I conclude my Blog on a chilly Sunday afternoon (by my new standards) in England. The placement is over and I’m back. I apologise to those of you from Facebook who were expecting a post yesterday evening. Unpacking and catching up with the Olympics hindered me but now I can tell you how things were rounded off…
On Tuesday, I became a typical female tourist in India by purchasing some of the local dress, namely the sari. The main deliberation was over what colour to select. Indians consider gold the best colour for a sari as it shows wealth, but I declined this as it made me look like an Oscar. The chosen sari is pink with a blue hem and is covered in flowers and sequined hearts. It is quite understated for a sari but I’ve always been one to shy away from the bold fashions of River Island, so it suits me well.
Wednesday was my last day of teaching at ‘The Little Kingdom’ school! It seemed to come around so fast and I always knew it would be difficult to leave all the children and teachers that I had met. I asked some members of staff to photograph me teaching and they seemed to enjoy taking snaps of me as there were certainly plenty of pictures! Some took over a hundred in a forty minute lesson!
Thursday was a local holiday so I joined a school trip to Chettinaadu. This town used to be residence to the wealthiest people of India but they have all packed up and relocated to the cities, leaving behind their beautiful homes. Only the older generation maintain the houses and this leaves concern as to who will care for the properties in the future. The place was stunning and we admired the lavish, cobweb-draped architecture of crumbling marble. For lunch, we had a buffet at a local restaurant. The manager was delighted to see a westerner in his restaurant and ensured I was given double helpings of all the buffet delicacies. As even the children found the meal too spicy, I heaved a sigh of relief when I had finally waded through my mountain of food. However, I was just about to put my empty plate in the finished pile when the manager approached. He said something cheery in Tamil and took my plate away. When he returned, it was stacked with second helpings! My full stomach lurched, but I was able to sneak my remains into the pile when his back was turned. The day was a great opportunity to get a final explore of a different area of India before my departure.
I woke up early on the day of my flight (Friday) in order to finish packing. Freya’s present, as anticipated, caused packing issues and I was just zipping up my bag when the taxi arrived. I said goodbye to the family and went to the Projects Abroad office to return the phone and SIM card that I had used. Then, it was off to Madurai airport. On our first flight, I was joined by Natalie and a French guy called Arthur. I was over-joyed to have won a scratch card prize on the flight, but my joy was short-lived as the air hostess tactfully pointed out to me that in fact everybody wins. It aimed to make money from the handling fee for collecting the prize. I suppose I still won? Natalie and I had a long stop over in Chennai airport but, luckily, I found a good bookshop to browse. As our local branch of Waterstones is practically my second home, this was a very good way to pass the time. Though I intended to sleep well on the final flight from Mumbai to London, the little screen in the back of the chair in front seemed to be calling my name and I once again surrendered to the temptation of the in-flight entertainment.
I was met by my family in Heathrow airport. Though I had managed to navigate my way throug hIndiafor a month, I was still hopeless with a luggage trolley through a busy airport and my Dad quickly took the reins before I re-enacted Harry Potter’s failed attempt to reach Platform 9 and 3/4. I had been promising myself I was not going to get emotional on seeing my family and I was fairly successful on this as my throat only choked up a little. Returning to England was strange. My flight had arrived at 6.30am so the roads were quiet anyway, but they felt absolutely desolate compared to the busy Indian road I had been living beside for a month. Returning home was weirdest of all. My bedroom felt so unfamiliar, but that may be because Mum had tidied it while I was away! Freya had bought me a welcome home present: some rose perfume and a massive bar of Cadburys! It was a nice surprise and I was able to share lots of stories about my adventure. Being back with my family was great and we all watched Tom Daley take a bronze medal in the evening.
I’d like to take one moment to get sentimental about my experience. I look back on my time in India with a non-egotistical but motivating sense of pride. There were times when my comfort zone was nothing more than a dot in the distance but these are the times when I really grew up as a person. Prior to this visit, I never really saw myself as much of a traveller and I have learnt that I can actually cope with more than I thought. Going to a place like India really changes how you see the world. Caroline summed it up perfectly: its all about the senses. Everything you see, hear, touch, taste, smell is different to what you know. I’ve realised that my way of living is not THE way of living as I have met other people whose lives contrast mine and we share a mutual curiosity of each other's lifestyles.
I have not forgotten how lucky I am to have this experience. I would like to thank Mr. Radhakrishnan for his generosity in funding the award. Without it, I would probably never have gone to India and he has provided me with an experience of a lifetime.
Some of you have been following this Blog from right before I set off. Thanks, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have loved writing it. Keep an eye out for the photographs on Facebook and feel free to email me any questions you have. Until then, poyitu varugiren!
This weekend, I went on the Projects Abroad weekend trip to Rameswaram (be warned, you may see a variety of spellings of this name throughout the blog.) This place has many temples and Hindus make pilgramages here from miles around so I was keen to see it.
I set off from Theni on a bus to Arapalayam in Madurai, having just taught my last secondary school MacBeth lesson. The students requested that I demonstrate some ballet as word had got around that I used to take classes. Given that I hadn't done a lesson in about a year, I wasn't exactly Darcey Bussell but they, somehow, seemed fairly impressed. When I arrived at the bus station, a horde of men and women were pushing and shoving to get through the narrow door of the bus. On noticing me, the conductor stopped them and, in a Moses-like fashion, parted the sea of people to let me board. These unexpected moments of special treatment make you feel quite the celebrity! After an hour and a half, I arrived at Arapalayam. I only had a fifteen minute wait here, but this was long enough for it to become distinguished as a place I would not return to in a hurry. It was crowded, unusually dirty and full of elderly men who seemed unnervingly keen to 'welcome' me. I was talking to a teacher at the school today who said that Arapalayam is known for these 'friendly' gentlemen. I cannot say I am surprised!
Having finally been picked up (more like 'saved!') from Arapalayam, I met the other fourteen volunteers on the trip at the bus station and we embarked on a four hour bus journey to Rameswaram. I sat with a lady called Caroline who is here for two weeks on a medical placement. She works at a Further Education College and was hoping to bring some students here, so she had come to find out more. On the other side of me was an Indian woman who fell asleep on my shoulder. The bumpy bus journey meant that her head continually clouted my bony shoulder for the whole journey! However, the whole escapade became a shared joke between the conductor and I, so my anatomy being used as a pillow did prove to be amusing, if a little painful! On finding our hotel (which was a definite step up from the accomodation in Kodaikanal) we dined at a nearby restaurant. It was clean, but the worrying reputation for the area's cuisine meant that even our Tour Guide ate lightly.
We spent the next day exploring the temples of Rameswaram. They are absolutely spectacular. Most of them had a large pool where Hindus were having Holy Water poured on them as it is believed to make you live longer. You need to remove your shoes to go into the temples and it is always debatable as to whether your footwear will still be waiting for you on your return. You see a lot of beggars having suspicious second-hand shoe sales. However, we were lucky and our footwear did not grow feet and walk off. In the afternoon, we visited one of the many beaches. It was in a very remote area and we were driving for about twenty minutes through nothing but planes of sand. Until we saw the sea, I was starting to believe that we had taken a wrong turning and ended up in the desert! There were certainly no arcades or casinos around like you see in Brighton. The beach provided us with a nice walk and views of the coast of Sri Lanka (though it may have been something completely different knowing my geography). We dined at a classy hotel where the meal was delicious and the group shared many laughs. However, the most hilarious moment was one of the group getting left behind at the hotel as he had gone to the bathroom just before we all sprinted down the dusty highway for the bus. We were half way home before we realised! Not even his room mate was aware of the abscence! The stranded volunteer safely made it home shortly after us and, luckily, found the event equally amusing.
On Sunday, we visited the Ramanthaswamy Temple in the morning. This is huge and we could see it was a sacred place from the many Hindu families that were dressed in their finery. Some volunteers decided to receive the Holy Water. Despite holding out their hands to indicate that they wanted it poured onto their palms, they were given the full-body shower. Their faces as they were suddenly drenched made for some hilarious photos! Following an afternoon of spectacular shopping (Freya, heaven knows how I'm going to get your present in my luggage!) we embarked on our journey home. I ended up arriving in Arapalayam at about seven in the evening. Its possibly a sign of how long I have been here that I actually wasn't that nervous of travelling alone at this 'ungodly hour.' I just strode through the dark to weave around the dodgy men, find my bus and hop on. I talked to an Indian lady on the journey, who was curious about my life in England. Whenever I gave an answer to her questions, I would hear the echo of my response being whispered around the other passengers on the bus. I think the driver was the only person who did not know I lived near London! I got a rickshaw from Theni bus station back to the school and arrived safely and exhausted!
A note should probably be added concerning the well-being of the terrible twosome (if puzzled, see previous blog post 'The Adventure of the Tarnished Toes'). They have nearly recovered from the collision. The bruising is now gone so their natural colours have been restored. I am still taking my mango-flavoured medication, which is such an eye-watering shade of yellow I swear it glows in the dark, but I have yet to test this theory.
I can't believe I've been here nearly a month. It seems like only yesterday I was sprinting up the stairs to Mr. Walker's office, late for my interview!
Bye for now!
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