemed to lose interest and didn't even ask me to open it. A taxi ride later (from a driver who took a scenic route even though the fare was 'fixed price') and we were back at my old house. The owners had swapped locks around, part-painted the peeling walls, and left the floors and surfaces grubby despite me requesting they Spring Clean it while I was away, but it didn't really matter - I was just grateful to have somewhere to rest my head and catch up on a few ZZZZ's!

As in April, I found my time in the UK very unsettling. I felt forever on the move, staying in other people's houses with people who have their own routines, sponging off their hospitality... Best was that I was able to see my son and daughter several times, sharing news, catching up, chatting, hugs, reestablishing bonds - lovely! I also saw the rest of my family, and met up with as many of my friends as I could. Next time I'll try to plan my visit to Abingdon so that I can have a game with my old badminton mates - I do miss the fun of those games and those friendly folks.

Soon after arriving in the UK I went up to London to get an Entry Visa. This is the correct category for volunteer workers - until now I've been on a Tourist Visa. I had read the VFS website and already obtained the requisite letter from SISP. But I failed miserably. They also wanted a letter from the UK branch of SISP - and there isn't one! A letter from Belgium might do, but that would take time, and I was told that I would only be granted a 3 month visa anyway, possibly extendible from India. I didn't want the hassle, and I wanted to be sure of getting a visa before my flight on 20th October, so I reverted to a Tourist Visa again. Applying for another back-to-back Tourist Visa is a bit risky (it suggests employment, residency, business etc) but fortunately it came through within the week.

Returning to SISP was great! I was greeted by so many little friends - it was really heart-warming. The huge smiles, the big hugs, the handshakes, the little touches, the shy grins, the shouted "hello Clive Saar"s! Then it was quickly back into the routine of staff tuition, class teaching and evening student tuition. Tine, the Belgian volunteer who had taken over while I was away, had done a good job. But her methods were... different from mine, let's say. I've found that a bit of a struggle but I'm sure we can work something out so that we can work together amicably in the future months.

On Friday we had a Teachers' Meeting during which I discovered we are going to celebrate a Muslim festival at the end of November. Christian last year and Hindu next. If you remember, I found last year's Christmas chaos absolute hell! And they're going to do the same this year: four teams, two weeks of indoor and outdoor games, daily changed boards showing various aspects of the religion, with end-of-month exams at the same time. The Head teacher said that 99% of the staff had enjoyed last year's activities - I must have been the 1% then! Thankfully, this time we have four other volunteers - Tine, Antje, Angela, and Cassi. Last year there was only one: me! I will do my absolute best to minimise involvement - but expect a grumpy report soon!

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