To start where I left off, my weekend was spent walking through Theni and seeing the local area a little more. I also attended the senior school activities day where a cricket match was taking place. There was a real buzz in the air and everyone was focused on the action. You only have to observe the roads at rush hour through Theni to know that Health and Safety is not much of an issue here. Spectators were positioned quite close to the pitch and we had to leap out of our seats and run a few times as cricket balls rocketed over our heads. I think they wanted to make sure we got some exercise!
On Sunday night, I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth as it was bedtime. As I was leaving, I slipped on some water on the floor. I managed not to fall over backwards into the puddle but my right foot slid straight into a ledge below the door and collided with it at enough force to certainly awaken me from my drowsy, pre-slumber mood. Looking back, I would have preferred the splash. The event was agonizingly painful, but it always is when one stubs one’s toe (as I have done often enough to know!) so I diagnosed myself with ‘a bit of a bump’ and limped into bed, fully expecting normality to be restored in the morning. On waking up, it became clear that this was not the case as I still could not move two of my toes without wincing. I hobbled downstairs to the family, who made me an appointment with a doctor. I was reassured that this was a trusted, English-speaking family doctor who had trained at Harvard and was not known for frequent amputations!
A teacher from the school kindly took me to the appointment. As it was a private clinic, the place was clean and the floor tiles were of a colour that one could still call white. The doctor wanted to send me for an x-ray as he was of the belief that this was a fracture. However, the radiographer (not gonna lie, I googled that) said my x-ray showed ‘a perfect foot.’ With nothing broken apart from my faith in friction, I was prescribed some painkillers, mango-flavoured of course!
I spent the remainder of the day resting my foot. Now, I am able to return to school to teach as the only visible sign of injury is a purple mark under the nail of my third toe. I am told this is a blood clot (lovely, I know!) and you can all look forward to viewing a proud photo of it when I get back! I can now put shoes on and I am walking better. I certainly no longer howl like a failed ‘Indian Idol’ contestant when my toe comes into contact with solid matter. I’m hoping this injury is instead of me getting violently sick but, knowing my luck, vomiting over the toilet into the early hours of the morning is still a very real threat. We shall have to wait and see…
Will write later on in the week!
I walked into school yesterday morning to find the place suspiciously silent. It turns out that it was a school holiday that I was unaware of! I was, however, very much aware of the nocturnal building works that had caused it! During the night, I was trying to snooze whilst my bed was shaking from all the noise. And I thought sleeping on the plane was tough!
I really enjoy teaching at the school. I teach at the secondary school from 10.00-11.30 on Fridays and at the primary school from 10.00-3.45 for the rest of the week. I appear to be a popular member of staff as the school has not hosted a foreign teacher since last year. In my lower kindergarten lesson on Wednesday, the school cleaners were hovering at the door to watch me teaching the alphabet! The children are always keen to shake my hand and I have learnt to leave for lessons in good time because there is no way I could get through in a hurry what with the ‘fan club!’
This may be a good time to tell you about all the food I have been enjoying here. I am keen to establish that it is nothing like the so-called ‘Indian cuisine’ served in Indian restaurants back-home. I learnt this the hard way when I made the mistake of ordering a Biriyani at a restaurant in Kodaikanal. In my experience, this was a mild dish. Here, it was quite the opposite – the fiery spice made my eyes water! Despite the somewhat unexpected nature of meal times, I have definitely found some things I will be demanding back in England, one of these being mango. I think Waitrose may need to stock up on this for my return! Though I eat and enjoy Indian food a vast majority of the time, I have managed to sneak in a few western delicacies here and there. I have cornflakes for breakfast and I used my sixth sense for all things sweet to track down a local chocolate store. The melting does not prove to be too much of an issue and it is always exciting to find out what shape the liquid chocolate will have molded itself into when you open it!
There is no Projects Abroad weekend trip as they are only organized every two weeks so the next two days are very much up to me! I will let you know what occurs…
This weekend, I ventured out on the Projects Abroad weekend trip to Kodaikanal. For those of you who are unaware, Projects Abroad organize sight-seeing weekend trips to areas of India where all the volunteers meet each other.
My bus journey from Theni to Vatlagundu was somewhat stressful as I had never been to Vatlagundu before and so was unsure of where to disembark. The sand, sun and sacred cows result in much of India looking pretty much the same! I ended up having about five other passengers plus the bus conductor helping me work out where I was going. They spoke very limited English but the word ‘relax’ was used frequently! The driving on this journey was noticeably more ‘thrilling’ than on some of the other travels I have been on here and, at times, even the Indian passengers looked frightened!
Arriving at Vatlagundu (still in one piece!), I had an hour and a half to wait at the bus station for the bus carrying the other volunteers. I managed to find some other women to stand with and was luckily well out of the way of a fight that broke out nearby. It was between two young women and I am clueless as to what it was about but they were screaming and wrestling and pulling at each other’s saris. A large crowd gathered around them quickly so I did not see much but I gather that no-one was seriously hurt and both women eventually walked away calmly in opposite directions, save for the occasion Tamil curse to each other’s backs. The bus eventually arrived and we made our way to Kodaikanal. The views from the bus were absolutely spectacular! It was amazing to be above the clouds looking down over the rainforest. We were traveling on one of those very windy and narrow roads you see on Top Gear sometimes where there is only just enough room for two vehicles to pass without one plummeting off the cliff edge. It was tense at times but I met new people and did several Sudoku puzzles to pass the time, as much as to stop me seeing the bus swerve dangerously. In preparing for India, I had envisaged blistering heat waves and sweltering sunshine. My flip flops and sunscreen did nothing to stop me shivering in the unexpected change in climate but I managed to improvise by using my sleeping bag liner as an over-sized shawl.
We arrived in the evening and, after some dinner of pizza with a questionable chicken topping, we went to the hostel. Though rooms were available, I opted, with nine others, for the dormitory as it was very cheap at 200 rupees per night (less than two pounds!). This turned out to be a great way to meet people, even if the pillows were pretty damp. I got on well with Hillary, who was from Toronto and had been in India for almost 3 months in a medical placement.
The next day, we started with a three hour trek through the Indian rainforest to a beautiful waterfall. Though I was reassured there were no snakes on the trek, I decided not to take any chances and kept my eyes fixed on the ground, though frequently risking a glance up to admire the breathtaking sights of natural India. There were many Indian men asking to take our photo at the waterfall. We gently declined. It’s OK when it is women asking or when it is families wanting pictures with their children, but you can never be sure with these all-male groups. After lunch, we visited several sightseeing points, though the monkeys taking fruit from our hands proved to cause more excitement than the views across India’s idyllic scenery! Later, we visited the stalls by the lake in Kodaikanal. Here, I managed to buy many presents for friends and family. I treated myself to a gorgeous Kashmir scarf – it is black and has red roses all over it. Freya would have loved it, but in the wild wilderness of India its every woman for herself! Though we could have gone on the boats in the lake, the rubbish bobbing about on the oily surface of the water steered us towards the gardens where Auriol (sorry if I spelt it wrong :/) and I spent time taking photos of all the plants there. At times, it was difficult to tell if the Indian people were photographing the flowers or us. We were a tourist attraction within a tourist attraction! It was dark when we left and we had an hour to find the hostel. However, some dodgy directions meant it took us the whole hour to find the place! This was frightening as it was only the two of us walking through India at night with no clue where we were and no-one knew the place where we were staying. I’m just about managing to laugh it off now but I was close to tears at the time!! Still, we made it and certainly saw more of India through it!
We returned back down the mountains on the bus the next day and I disembarked to return to Theni. On this journey, I sat next to a nice Indian woman who said how wonderful the royal wedding had been and told me “she is so cute, your princess.” I hadn’t considered how monumentally far afield this occasion had been broadcasted and it is good that this joyous and stunning occasion has grown to represent our country. Lets hope the Olympics doesn’t botch this image!
The trip proved a really great way to see a very different side to India that I wasn’t expecting. They never seem to show shivering tourists on the travel brouchers! The landscape was also stunning and to think I was actually walking through the rainforest is incredible. Also, what with being the only volunteer in Theni, it was fantastic to meet the other volunteers. Their jaws dropped when they realized I was on my own in the town! I hope to be able to meet them again soon.
This week, I begin teaching properly and look forward to updating you on this.
I am now in India! I have left Europe for the first time in my life. Our journey started at Heathrow airport. Mum and Dad came to see me off. We encountered some traffic getting to Heathrow where we sat in the car and listed all the items we had forgotten to pack, but we had plenty of time to get there and the only missed item which would really cause an issue was the iPod charger. This flight was my first ever sleeper plane! I had never been on a plane with TVs before and my heart skipped a beat when I saw that ‘Big Bang Theory’ was available to watch!! Unfortunately, I may have got a little carried away with the entertainment which, coupled with my inability to sleep ‘in-transit,’ meant that I only managed to get about two hours sleep. However, as we were only going from airports to departure lounges to planes the next day, I did not feel the strain of my binge sitcom viewing too much. The man next to me sat watching War Horse with his daughter of about two years old. The little girl cackled with laughter all the way through this emotional and violent film! I’m not sure this was the intended response that Spielburg was hoping to receive from his audience but at least you could say it was being enjoyed! We managed to miss none of our three planes, which was good! The only place where we had a little difficulty was at Mumbai airport (where our plane from Heathrow took us.) Here, staff in domestic departures were all shouting at each other! There were two queues and there was confusion as to whether to let the first queue go first, the second queue go first, or to scrap the patiently waiting passengers and let the luggage go first. Still, this was eventually resorted and we were treated to some delicious food on our flight. The best part of the day was on our last flight from Chennai to Madurai where we flew over the bright lights of Chennai at night. It was absolutely beautiful.
We were met by Victor at the airport from Projects Abroad. He took us to a restaurant to eat. It was amazing driving through the dark as India looked so wild and exciting. It was also where I got my first taste of Indian driving habits. The horn is used more than the brake here! You toot when someone is driving the other way, when someone is in front of you, as you are overtaking someone, as someone is overtaking you etc. I have spoken to Indian people about how frightening the traffic is here to us and they say that when they visit our cities, they find the number of pedestrians quite overwhelming as virtually everyone drives or takes a motorbike here. My first night in India was spent at the guest house of the Indian theological society because it was two hours to get to Theni. The hot tap was labeled in felt pen on the tile above it and there was a faded blue ‘Hello Kitty’ bin next to it but the place had a rugged charm to it and felt friendly and welcoming. I had breakfast in the morning with some trainee ministers from Birmingham and Durham who were doing a course with the society. They had visited orphanages and hospitals and homes for destitute women. Their work sounded really inspirational. They were having breakfast with their lecturer who spoke of the continued effects of the 2004 Tsunami on India. The Indian fishermen still will not go out to sea if the water level changes just a little. He also said that though clothes and food for people were quickly found through the support of charity, it is the emotional costs that have devastated people the most.
I was collected by Victor from the guest house and we went to Thenai change money and to get a mobile phone. In the phone shop, I was given a free ‘phone deck chair’ by the shop assistant. It is a little ‘Winnie the Pooh’ deck chair where you put your phone and is weird but adorable. Walking around Thenai, I get stares from the town’s people everywhere I go. I am told that they do get foreigners here but it is still unusual to them.
I have now spent some time in my accommodation. It is a really lovely house and my room is quite spacious. Given that I had a month’s luggage with me, it took four hours to unpack everything from ‘the beast’ (if confused, refer to the previous blog post.) Something pink and sticky has leaked in my bag and I still have absolutely no idea what it is but it hasn't caused any trouble! I am being fed well and am starting to master the Indian technique of eating with the right hand. The family is very friendly and I feel welcomed.
This morning, Mrs. Kannan took me to see a Hindu ritual. When a mother is nine months pregnant, a ritual is performed where guests are invited to put bangles on the mother’s wrists and to put some coloured powder on her forehead. It is believed that the foetus hears the bangles in the womb. All the guests were friendly and they allowed me to put bangles on the woman’s wrists. They gave me some powder on my forehead too! As I put one of the bangles on the woman’s wrist, it snapped! I was absolutely mortified but nobody seemed at all worried by it and Mrs. Kannan assures me it was not a bad omen! It was a lovely ceremony and it was great to see one of the more unknown Hindu rituals.
Will write again soon!!
This evening, I will leave from Heathrow to embark on an experience of a lifetime. I still have no idea what to expect when I arrive in India. Much of what I know already only comes from guidebooks and hearsay. Still, I am really excited and cannot wait to go abroad for the first time in about two years!
Recently my time has been packed with packing. I have this enormous bright pink rucksack for my luggage that has been nicknamed in our household ‘the beast.’ I struggle to put it on without taking someone’s eye out but at least I managed to cram in some flip flops! My hand luggage has been causing the most problems as we have been unpacking and re-packing it several times. First because we needed to use a narrower bag, secondly because some of my bottles were over the 100ml limit and then because the bag’s weight was worryingly spot on the 7kg restriction set by the airline. It’s smaller than my main luggage bag, but I still wouldn’t trust myself to walk into a china shop wearing it. Projects Abroad have found me a ‘travel buddy’ for my approximately 10 hour flight, not including connections. Her name is Natalie. She is a year older than me and will be doing volunteering in medicine in Madurai, the city near Theni (Theni is where my project is based). We will meet at check-in this evening.
Now, I am just making some last minute arrangements. I’m loading some podcasts onto my iPod for the journey and I’ve just put EastEnders on series record. I am also reading over my Tamil phrases. ‘Vanakkam’ (வணக்கம்) means ‘hello’ for anyone who is interested.
This Blog will be where I will keep you updated on my progress. I have no doubt that my anxious parents will be constantly refreshing this page to check I am alive and well. Some of you Sherlock Holmes fans may have made the link between the title of my Blog Post and the style in which Conan Doyle headed his short stories. Sorry, I couldn’t resist!
Until next time!!
Visit Our Main Sites
Be Our Friend