Sunday, November 30, 2008

Settling In

Well we have just spent our first night in our new apartment; I always find it difficult to sleep well on my first night in a new place even when I am totally exhausted. Even though the walls are thick we can hear a lot of noise coming from the surrounding apartments and neighbourhood; slamming doors, barking dogs, honking horns, construction noise and Bollywood music are fairly constant. Ray and I woke up and were wide awake from about 3.30am which made for a very long day.
At 8.30am our maid showed up to clean etc. She speaks no english apart from the word soap from what I can tell (I am going to be so good at charades by the time we get home). It is becoming very apparent that we are going to need to learn some basic Hindi, so Ray has downloaded some Hindi lesson podcasts from itunes. At the moment we are heavily relying on the phrase book Stephen left behind for us, I honesty don't know how we would have got by the last few days without it.
We spent most of the morning at home unpacking and trying to work out how to get the hot water and washing machine working. As I write (a day later) the maid is here cleaning the floors which she will wash each day, it is amazing how much dust and grime builds up in one day. She did our washing this morning but rather than use the machine she washed it by hand. I have no idea how we are going to dry it as I have not been able to find a clothes drying rack in any of the shops and there is no words in the phrase book to be able to ask where to buy one. That will be my mission for today.
We once again went to the shops to have lunch and buy a few more groceries and bits and pieces for the house. We were dropped off at a big shopping mall but it did not have a supermarket so we decided to take our lives into our own hands and cross the street and walk up the road to one we knew had a supermarket. In Gurgaon the main shopping complexes are basically lined up one long street. The walk was a couple of hundred metres and it was the first time the kids have been confronted with beggars. There were women with babies, young children and the crippled who would all reach out to us and beg for money for food, following us for a while pleading, but we knew we could not give them anything otherwise we would literally be swarmed by people. After we shopped and were waiting for our driver to pick us up there was a little boy about 5 years old who was very dirty in old clothes who hung around and went to each of us asking for money for food, I was going to give him some before we hopped in the car because I didn't want to take a chance as their were so many other beggars around. It was very sad watching him go from car to car as they lined up for the car park begging for money. From what i can tell the people who give even one or two rupee's are few and far between, how they survive I really don't know
 In the supermarket when buying rice and sugar etc they are displayed in enormous sacks. You choose which one you want and they serve it out. We are probably going to need to get someone to shop and cook for us because seriously its just too hard to know what to buy and how to prepare it. We bought some pasta and sauce to cook for dinner but we forgot to buy matches for the stove so dinner last night was biscuits and muesli bars etc... we were too tired to go out and by 6.30pm we were struggling to stay awake. Around this time there was a blackout (so far a daily occurrence) which is when the back up generator in theory is meant to turn on within a minute or two. We have to turn everything off bar the fridge and maybe 3 lights, however for some good reason the generator overloaded our power box so there was no back up power for us (thank God Ray brought his head torch and Hans gave us a small wind up LED light). One good thing that came from the black out is that we met our neighbour who speaks perfect English and offered to help us in anyway he could including interpreting for the maid etc... The main power came back on after an hour or so so hopefully that is the length of it generally. All these challenges and experiences highlight how good we have it in Australia and how important it is that we succeed in this project. 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Our Gurgaon Apartment

So today we moved into our apartment. We are in a southern suburb of Delhi known as Gurgaon; it is an interesting neighbourhood to say the least. Our apartment is on the 6th floor of an older block; the block is high walled and has a 24 hour security guard manning the gate. The apartment itself has three bedrooms, two bathrooms a simple kitchen, a large living area and several balconies. The floors are all marble and keep the place very cool..not that its hot at the moment...jeans and T-shirt weather and we don't leave home without a jacket as it gets cold at night. 
The guys at Dia Vikas (Opportunity's Indian office) have been fantastic... the Internet was on, the phone connected and they supplied us with a few basic essentials. After dropping off our luggage our driver took us to Ambiance Mall which is a large western style shopping centre with shops such as Marks & Spencer's, Debenham's and the usual clothing brands. The security at the shopping centre was heightened due to the Mumbai incident, with our car checked. We were also checked as we entered the shopping centre through metal detectors. Our bags were also checked.  The main purpose of the trip was lunch and power adaptors. The food hall was not unlike what you would find at Westfield's with the usual outlets... KFC, Subway, Mexican, Thai and of course Indian. The kids opted for a Subway kids pack but then I had to consider the salad as we were advised not to touch it... I rationalised that the tomato and cucumber would be ok as there is not much of outside surface area but I gave the lettuce a miss. Ray and I had Indian which was of course great... I couldn't resist the ice tea... bit risky but it tasted soooo good.
We took the kids for a play in a timezone like set up were Hunter showed us her driving skills or lack thereof. In the timezone there was a Charlie Chaplin clown interacting with the patrons...Hunter was petrified. 
We had no luck with the power adaptor so our driver took us to our local shopping district known as South City. I was expecting a small arcade type set up but it was a dusty street with pigs and dogs roaming about and a row of shops of all varieties. The electrical store had multiple types of adaptors - we bought just one to see if it would work at the huge cost of about 90 cents... I think I will stock up for future travels...

Late in the afternoon we headed to the Dia Vikas office to meet Stephen and the rest of the team. They were just wonderful - so helpful and inclusive. It is nice to know we have someone we can call that is local if we need anything. While we were there they organised a maid for us, as that is the done thing... so we will have a lady come to the house each day for an hour or so to clean etc for the grand price of about $40 a month...By this stage the kids were exhausted as it was 11pm Sydney time so we dropped Stephen back to the hotel and said goodbye as he was heading back to Sydney early the next morning. So then what to do for dinner and food for breakfast? We went to a smaller shopping centre and found a crowded grocery store and bought milk and cereal and a few other bits and pieces. Dinner we ate in an Indian food hall. The dishes were far too spicy for Hunter so she just ate naan, the kids were fighting to stay awake by this stage so we headed home and they crashed immediately (8.30 local time) 
Until tomorrow goodnight!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sewa Ashram

After a much needed nights sleep and a big breakfast at the hotel we met up with Stephen; the CFO for Opportunity International Australia and headed out to the Ashram. It was our first real experience with Delhi roads and traffic. I am not one for long car trips but in India there is never a dull moment and the whole drive was pure entertainment. Drivers are constantly blasting their horns,  and from what I can tell it can have two meanings- "watch out I am coming through" or "get out of my way".
The drive to the ashram took about 1.5 hours though we have been warned that it can take as long as 4 hours depending on the traffic. The roads here are in crazy condition, we really don't have much to complain about in Sydney. There is road work happening everywhere and half built fly overs are a ubiquitous sight as in the half built metro. There will be no need to visit a zoo while here - I think we have seen it all wandering the streets... cows are everywhere as are scary looking pigs/boars as well as dogs, donkeys and monkeys.

On arriving at the Sewa Ashram we were warmly greeted by Kaye and Nino as well as the other Ashram staff and volunteers. Kaye first took us on a tour of the Ashram leading us though the intricate pathways that lead from one area to the next. She showed us through the clinic as well as the various wards for the TB patients. The kitchen facility was a basic set up where they have enormous saucepans that churn out 25 kgs of rice for lunch each day. During the day they try to get the patients outdoors rather than being cooped up in the wards. We met a few of the patients and heard of their stories (I will share more about this when we go back and spend some more time at the Ashram and take some photos). At lunch we enjoyed a meal of rice with a spinach and lentil dahl; it was really very good. Sam loved the food and hunter our fussy eater had a good portion as well.
We then walked across to the children's home which has now been combined with some of the old men and women. the children were beautiful and all lined up in a row eating their lunch. One story I will mention now is about a woman named Ruby who was picked up from the Delhi streets with her 3 year old daughter. Ruby was so unwell that she could not walk and had to rely on her small daughter to wander the streets to find them food to survive. The thought of this small girl wandering the streets alone is totally incomprehensible. Newborn babies are often left at home alone all day long without any food while their mothers are forced to go out to try and find work or food.
Despite the challenges that all the patients at the Ashram face - and there are many challenges - the atmosphere in the Ashram is wonderful. It is a peaceful place of refuge that exudes hope and opportunity for a better future. The team at the Ashram have done an awesome job in establishing an environment that is positive, a spirit of hope and a faith that starts to believe for the impossible.  It really is a beautiful place and we all look forward to spending more time there in order to understand how we can develop a plan for a new village for hundreds more people while lending a hand in the daily needs and activities. I have to say, that Sam and Hunter coped extremely well in their visit to the Ashram as they really came face to face with some of the harsher realities to life.

The trip back to the hotel was equally eventful as the journey there when a mouse in the car ran over Sam's foot and nibbled at his sock - for the next hour we all sat with our feet up.
Oh... and not far from the Ashram is the Delhi dump. You cannot comprehend the size of this place, it is literally larger than a Sydney suburb with mountains of garbage piled high. On the horizon there were people picking through the garbage looking for rags etc to resell. Swarming over the tip were thousands of birds, I have never seen anything like it. Oh and of course there were pigs... I think I will give the bacon a miss while I am here.

We were well and truly exhausted after day 1... Hopefully our body clocks will adjust soon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

First Impressions

We have finally arrived in Delhi. The flights were great, very little turbulence and smooth landings. The only slight drama was when Ray's nose sprung a leak and wouldn't stop bleeding for about an hour. The amount of blood was unbelievable I am usually not queasy but I nearly lost my lunch and passed out; the only thing that saved me was the Bach Rescue Remedy pastilles... they taste gross but they work.

On leaving the arrivals hall and stepping outside the airport we soon understood the idea of over a billion people in this country. The drive to the hotel was an eye opener for the kids with the cows wandering down the streets, the number of cars and bikes and the constant blasting of horns.
The security was stepped up at the hotel after all that has gone down in Mumbai. Our car was checked inside and out for bombs etc before we were allowed in the drive.
I am sitting by the window in the hotel at the moment watching a cow stroll down a 6 lane street into on coming traffic, obviously it has no reason for concern as the cars stop and give way.
The pollution is worse than I expected, I would say visibility is not more than 200 metres. The haze is ever present even in the hotel lobby and restaurant. 
We will be heading out to the ashram today and are looking forward to getting a bit more of a feel for this teeming city.

Will post some pics soon

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The bags are packed… and no I am not taking vegemite.

The day has finally arrived and the packing is all done with one hour to spare.
Although I packed reasonably light (considering we are going for three months), I still managed to grossly underestimate the amount of luggage we would be taking. I am a bit concerned about this as it could hinder my shopping plans somewhat ;)

The kids are very excited and can't believe it is all happening.

Here is hoping for a peaceful plane trip with no turbulence and great movies...

Keep in touch...