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.