Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Journey Continues...

Please follow my journey to Sri Lanka : Clive in Sri Lanka

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Leaving India

My flight was at 5a.m. and experience dictated that I had to be in the airport three hours earlier. That meant leaving the house at 1:30a.m. I thought I'd go to bed early to get at least two hours' sleep but the temples had other ideas! On my last night in India I had not one but TWO temples blasting out music/noise with fireworks and bomb blasts for twenty minutes around midnight. You can only smile - this is India after all!

For the last few days I've thought "this is the last time I'll ever do this" or "this is the last time I'll ever see him, her, that..." but always without total conviction - there was always a possibility that it might not be the very last time. But now, this was it. The very last time. Time was too short for it not to be.

I'd given myself 45 minutes to leave the house but I didn't really need it: I was packed, ready to go, well before I lay down. All I had to do was stuff my dirty clothes into the pocket on my suitcase, zip it up, lock it, and I was ready. The place itself could have done with a clean but it wasn't too bad. I was leaving behind various odds and ends like buckets, cutlery, cups, sharp knives, food containers and so on - hopefully more than compensating for the dusty rooms.

The kids from next door were excited to be coming with me to the airport at that time of night with their rickshaw-driving dad. Maybe that made it all a lot easier because we just chatted away and the 30 minutes' journey flew; there was no time to feel sad. And then it was the mechanistic process of scanning, weighing, checking, checking, checking and checking again. An hour or so of people-, clock- and announcement-watching and then we were off. Goodbye India!

A friend asked the other day if I had any regrets about leaving my secure, comfy job and lifestyle behind and going to India to work with SISP's children for eighteen months. "Not One," I replied. To be honest, it's been hard on my personal life but the rewards from the children have been immense.  If they hadn't been, I wouldn't still be doing this.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Last Post From India

This is probably my last post from India. I fly out at 5am tomorrow morning, Trivandrumn to Doha to Heathrow, on Qatar Airways. There's a 6-hour stopover in Doha which will be a bit of a struggle unless I can find somewhere to have a lie down. Already I feel shattered and could do with a good sleep, and I doubt I'll get much of a rest tonight.

Yesterday was an emotional time for me, as you can probably imagine. I've got to know these kids really well over the last 18 months - they're almost like family to me. A few tears were shed - mostly mine.

The lunch was nearly a disaster. When we got to the shop the food wasn't ready. Then we had to return to SISP to get some big pots - the shop hadn't thought to tell us that we needed to supply them. Finally, I was the one in the back of the rickshaw holding onto pots of very hot gravy which spilled over me as we bumped along the roads and rough tracks to SISP. We made it with five minutes to spare. I had to half-wash my shirt because of the gravy splashes over it. But it was all worth it - the food went down a treat! The kids really love their chicken fry, parottas and chappattis. Buying for 120 mouths was not cheap but the pleasure was palpable!

In the afternoon the children put on a delightful show to say farewell to me and to James, a volunteer who'd been with us for a few months. There were several fantastic performances of dance and theatre, then fruit salad from me, a few speeches (including mine), then a birthday cake from/for vol Nathalie. Lots of fond farewells (tears) and then we shot off to the funeral of a teacher's sister. She was a girl of only fifteen and had died of lung cancer that morning. By the time we got there she was already in the ground and the hole had been filled in. What I found awful was that no one had told the girl she was dying. As far as I can tell, everyone was in denial.

I keep getting given gifts! Esther, in the tailoring workshop has given loads - ear rings, a necklace, cushion covers, water bottle cover, and lots of other bits and pieces. Then she gave me packets of nuts, banana chips, and jack-fruit chips - all big and heavy! I had to give them away unfortunately because they were too heavy to pack in my baggage. And today I was given a model of a rowing boat, the type that is raced on the Backwaters. Again, very kind, but I have no spare space or weight allowance - I'm right on the limit. And that's after posting a 4kg parcel of sheets and towels to Sri Lanka!

Well, those are the facts, devoid of too much emotion. I'll write a bit more when time allows. Right now I'm on countdown.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday's wake-up calls have all come at the god-forsaken time of 04:10.  You can imagine how I feel about it!

Meanwhile, at SISP, the new volunteer Computer teacher has agreed to start next week.  That's really good news for the children - there'll be no break in their education and the quality will improve because he's young, has good ideas, and can communicate well.  I've watched him with the children - he's a natural.

Esther gave me a note of thanks and farewell yesterday.  I read it but got a bit choked up when thanking her for it.  If I get any more notes I think I'll read them after I've left.

I mentioned this ditch ages ago and vowed to find out what it was. Well, I didn't need to do any investigating because everyone said the same - it's an irrigation channel coming from Neyyar Dam, 40km away, providing water for the emergency irrigation of crops. 40km! Dug by hand! Complete with sluice gates and frequent bridges, and no lock gates. This is surely quite a feat of engineering!
Today was the first time during my 520 day stay in India that I've seen water in it. The short section in the first photo had been cleared only a week ago to look good for the temple festivities; the rest is somewhat overgrown and yet the water was flowing well.

This little cutie is about 520 days old too. She was born at around the time of my arrival here and I've watched her grow from a babe-in-arms to this smiley toddler. I see her nearly every day on my walk to school. She beams and waves at me, and can say a few words. Her mother and grandmother are equally smiley and friendly!

Sunday, 21 March 2010


The temple noise started with Suprabhatham (Good Morning) at 05:00. And in exactly 24x7 hours time I'll be on a plane to the UK.

Ten minutes after it started I was outside, razor blade in hand. I figured that, since I'd complained yesterday, cut wires near my house might be a trifle obvious. But what if I just shorted the wires together and blew the amplifier's fuse? A razor would cut into the insulation and a bit of tape wrapped around it would stop me getting a belt off the 100 Volt line voltage.

First problem was that even at 05:10, there were people on the road. One guy suddenly appeared out of the shadows and looked at me suspiciously. Second problem was that the path with the wires (the path to the temple) had been specially lit with fluorescent tubes every few yards - it was like being under a spotlight! Anyway, I went for it... and failed. Bummer! I shorted the wires together during a quiet bit and held the razor there for several seconds, but by the time I'd got back to the house the noise started up again. Bloody frustrating.

I could just move house but all my junk isn't sorted. I've got to stay here a few days while I rationalise everything into piles of what's going to the UK, what could be posted to Sri Lanka, what's going to be given away, what's going to remain, and what's to be binned. And meanwhile I've still got classes to arrange, farewell-photos to do, and a blog to write!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Before I go

Oh goody, the temple's started its deafening festivities again. Last night and the previous night they warmed up with a couple of hours in the evening. That was sort of OK but then I had it at 04:10 this morning. Yes, 04:10, as in TEN PAST F&CKING FOUR!!!! Full f&cking volume. :(
Am not a happy chappie.

I went and complained. And I know how much difference complaining makes... sweet FA, but it made me feel slightly better.

This 'festival' is going to last until the 29th, the day after I leave.

I noticed that the wires are hanging within reach this time...

This blog

This blog will soon be coming to an end because I'm leaving India. But who reads it? Not many! I've been monitoring for the last month. Of 38 visits, 25 were mine! 10 came from the UK, 2 Sweden (thanks, Marco!) and 1 from Belgium. The person in Belgium was in Gent - thank you, whoever you are! So, of the ten UK visitors, Christopher in Swansea visited me three times :-) Two people in Abingdon visited me a total of three times, then one in London, Trowbridge, Oxford and Ashfield.

This isn't very exciting stuff, is it? Perhaps that's why I have so few visitors!

It doesn't help that Google isn't indexing my pages even though this blog went public a month ago, and nor does Google's search facility work.

Doesn't matter. In a few years time I'll look at it again and surprise myself at what I got up to!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Winding things down

One of my two luxuries here was a decent mattress (the other was this Internet connection - though perhaps that's more of an essential). I had a frame in my house when I moved in but bought another for people who stayed over. So, mattress + frame = one bed. I gave it away last weekend to a teacher from SISP who didn't have one and slept on a mat on the floor. She'd been telling me of her bad back for ages so perhaps the coil-sprung mattress will help. I know it gave me completely pain-free nights. Now I'm sleeping on a cotton-filled padded mat on the original frame and it's so damned uncomfortable! It's hot and sticky, and the sheet doesn't stay tucked in - I'm sure I'm losing several hours of sleep a night. 11 more nights to go... urgh!

And I've given away my active loudspeaker system which I used to use with this laptop. It went to the older boys at SISP for use in the afternoons when they're making crafts for the workshops. Now the boys can connect their MP3-playing cell phones to get a good volume and fair quality - infinitely better than hearing the tinny-hissy noise of the cell phones turned up full. I've also downloaded over 200 hindi, tamil and malayalam film-music tracks for them. I'm now a bit of a hero to them!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Winding things up

At SISP, it's good to hear that a new chap may be taking over from me.  I met Cherry last week - he's young, bright, a real computing expert, is a native to Trivandrum, might volunteer long-term, and sounds keen.  I'm a bit worried that he seems quite quiet but perhaps that will work out OK if he gets the kids' respect.  He'll come to my classes tomorrow and on Friday to get a feel of what he's up against.  I hope he takes it on - it'll be good for the kids and for him too.

My last day is Friday of next week - 10 days' time.  I'm going to treat staff and kids to food that they like - chicken roast pieces, parottas and gravy. And perhaps fruit salad afterwards. I'm expecting there'll be about 115 mouths to feed!  Our cook couldn't cope with this kind of food so I've ordered it from a nearby place that came highly recommended.  They gave me a free sample - very tasty!  Friday's school food would normally be rice soup - a rather unpleasant gastronomic experience, and I'm pleased to think it won't be my last meal in India!

I've also been getting photos together so that I can give everyone a photo of themselves.  Here's sheet of all the children.  I'm gonna miss them.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Me and The Police - Procrastinating

My return to the UK is rapidly approaching.  I feel I have many things to do but all my spare time is spent procrastinating!

My prospective employers in Sri Lanka have asked for a CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) check to be done - quite rightly, as I'll be working with children.  The form processing has to be done through an agency -  they have sent the paperwork via my sister-in-law in the UK, to me in India, back to my sister-in-law who attached a cheque, and it's now with the agency. That should all be fine and dandy and, as I've kept an address in the UK, it will probably cover all the time up to the date the form is processed.  It will also cover my 18 months in India - how do they know what I've been up to here?!

I thought I'd be squeaky clean and suggested I get a letter of "good behaviour" from the local Kovalam Police - how stupid was that?!  I've been twice to the police station.  First time they questioned how they could give a letter of good behaviour if they didn't know me (!) and didn't know I'd even been staying here.  I told them that my landlady had had to register me with them so I'd be in "The System".  But I saw their system - huge piles of daunting unsorted paperwork so I wasn't too surprised when they asked me to fetch my landlady.   On the second meeting I took my landlady, her husband and her daughter with me.  It was clear that they all knew me well so the Police mostly questioned them.  Unfortunately, they revealed that I worked at SISP but no worries, they weren't at all concerned that it's illegal to work on a tourist visa. 

The chief guy then got involved - the Sub-Inspector - and he asked the same thing: how could he write a letter of good behaviour if he didn't even know me?  I told him that that was the whole point - that if he didn't know me then surely it would mean I'd been behaving.  He didn't seem convinced.  Perhaps that reflected his confidence in catching miscreants!  I told him that the letter only had to say that I hadn't been in trouble with the police but he seemed suspicious about confirming that too!  They (by this time a crowd of brown uniforms had gathered) then decided that what they wanted next was a certificate from SISP saying that I'd worked for them, unpaid, for the last 18 months and had been a good boy.  After I said that that would be OK they thought a bit more and decided that, even with the certificate, they didn't have the authority to write a letter and I needed to go to the Police Office in Trivandrum (the Foreign Registration Office part).  This was starting to get somewhat ridiculous.  OK, well it still looked doable, if tedious, until I asked Paul Van Gelder if he'd write me a certificate.  That would be "Absolutely No Problem" per se, BUT he'd had to sign something in the past with the FRO saying that SISP wouldn't employ volunteers!!!   I'm not sure what paper was signed for what purpose but the warning was clear - this could bring big difficulties for SISP.  Stuck between a rock and a hard place!

Think I'm gonna give up on this letter idea and suggest that if any references are needed then the SL people can contact SISP or the local police themselves.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

It's Bicycle Repair Man!

This friendly guy operates out of a shack at the top of my road.  He has absolutely no English but always acknowledges me with a smile and a wave of a spanner as I go by.  There is often a crowd of kids around him as he repairs punctures, fixes brakes or inflates tyres for them.  Most times he is crouched down in this position with bits of bike strewn around him.  Either side the double doors are rusty old heaps for sale and one smart, black shiny bike - his.
About a third of the way down the road towards my house is Akhil Motors where they mostly repair Ambassador taxis.  I've mentioned them before.  This mouldering green Ambassador has seen better days but, unlike the car just out of shot, it at least has its doors, windows and wheels.  The other car has donated pretty much everything apart from the shell and is slowly disappearing under a pile of filthy old oil filters.
Here are some of the jewellery items made by the older students working in SISP's Stitching Unit.  They're made from old glossy magazines, PVA glue, Superglue, and a lot of effort.  The boys first roll the paper into a thin tube, like a paper straw, which is held together by a smear of PVA glue.  Later, once dry, the tubes are flattened, bent, and twisted into curls and whorls which are fixed with a liberal dose of Superglue.  Finally, the creations have ear ring fittings and wire hoops attached.  We sell them to tourists who visit the workshops on Friday lunchtimes, or via orders placed by the sponsor organisations in Italy, Belgium and The Netherlands.

There was a SISP staff meeting last Friday and I was the only volunteer invited along.  SISP President Paul Van Gelder announced a pay rise for all staff of 22% across the board which was greeted by much applause.  It will cost SISP an extra Rs.50,000 a month - up from Rs.150,000 to Rs.200,000.  He said that food prices had risen 20% in the last year, hence the size of the rise.  The teachers have been pressing hard for increases for at least the last year.  Paul has always declined, saying that if he gave them a rise he would have to give it to everyone but it's now a new year and a new budget.

Male staff tend to be vocal in their claims, while female staff tend to be very passive.  Our social workers are all women, as are the workshop coordinators and most of the full-time workshop staff.  Four of the six full-time teachers are male and only one is over the age of thirty.  Trouble is, the male teachers claim that their pay has dropped behind that in the profession.  It's made a tricky balancing act due to the huge variation in teachers' salaries in the private schools, and by the consistently higher salaries in the public schools (jobs in the public sector are highly sought-after and are too often gained through personal contacts and back-handers - corruption, in other words).  One of our best teachers (male) left just before Christmas for a better salary in a public sector job, gained by merit, I hasten to add.  I guess time will tell whether the remaining teachers are satisfied with their pay rise or not - but unfortunately disrupted education will be the price paid if they aren't.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Herding Ducklings

This guy was herding thirty ducklings along my road yesterday.  He has a long stick with a yellow flag on top to guide them along - no mean feat when there are trucks and cars and rickshaws passing within inches.  He's wearing a lungi or a dhoti - the former is sewn into a tube, the latter is just a sheet of cloth.  Typically, he's wearing a Western-style shirt.

There's a solid old bike in the background which is again typical around here.  Inefficient rod brakes and steel rims - a bit scary when going down hill I'd imagine!  Single gear - I've seen no hub gears and very few derailleurs.  Bikes weigh a ton too so I'm particularly impressed by a skinny little guy I see regularly cycling the 13km from Kovalam to Trivandrum on a bike which looks way too big for him!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Bit of a Cold

I've had a bad cold for the last week.  My temperature keeps going up and down - one minute I'm feeling hot, the next, cold.  I took my temperature this morning - one degree higher than normal.  Not a lot, but clearly enough to make me feel rough, and accompanied by coughs, sneezes and a dry throat.  Maybe it's what they call "fever" in this part of India - an often-given reason for days off school.  I've managed to keep going but only just.  I'm seriously considering taking tomorrow off.  It's my toughest day but I think they might just have to cope without me.

I've been taking Paracetamol when my temperature's been high.  It helps a lot!  But I'm concerned that my body might not be fighting the bugs as effectively as it would at the higher temp.  Or is the higher temp an indicator that my body is fighting back?  I don't know.  Anyway, I'm a reluctant pill-popper, who believes that symptoms must be there for a good reason - in this case perhaps they're telling me to slow down and take tomorrow off!  On the other hand, I'm a stubborn old git martyr sod bloke who thinks that a mere cold is not a good enough reason for time off work.  On the other other hand, I doubt anyone would appreciate generosity with germs!  Hmmm ... perhaps not coincidentally, many kids seem to be off sick at the moment ...

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Shiva and the Wheelchair

Today I'm sitting at home with a stinking cold. It's a public holiday (and SISP is closed) because today's the Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri. It seems that if you make offerings to Lord Shiva today then you gain some benefits in yoga and meditation, or something like that. It's very decent of Shiva to give me a holiday on the busiest day of my week when I'm feeling grotty!
Now this may look like an instrument of torture but it's actually a chair! It's used by the fifteen year old disabled daughter of one of the teachers here. (For reasons of privacy I'm avoiding using personal names.) She had an accident when she was one year old and became totally mentally and physically disabled, having previously been able to talk and toddle. Now she can't move her body voluntarily and barely responds to anything or anyone around her. She fell or banged her head while in the care of another child - a fact only admitted to the parents five years after the incident.

I carry her up SISP's stairs in the morning and notice that she sometimes looks at the shapes or shadows of the roof at a particular point and seems to recognise them. She also recognises her parents' and her sister's faces but that's about it, as far as I can tell.

During the daytime she just lies on a mat on the floor in the busy workshop, looking up at the ceiling, but at least she's with her mother who can feed and clean her. Without SISP, the girl's mother would not have been able to provide for the family (her father has a long-term illness and is unable to work) or her sister would have had to stay at home to look after her.  As it is, the girl's mother works for SISP and receives a salary of Rs.3000 (£40) a month, and the sister has been sponsored to do a BSc at a nursing college.

This chair was made for her to be strapped into so that at least she might see the activity in the workshop and be stimulated in that way, but the back of it was absolutely upright and therefore very uncomfortable for her.  During the week I modified it to make the back slope backwards (you can see where a segment was removed).  Perhaps I've removed a bit too much but it can be padded with pillows. It also needs some side supports so that she doesn't slop sideways - I'm working on that. I've fitted some replacement castors so that it can be moved about more easily but I suspect they'll get tangled up in the threads that are lying around on the floor. But, having said all this, I'm wondering if there's any way of getting a proper wheelchair for her.  Something adjustable, more comfortable, easier to clean and move about, and safer.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Kids' Day and a few "typical India" photos

Last weekend I took the neighbours' children to a Kids Day Celebration at their school.  I guess the audience must have numbered around three hundred parents and children - a very good turn out.  Well, I managed to sit through the three speeches (Indians like their speeches) and was looking forward to the kids' performances.  Only I missed them because all of a sudden I had my head between my knees and fingers in my ears!  My God, the volume!  Phenomenal!  After the first little act was over I almost ran from the seating area, right to the very back, and it was still loud even there.  I was later told that there were fifteen loudspeaker stacks covering the area.  FIFTEEN!  It was louder than a damned rock concert!  I don't know but perhaps Indian have specially reinforced eardrums.  There were many kids between me and the speakers and not one seemed to be having difficulties with the volume, not that I hung around long to check!

On the thirty minute bus journey from Kovalam into Trivandrum, a couple of km before you arrive, there's this traffic sign which always catches my attention.  It says "Obay Traffic Rules".  The spelling makes me smile but I wonder how many people actually see it or comply with it, being as it is in the centre of traffic and signage chaos.  Nice pimped out Mitsubishi, by the way!

I like this little shop, advertising "Darning and Saree Polishing".  I know what darning is - it's a way of mending holes in clothes by weaving with needle and thread - something my mother would have done to mend our socks as kids fifty years ago.  But "saree polishing"??  A check on the Internet reveals it's a way of cleaning sarees using petrol, and then leaving the material in the sun to crispen up (and to remove the fumes, presumably!).  You might also notice from the photograph that Che Guevara is alive and kicking in India!

This monument to Gandhi must be the cleanest spot in the whole of the city, not least because no member of the public is allowed near!  It's in the middle of an area known as Gandhi Park, between Chalai Market and East Fort in Trivandrum.  The park is small and, if you're lucky, you might get a seat under the shade of the two covered sitting areas but generally they're packed.  A rare, green location, but not at all peaceful.

Finally, here is the little tea stall where I always have a glass of chaia to settle the dust from my journey into Trivandrum.  It's just to the side of Gandhi Park.  Nice friendly guys, always happy to see me.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Sound to Light Effects

Thought I'd just post to tell you the latest "Only in India". The temple music is blasting away again but we've now got something new: lighting modulated by sound!

Great eh? Not only to do I have to put up with aural pollution but now, also, visual pollution! I've had to turn the lights off in this room because they were flickering so much.

So, another bloody temple festival. This time it's the microscopic temple up the road. They've slung the usual horn speakers in the trees outside my house but amazingly they must have pointed them away because my eardrums are not reaching their end-stops. Thank the gods for small mercies! The depth of the sound has also improved because there's a bank of disco speakers a short distance away but, even though the quality is now marginally less screeching, it's still damned annoying, and I have four days of this!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Sri Lanka Beckons

A comment from my good friend, Marco, made me realise that I hadn't actually mentioned much about my leaving SISP and going to Sri Lanka.

Yes, it's something I have been mulling over for a while. I didn't ever consider SISP to be a job for life but rather one of a few before I pop my clogs. I think that 18 months is long enough to achieve something useful - even if it's only making six wall noticeboards!  However, there's always the feeling that you could do more, or that it would be good to complete everything already started but really, where would you stop?

 Back in April last year I happened to sit beside a Sri Lankan woman of about my age, on the plane trip back to the UK. She was a mother of four - two boys and two girls but, sadly, both girls had been killed in the war. Her sons were now living in London and the US, and her husband had just died (of cancer, I think). She was an ardent Christian and her faith didn't seem to have been shaken even after such tragedy.  She was friendly, and told me a little about Sri Lanka and the need for help there. It just planted a seed.
A month or so ago I started searching SL organisations in earnest. I found The Rainbow Centre, which is a bit like a mini SISP, and Adopt Sri Lanka - an organisation supporting teachers in rural schools in southern SL. I'm applying to work with ASL. I would be helping teachers learn about the use of ICT in schools and developing some course materials. I would mentor the SL teachers in their classrooms on occasion so I would still have some contact with kids (leaving the SISP kids behind will be a huge wrench for me). They seem really keen to have me on board, and are already discussing my role and what I might be able to do, and how they might give me some teacher trainig too. Dare I say it, they even sound excited about the possibilities and I think I might get satisfaction and appreciation there - it's all looking good from this distance!

I would be based in Tangalla (or "Tangalle"), right down the bottom of Sri Lanka. It's not completely the end of the earth - tourists do visit, I believe. Here's a map for you to peruse and consider whether you might like to visit me!

Update: I didn't mention dates, did I?! I come back to the UK on 28th March and will immediately apply for a visa for Sri Lanka. Once got, I'll book flights. target is around mid April. ASL would like me to overlap with a teacher who'll be returning to the UK in late April but I don't want my time in the UK to be a complete rush and I'd like enough time to catch up with friends and family!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

How much does living here cost?

In weighing up the feasibility of coming to India I set myself a target spend of £5000 a year.  That broke down into £1000 for two return flights, £1000 for my time in the UK between stints in India, and £3000 for all costs in India - accommodation, food, transport, sight-seeing and entertainment.  It didn't include insurances, subscriptions, maintenance, presents or any of my regular outgoings.
Now that I've been here for more than 12 months, how far off target was I?

Well, as I pay for everything in India with cash, it's easy enough to add up the ATM cash withdrawals, but being careful not to include any donations which are just passing through my account.  While in the UK I used both my direct debit card and my credit card - slightly more tricky as I also use the credit card for any on-line shopping - eg present buying.  Still, I've waded through the statements and the end result is...

£   761 for two return flights
£ 1,233 for my time in UK (6wks)
£ 2,467 for everything in India (46wks)
£ 4,461

Now I reckon that's not bad!

My expenses in the UK were a little more than I'd budgeted for but that target was just a guess.  It doesn't include any accommodation expenses because family and friends have very kindly put me up.

The flights were less than predicted but then they are so variable anyway - tomorrow they could be more.

I'd based my predicted India living expenses on experience of holidaying here in 2007.  Sight-seeing trips and entertainment didn't really happen so that partly accounts for being within budget.  That and luck.

All in all I'm pleased to say the £5k/pa figure is just about spot on!

Friday, 1 January 2010

The Day After New Year's Day

New Year's Day. Now when was that?  Ah yes, yesterday!  I'm losing track!  It's not that I have such a hectic social life as the fact that I'm knackered!

On New Year's Eve I finally got to bed at 1am, what with fireworks, texts and emails.  But I woke early (5-ish) with the sound of some big engine outside.  It went on and on - just a low but loud rumbling sound - and it turned out to be a large machine for making tarmac to repair the road.  Making tarmac - tar and ground rock go in one end, it's all heated and churned about in a monster cement-mixer drum, and hot smelly (in a nice way!) tarmac comes out the other end.  That's what they did all yesterday - a gang of workers and little 3-wheeler trucks whizzing about. They did the same in 2007 and will, no doubt, do it again in 2012.  Preparation is not their strongest point - I notice that they've even tarmac'd over mud up the road!  So not much sleep, and I woke even earlier today.

Apparently, on New Year's Eve, there was a staff meeting at SISP but I only got to hear of it by accident the day before.  Why had no one told me? Anyway, I decided to spend the day with, as it turns out, some nuns.  Yep, nuns! I'd been thinking that what I am doing at SISP is not as effective as it might be so I thought I'd go and see how Computing is taught elsewhere.  I went to SFS School, which is where the neighbours' children go, and discovered it was run by nuns! 

The whole experience was a bit of a revelation actually - the kids there were so well behaved.  And polite.  Bright and confident too, but not over-confident, if I can judge from a single visit.

Class sizes were up to 45 per teacher - and yet there are no discipline problems apparently!!  The classes I saw had around 30 children each.  It's a private school, costing parents Rs.450 a month per child.  That's £6!  No doubt there are other costs too, for books, uniform and transport.  The parents value education and want value for money; there is big school-parent interaction, with the parents encouraging firm discipline (because it's always others' kids who misbehave). 

The lab had 25 computers and when there was a power cut the kids didn't go crazy - they just sat, and chatted quietly, and waited for the power to return.  Up to three kids per computer and yet the kids all worked cooperatively.  Amazing!  But I did notice one teacher using a small stick on one child's legs - not so good, but it wasn't excessive.

The lab was in a dedicated room with ceiling fans and air conditioning.  All the windows were shut and dust sheets were over some of the computers - I didn't notice the dust problems we have at SISP.  There were stools for the children, not chairs, so you could pack the kids in and they (the chairs!) could be dragged over the floor without making a screeching din.  There were two large UPSs (uninterruptible power supplies) and a few computers were fed from direct mains.  Because of the holidays the batteries of the UPSs had become discharged and were giving problems while recovering, but the kids just got on with it.

The nuns gave me lunch, a cup of tea, and a cup of coffee, and I had several long chats with the Principal - Sister Vincy.  Turns out she had visited SISP - I remembered her coming and she remembered me - so I didn't need to grovel to get to see the lab or watch the lessons.  She actually gave me a complete set of ICT text books which she'd been given as a publisher's sample.  I've now browsed them - not wonderful, but I can get some ideas.  Cool nuns!
New Year's Eve eve was spent alone.  What did you expect?!

So today I've been mulling things over.  I've decided that my work at SISP is not so easy because:
  • Kids not well disciplined - chat, shout, fight, and are disrespectful, and there's no real ultimate threat since many parents don't care whether the kids go to school or not.  Management is soft with them anyway, probably out of necessity, because these kids have hard enough home lives.
  • Kids barely speak English and I speak no Malayalam I'm afraid to say.  That's my own fault - I should have tried harder, even if I thought I might only be here a short time.
  • Difficult planning a meaningful programme of work.  A year ago, all of the kids were at exactly the same level - all beginners.  The oldest kids have had to be brought up to speed extremely quickly but perhaps they're missing the fundamentals.  It's difficult to teach theory  - they don't understand the language!
  • The classroom is noisy and there's noise from adjacent classes/activities.
  • No real value is given to teaching Computing - it's like Art, a fill-in between Maths, English, etc
  • I've had no school text books until recently. You can't buy them in the shops. Now that I've got them I find they're good for ideas but I can't use them quite as intended with one book per year class as SISP's kids are grouped by ability, not chronologically. We have six groups, mapping to Standards 1 to 10.
  • On-line resources are geared to kids with on-line connections - which we don't have!
  • On-line resources are geared towards the latest gizmo - Facebook, Twitter, "Web 2.0", on-line games, whatever.  Sure, they have their place, but basic skills and understanding are more important IMO.
  • And I'm not a teacher!
Still, yesterday I managed to spend a little time looking back over what I/we've done in the last year, worked out where there are holes, and am thinking how to plan the months ahead...  Reviewing the past, looking to the future.  Taking stock - what we all do at this time of year.