Sunday, 19 May 2013

Who are we without our stories? – Part two

Me and the girls up a mountain in Kurseong

Cheku Cheku in Kurseong

Kurseong is a small town in the Darjeeling state of West Bengal, India, 4860 feet above sea level. In other words it was freezing. For all you British inhabitants reading this it was below 20 degrees … yes the temperature that you are going out in, with your shorts and your sunglasses on. However for someone that has been subjected to 40 degree plus for the last month, dropping back down to 20 was bone chilling. I re found my love for my socks and my jumper and cosied up in my 3 blankets at night for fear of catching hypothermia.

The journey up to Kurseong from New Jalpaiguri was breath taking and flippin’ scary. I was prepared for the road and sat in the front of the jeep with Kirsty (I’ve learnt from Mysore and the sicky bus). With our bags tied to the roof of the jeep and the 6 of us girls plus 4 other Indian tourists shoved into the jeep we set off. The journey was long and treacherous with times when there was barely enough room for one car let alone one car and a bus. Me and Kirsty sat for most of the journey holding hands as we looked out the window of the jeep to nothing but a steep 50 metre drop off a cliff face. Luckily we made in to Kurseong alive despite feeling a little shaky and nauseous.

The Darjeeling state is very well known for its tea and in Kurseong we got to stay on a tea estate and live with the community that pick the tea. We only stayed there one night as we were moving on to Darjeeling the next day, but this one day and night was unforgettable. When we arrived at the homestay we were immedietly greeted by a big smile and some tea, surprise surprise. Then we took a short journey to where we were staying. The house was adorable and we were introduced to the lady who was looking after us and Rahul, the boy who was our guide. Everyone we met here was Nepalese as Kurseong is inhabited by people from Nepal.

The morning was spent taking a walk around the tea estate with Rahul telling us about the tea and the workers. Rahul told us he was only 17! It was crazy because he looked so much older. He then showed us where the workers went to weigh the tea leaves that they had picked for the day before they went off to the factory. One worker can pick up to 3kilos of tea leaves in one day. But they only get paid 90 rupees per person. That is £1.07 a day! This made me very sad because the amount that someone in Britain spends on tea every day is probably way more than that. Think about your average price of a tea from Starbucks and then think about where that money is going to. I can tell you now it is defiantly not these amazing people that live up in these mountains.

The evening was amazing! We had our dinner and then Rahul came to fetch us because some of the village people had put together some small entertainment for us. It was so cool. We all sat in a small room wrapped up in our blankets and they played and sang Nepalese songs for us. Then it all got way to fun and we were all encouraged to stand up and dance (Nepalese style) to the songs. Then they tried to teach us a song. It goes Cheku Cheku mm mmm mmmmm mmmm maaaa, dooo be doo be doo beeeee. Please note there are words in the place of the mmm’s and the do’s and the be’s but I don’t actually know them.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Who are we without our stories? – part one

Journey to Calcutta

It’s the middle of May and Kyekue and I are standing in a long queue waiting patiently to buy our train tickets for our holidays. It’s starting to get hot in india and it was going to be baking in april when we began our travels. Therefore, when we get to the front of the queue to book our 24hr train to Calcutta we decided that travelling in hot and congested sleeper class was not a good idea and instead 3ac (air conditioned) is a much better option. We bought 4 waiting list tickets for me, Kirsty, Shannon and Kyekue. For those of you who are yet to come to india, waiting list means that we couldn’t actually board the train because we don’t have seats. But this is no problem because people will cancel and the waiting list will bump up into the empty seats.

The days ticked past and still our tickets remained on the waiting list. The day before we were leaving arrived and we were still on the waiting list. As my children would say, it was ‘Not Good’. We went to the ticket office and they said we should get on the train anyway and then talk to the tickets man. Unfortunately the ticket master had other ideas. After repeatedly getting on at us about how we shouldn’t have got on the train he allowed us to sit in his conductor’s seat until more passengers needed to use the seats and the luggage seats.

Four of us sat to one seat for about 7 hours and then the time came for us to move as a whole family of Indians boarded the train. We lugged our giant bags through all 13 carriages of sleeper without any success in finding a seat. At this point our only options were general class or ladies only carriage. We had a mutual agreement that the ladies carriage was a better option. Ladies only is a very loose term, it was women, children and men, mainly those who didn’t even have tickets for the train. All the Indians looked genuinely shocked to see 4 British girls getting into this carriage. But we sat down on the floor with them. We found out that they were from Andhra Pradesh and started talking to them in Telegu. They loved it. We provided them with entertainment and they provided us with a way of spending the next 12 hours not bored. We made friends with a small boy, who had a great idea to give us all nicknames: Cake (Kyekue), Ice-cream (Kirsty), Chocolate (Shannon) and Biscuit (me). He was very cute.

I slept on the floor all night, with the giant cockroaches and a man staring at me. It was quite scary but I was quite thankful for him being there when half way through the night he got up and shut the windows. He explained that sometimes, people will put guns or knives through the windows and demand your stuff. Scary stuff!

The girl sleeping on one of the two beds was going to Calcutta to have her leg removed and as it got later into the evening (like 10pm) a lady got on and we were sure she was a prostitute.
Disabled/womens only carriage, living the life of an indian and love it!!!

One of those journeys you will never forget. And I’m so glad we did what we did because I had an amazing journey and I met some amazing people.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

the wait is finally over

I have awaited the taste of an Indian mango ever since I arrive here in India. I heard they were amazing and I couldn’t wait to have one. On arrival in India and during our first meeting with our host one of the first questions we ask was when mango season is. Mango season is now! We have waited half our year for this pleasure and now the time has come.

Today I had my first Indian mango! And I can honestly say it was delicious!

Its Kyekue’s birthday tomorrow and we were out buying everything we needed for the party we are having with the girls; face paint, flowers, jewellery. We had to go to Gandhi road to buy the flowers. If you want Indian road then Gandhi road is the definition of that. It’s a tight squeeze of cows, motorbikes, autos and tons of people. The streets are lined with shops selling saris, fabrics, flowers, fruits, spices, bangles, jewels. It just beautiful and is by far my most favourite road in the whole of Ongole. The road just has an organised chaos and untidy perfection feel about it that I love.

Today we went to Gandhi road to buy flowers. As I wrote in my last post no Indian outfit is complete without flowers. A bit of jasmine in your hair makes you look beautiful as well as making you smell nice. The problem with shopping in India is that you go out with the intention of buying one thing and come back with huge amounts of other things. A good example of this is our shopping trip today we went to Gandhi road with the intention of buying flowers and we left with flowers and 4 mangoes.

They were so delicious and if you like mango you get in the average British supermarket then think again. You have tasted nothing! We gave one to our host and he said that these weren’t even the best mangos and we should wait for two more weeks. I can’t wait to taste the best because these were absolutely brilliant.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

the true colours of india

nissi in her very pretty dress and
her aunty (the headmistress)
 in her beautiful sari
Sitting in the 3 hours of Telegu church today, I was in wonder at all the amazing clothes that everyone was wearing. It’s something that still gets me about being in India. Kyekue and I don’t go a day without saying ‘oh my goodness I love her sari’ or ‘that Punjab is really nice’. In church today there was every colour under the rainbow. Deep red, dark purples, sky blues, cool greens, warm yellows, bright oranges, luscious pinks, midnight blacks, pure white, flowers, crazy patterns, print, gold, peacocks, sequins, embroidery, and all completely unique. I have no idea how every sari is made so different and so beautiful. But the way that Indian women dress has always awed me whether it is at how the Muslim community can wear their long black burkas with every inch of their body covered in the 40 degree heat, to how women can learn to wrap a piece of 9m long fabric around themselves so perfectly and put it all in place with no pins and it will still stay there all day, to why they insist that you cover both your arms in bangles so you can barely even move your arm without it being uncomfortable and finally why from the youngest of ages, girls are encouraged to take so much pride and vanity into the way they look, to the point where you see a 5year old, prancing round in her big jewelled dress, with big dangling earrings, necklace, bangles, anklets, head jewels and even makeup.

The rows and rows of bangles in a Mysore market
Walking down an Indian street is like walking through a beautiful, if hot, overcrowded and polluted rainbow. Shop after shop selling saris and dress material. Anything you want you will be able to find it. Then shop after shop of bright and shining bangles. You can get bangles in any size or style, the pure gold ones, the everyday colourful glass ones, the bright coloured metal ones, the ones plastered in glitter and the ones with jewels. In every fancy store you are exposed to a massive range of earrings, bangles, nose rings, rings and necklaces. And on top of all this don’t forget the most important thing in the whole of your outfit. For this you need the small old lady crouched on the side of the road weaving flowers together because no Indian women would be complete without her flowers in her hair.

me with the girls in my room - they have such amazing dresses!

Vikranth and Rebecca - her Sari is stunning
and like the perfect couple it matches his tie
Shopping in India is nothing like shopping in the UK. You pick your sari shop that you want to go in – you don’t really know that this shop will have you perfect sari and you have to pick one shop from about fifty so you just go with this one because the sari in the window looks cute. You don’t really know what you’re looking for but you are whisked away by some very helpful Indian men, who either show you to some comfy plush seats or a big cushion on the floor. Then you are asked what you want so you say ‘sari’ and they say ‘yes mam, what style?’ so you go for it and say cotton and a random colour you haven’t got yet. Then from nowhere your being shown sari after sari in that colour, different shades, flying of the shelves in front of you, all these perfectly folded gorgeous saris. You have to be in the mood to sari shop because it’s very overwhelming. So then with a giant pile of sari fabric in front of you, you begin to sort through them deciding what ones you don’t like. You like one! Great! You tell the man and he opens the whole 9m of fabric out in front of you so you can inspect every inch of it. You like the palu (the bit that goes over your shoulder) but you don’t really like the detail on the body (main bit) so you decide it’s gotta go in the no pile. But that’s no problem, you can do this with as many saris until you finally find your perfect one.

You finally leave the shop with the most amazing sari. Why can’t finding men be like this!?!?!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

My on-the-spot math lesson

Last week was exams week, which for me and Kyekue usually means a week off of teaching but instead we were asked by the head teacher of elementary to come into school and monitor the exams. This was completely fine, I was only going to be bored sitting in our room anyway.

So my first exam to monitor was class 4 English. No problem, I just had to get them all to sit in quiet and do there test then once they had settled down I could read my book. I got them all to sit away from each other making sure that they weren’t going to cheat or talk and then gave them their English papers. We went through the usual “no pen miss” and then they settled down and started the exam.

Except they didn’t start, they just sat there. Staring at the paper and then staring back at me as if I was supposed to be doing something. I was completely confused, but not one of them spoke up as to if there was a problem or not. So half an hour past and the exam finished. They were still sitting there with blank papers and even blanker expressions on their faces. I had no idea what to do because they hadn’t written anything and I felt like it was my fault. But I collected in their papers and sent them to the headmistress then I went to class 3.

Class 3 had just had a maths test and I was about to take their English lesson. I walked into the classroom and the emotion I felt can only be described as utter disbelief. All of class 3 were sitting completing their maths papers, but they were reading the answers off of the board. Sir had written all the answers to the test out and now they were just writing them down. It was then that I realised this happens in every exam ... that’s why class 4 just sat there waiting for me. They wanted me to give them the answers and that’s all they have ever known. I was appalled. How are these children learning? Are they even being taught any of this?

I’ve always knew that they learn the answers off by heart but copying them is a completely different story. So I decided to quiz class 3 to see if they actually knew the answers. I put some basic division questions on the board and asked them to answer in their books. Over half the class got them wrong and the others couldn’t explain what division meant, they had just memorised 12 ÷ 4 = 3. So I taught them division that lesson. I taught them how to use circles and dots to divide up the different amounts and I taught them the difference between a divide sign and a minus.

The next day they were doing the sums perfectly, and we were playing game where the kids had to divide themselves by a number. It felt very successful. I know I can’t change the way the school system works but I can teach class 3 so they know how to divide. 

Friday, 22 February 2013

Hyderabad Bombings - The question that got me thinking

Last night bombings in Hyderabad have really made me think about a few things in my life and in this world that we live in. Yesterday evening Kyekue and I were sat around in our room, not really doing much and just searching about on the internet. It was when browsing Facebook that we came across some information about the two explosions in Hyderabad, which we then researched. Our first concerns went out to those that we know in Hyderabad. We have other volunteers working there, Bharavi and Sugathi and Sonny one of the boys from the family is studying there.

We have since found out that they are all ok so we do not need to worry about them. It was at this point that I realised how much of a bad person I am. I was worried about all the people I know but when I found out that they were ok, I stopped thinking about it completely as if it no longer mattered. This morning when the newspaper arrived at my project, about 20 of the girls came rushing into our room to tell me about the bombings. I began to think about all those people that have just lost someone so dear to them and all the injured people that may die or have to live the rest of the lives with disfigurements. Indian newspapers don’t do things very subtly. All over the front of the paper were photographs of the bomb scene with all the bodies, dead and dying, and the blood everywhere. The girls that brought the paper into my room were translating some of the Telegu words into English for me so I could understand the pictures and all of the words were bad. Words like sad, anger, blood, ambulances, pain, dead, fire, bomb and dying.

I could see the fear in the children’s faces so I tried to explain to them that Hyderabad is far away and it won’t happen in Ongole. But the biggest question is why should it happen at all? No one deserves to be blown to pieces, to die or face disfigurement because some selfish human beings. As a Christian I know that God chooses when people are going to die and those that are believers he will take up to heaven to be with him. But it is not one person’s right to play God and take people lives.

The girls left my room and it was then that I had to face my hardest challenge since being here in Ongole. Manjula, Class 4, stayed behind in my room. She waited and watched unil all the other girls had left the room. And then she spoke these words.

“Why bomb miss”

Manjula is 11. Never before did I think I would have to answer that question to an 11 year old girl, whose mind is completely innocent. I don’t know what makes people want to take another person life. Have you ever tried to answer a question that you don’t even know the answer to yourself?

Like most of the girls here, Manjula is a follower of Christ. Her faith is strong and I know that talking to her about Jesus would be no problem and that would be the best way to understand. So I explained to her that these people they do not know Jesus Christ and they do not know God. They do not know that only God can choose when people die and they do not know that they are sinning against God by killing. We cannot stop these people because it will always be this way. There will always be people like this. But we can pray for those that were affected, those that dies, those who are injure and those who have lost others. It broke my heart when Manjula asked that question because no 11 year old girl should ever need to ask that. But it helped me to answer my own questions and I am thankful for it.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Elephant, Market and Lots of trains

So here goes my January, 2 week holiday in as little words as I can make it because my last holiday blog was unbelievable long.

Indian House - photo taken out of a train window
Our holidays started on the 5th January with us (me, Kyekue and Katie) catching our first of many trains to Chennai, in Tamil Nadu. Changing state which is a nightmare as they no longer speak Telegu and you go back to speaking broken English and using hand signals. From Chennai we took our next train to Kannur.

Trains in India are the most stressful and confusing process known to man. Apparently their system works for them, which I suppose it does. But after being forced to top and tail a single bed smaller than the average cot, I was not to willing to look at the bright side of the Indian railway system. The problem was we booked all our tickets far too late and then was shoved onto the waiting list and RAC train, which basically meant we had to sleep where and when there was no one in the seats.
Me on Kannur beach

In Kannur we had a great time. We met up with Kirsty and Leah (Tirupati volunteers) and we went to see a Hindu ritual called Theyyam. During this ritual, which was being used to bless someone new home, a man is dressed up and then possessed by the god. He then parades around, dancing and throwing flowers, blessing the house and the people in it. It was really interesting to watch but as a Christian I was quite confused as to why someone needs to be dressed up and ‘possessed’ to bless your home.

view from the Edakal caves
We then travel onto a place called Kalpetta. Here we visited Waynard Wildlife sanctuary and went for a very early morning safari in the park. This meant getting up at 3am!! I know crazy right and this was supposed to be our break. As we were leaving the park we saw some elephants in the distance and frankly I was quite disappointed. Waynard was supposed to be the perfect place to see herds of wild elephants but we barely saw any. Our guide was really nice though and he also took us to see the Edakal Caves. They were beautiful and so was the view, if you are willing to climb the thousands of steps to get to the top. It’s easy going when it’s not the middle of the day in scorching Indian heat with a twisted swollen ankle.

Elephant hiding in Waynard
a monkey in Waynard
We then took a toy train from Coimbatore to Ooty. A slow 6000ft climb up a hill. The train was tiny and in our part of the carriage there were so many people with massive rucksacks. It was hilarious watching as we tried to shove the massive bags under seats so small they looked like they were designed for children.

the toy train
Ooty was freezing! That night I wore 2 jumpers, 2 tops, 2 trousers, 1 scarf, 1 shawl, 1 pair of walking socks and 4 blankets. It was soooooo cold. The next day we went horse riding which was funny. Me, Leah and Kirsty went while the other two girls went shopping. Kirsty’s and Leah’s horses hated each other so my rather calm horse was shoved in between them. I had a great time, though I’m not sure if the girls did as their horses were crazy.

We then took the bus journey to end all bus journeys. It was awful. Anyone who knows me well knows I get travel sick, but this coach took it to the extreme. The road was awful, bending turning and bumping all the way back down the hill. I was throwing up on multiple occasions and so was the woman just in front of me. At one point the journey was so awful that I thought the whole bus was going to throw up, including the driver who had gone just as green as the rest of us. But just then the bus journey took a turn for the better. We started to drive through a wildlife sanctuary and we were seeing loads of animals, deer, peacocks and monkeys. We had been driving for a couple of minutes then on the side of the road stood a whole herd of elephants, big ones, small ones, and babies!! I was so excited and for that minute I stopped being sick they were beautiful and so close.

Mysore market
We got to Mysore (our next stop) quite late, booked into our hotel and went to sleep, still queasy from the bus journey but so happy from seeing the elephants. The first day in Mysore was spent doing lots of shopping. It the place to buy silks, so we splashed out on some new saris . . . I brought three! Oops. The next day we took a tour. I visited an art gallery, the zoo, the palace, the temple, a church and some gardens. It was all very beautiful and was a good way to see Mysore as we would never have been able to do and see all that 1 one day alone. The next day we had a rather slow morning, and just lazed around doing a bit of shopping and packing. In the afternoon we took our train to Bangalore.

Mysore palace
the gardens in mysore
Bangalore was a major disaster. We met up with Ruby and Veebs but by now we were completely shattered from all our travelling. We just spent most of our time relaxing and doing some small shopping. In Bangalore I got my ears pierced! First time ever and I’m not sure if I’m used to then being there yet. We also went to see Life of Pi in the cinema in 3D, if you haven’t seen it, do it!! It’s amazing!!

five stuffed in an auto rickshaw
Our McDonald's in Bangalore
We arrived back at Ongole on the 17th to our gorgeous children and an amazing breakfast cooked by Sweetie.

Excited for summer holidays!! Just need to get planning now!!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Alice the Camel had One Hump

Well my camel had two humps and I’m not going to lie it was rather uncomfortable. But it may have been my only time to get to ride one so I just went for it.

On New Year’s Day, me and Kyekue were sitting in our room relaxing to some tunes, after a long night the night before. We were called by some of the girls who were sitting n the balcony to come and look but they said a word in Telegu and we didn’t understand. I went onto the balcony and looked over to see some of the kids riding on a colourfully dressed camel. It was so strange to see one up close instead of just in a zoo and it was massive.

We were then called down to ride it and I was a bit nervous about it. Which is odd as it was a bit like riding a horse except a bit more uncomfortable. Kyekue was totally up for riding it but she said she had ridden one before. I really wanted a go but decided it would be better if me and Kyekue went together. Before I knew it I was being shoved up onto this camel and Jessica was thrown up with me. Then we started walking leaving Kyekue behind. And it wasn’t that bad. Though my bum started to ache after just a small distance ... I’m glad we only went the length of the road. We are planning on doing a whole camel trek through the desert in our bigger holidays, not sure how my bum will be after that. 
Me on the camel, camel looking grumpy, me looking scared

I’m sorry this is late.. I will also be posting my January holiday blog soon so keep a look out

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

This year I have been truly blessed to be here in India sharing my Christmas with some of the most inspirational and amazing people I have ever met. Christmas month started here on the 25th of November and it never stopped. It started small with just a few events and decorations up. But the celebrations got more and more. Me and Kyekue have been to every Christmas event in Ongole and surrounding villages. We ate our way through way to much chicken curry, fried rice and cake and we learnt entire dances as they were performed over and over again to us. In the process, we have had little sleep; we have been going to sleep at 1am and waking up to teach at 6.30/7 ish.

My Christmas this year has been crazy, stressful, tiring, annoying and emotional but more importantly it has been a Christmas that I will never forget for many reasons.

In class we were making Christmas trees (a tip from project trust) and decorating them. The children drew around their hands on green paper to make the leaves of the tree and then we made baubles and stars to decorate them. we also learnt about the three kings and we made crowns. We wrote our Christmas lists to Santa asking him to give us friendship, hope and love for Christmas (I felt this was more applicable as the kids here don’t get Christmas presents). We did a drama based on the song Rudolf the red nosed reindeer, we learnt about his struggles and how he overcome them and then we played, pin-the-nose-on-Rudolf. Over Christmas we also had an influx of children to the school. Reverend Joseph has decided the he is going to take in children from the surrounding villages that are poor. This is a really good thing to do but it means that I now had 5 extras to class 3/4 which already had 30 children and Kyekue has 14 new children in grade 1/2 some as young as 3years. This has made activities a lot harder especially gluing sequins and glitter to baubles. We also had a games day where the kids played games like musical chairs, Kabaddi and loads of other games. Me and Kyekue were allowed to join in with the older girls and it was great even if we did get a bit competitive. We then had a school Christmas event which consisted of children singing and dancing and putting on a nativity. The children that won games all received prizes, this was something that made me really emotional. All they received was a small Tupperware pot something that everyone in the UK takes for granted. But to them it was like gold. To watch their smiles and the shine in their eyes when they went up to the stage to get their gift brought tears to my eyes.

Christmas day was unlike no other. We had our friends Leah and Kirsty from Tirupati come to stay with us. At breakfast we had an ultimate feast of wada, dosa, biscuits, oatma and chutneys. It was beautiful. Then we had church. We all dressed up in our best saris, did our hair and makeup and actually looked nice for once. I wore my clip on earrings (a present from Rachael teacher). At lunch we were invited for dinner with Vikranth and Rebekah who live upstairs. They have four children: Pooja, Jopri, Jessica and Rachel. They are the kindest and most beautiful family I have ever met. For lunch we were fed like queens, we had mutton biriyani, chicken curry, vegetable burgers, rose cakes, and donuts stuff with cream and fruit. That evening we had a celebration in the school grounds. Then we had fried chicken whilst sitting around the fire.

Thank you to everyone that sent me cards and gifts this Christmas ... it means a lot to me to know that you are thinking of me.

Happy new year
On new years eve we saw in the New Year in and celebrated in style. We had a massive celebration and the power of family and the people here praying their way through to 2013 was so overwhelming. It made me miss home so much and I even shed a few tears.

Here is what I achieved in 2012. And what I am looking forward to in 2013.

~        Finished my Alevels
~        Met Kyekue
~        Went on an aeroplane for the first time
~        Raised £5100 for PT
~        Left home and flew out to India
~        Overcome my fear and swam in the sea
~        Met the American girls, who had a huge influence on my life as a Christian
~        I am friends with some amazing people on all sides of the world
~        The year I finally move out of my teenage years and turn 20
~        The year that I ride on an elephant and a camel for the first time
~        I return home from India
~        I start my college course
~        Learn to drive
~        I stay friends with the amazing people on all sides of the world.


Place for thought in the New Year.

I read something the other day that I found really inspirational. It said:

If you can’t do great things,
Do small things in a great way.