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.