Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A little piece of heaven and a little piece of hell.

Lots of little anecdotes and stories are zooming through my mind at the moment and I am not quite sure where to begin. There is exactly 45 minutes until dinner so lets just see where my mind wanders. At the moment I am sitting in the office with my ear phones in and the music blaring as I attempt to drown out the noise of the Sikh temple up the road which is having some long winded festival with never ending prayers being blasted over the neighborhood. Now that I think of it, its a wonder that none of my Australian work contacts that I phone regularly have picked up on the fact that I don't actually work in Australia.

So the biggest event of the week just been would have been the wedding I attended on Saturday night with the NZ volunteers. Jake met the groom (Parvi) on a bus when he was here in India four years ago and they have remained in contact ever since. It was really nice of Parvi to extend the invitation to the rest of us.

So in the lead up to the big day Ruth, Jenni and I had to make one of the most important purchases of our lives... a sari! We all did really well with our choices, each choosing a sari that suited our look and style beautifully. After buying the 6 metre sari we then had to take it to a tailor who cuts off the blouse piece and makes a fitted crop top (blouse) for the bargain price of $4.

The whole sari experience was so much fun and I am wondering how many would be a reasonable number to buy while I am living here. I am thinking I need to buy a silk one next... perhaps in an ice blue with a contrasting coloured edging. Hmm... So the wedding day... Jenni and I needed to duck into town to make a few more small outfit purchases; including safety pins (to hold the whole thing together) a draw string for the petticoat and of course bangles and bindis... We may have gone a tad overboard on the colourful glass bangles but at $1.25 for a box of 24 why not!

So it seems that putting on a sari is not a s straightforward as simply wrapping it round and round your body; there is definitely an art to it involving pleats and pinning tucking things in just so. Thus we had Guriya one of the women living here at the ashram dress us appropriately. After we were dressed we went out and showed the patients and kids our new look much to their delight.

The wedding itself was amazing!!! It was held at one of the party lawns nearby the ashram. There where hundreds of people there with the women in the most colourful and decoratively embroidered saris you have ever seen. The lawn itself was bigger than a football field surrounded with trees covered in fairy lights. Along one side was about ten different food stands each with a different type of food. At the end there was a huge buffet table and next to that an area where they made all sorts of Indian breads in huge tandoors AMAZING. When I am so spoiled for choice I kind of don't know where to begin... so I ate dessert first... hot jalebi and ice cream YUM, this was followed with paneer tikka and naan. All sorts of finger-food was distributed by waiters as well so much food so little time and so little space. Oh did I mention it was a hindu wedding so it was all vegetarian.

As for the wedding ceremony I am not sure at what point the bride and groom are actually married, there seems to be lots of little rituals that go on throughout the evening, including some secret mens business that us girls where not privy too. However we did find ourselves in one of the men only things that we happened to get away with as foreigners.... The groom sits on a blinged up horse drawn wagon dressed up with a lei of money around his neck. Behind him is a generator car which lights up the wagon and the row of lanterns carried by boys to lead the wagon. The generator also powers a seriously loud sound system which blasts Hindi music while the men dance as though they are possessed before the slightly petrified horses (I guess they are somewhat used to the ruckus). As foreigners some of the Indian women used us as an excuse to be able to dance, we were pulled us into the hoohaa with the bright lights of the video camera blinding our vision. After a while the dancers disperse and the horses lead the groom to the entrance of the wedding venue where he meets his inlaws. In a nut shell they throw rice and other stuff at the groom and feed him??? He then heads to the stage where he sits with his petrified looking new wife for photos with the guests and some money is given as gifts. Apparently the bride is supposed to look sad because she is leaving her family. This marriage was an arranged one; Parvi had only met his bride once before at an engagement ceremony. Parvi completely trusted his father to choose the right girl for him.

The other week I heard the story of one of our patients who used to gate crash weddings as a child and steal the money that is thrown on the dance floor. It would be so easy to do and I am sure it happened at this wedding too as I saw handfuls of notes being tossed into the air and children scrambling for the money

I have to say... Saturday night and the whole wedding experience would have to be one of the highlights of my time here in India.

What's next... well there have been a few funny animal stories I could tell...

Last week we were sitting in traffic at a red light and at the front of the line in the middle lane was a man on an elephant waiting for the lights to change (like they do); back a few rows in the left lane was a horse and cart. When a green left turn arrow appeared the horse freaked out when the elephant came into view and was too scared to walk past the elephant to go around the corner. So the elephant had to move across the traffic to get out of the way to allow the horse around the corner... I love this place!

Yesterday I had a couple more driving with animals incidents. I was picking up Praseeda for a girls day out. Praseedas' house is about half a kilometre down through narrow lanes that wind between shops and houses. The lanes are barely wide enough for the car let alone the herd of buffalos I encountered as I swung around one of the tight corners. Jenni a farm girl from NZ said I just had to keep driving and honk the horn and the buffalos would slowly work their way around the car.... which they ever so slowly did. Later that night when we dropped Praseeda home Jenni and I were driving back up those same narrow lanes to the main road when we encountered two cows blocking our way and no amount of honking or creeping forward was going to move them as the bull was intent on having his way with the cow then and there. I was starting to think I could be in for a long wait when thankfully a motorbike managed to squeeze up past may car and scare them running away.... never a dull moment.

Okay... now this story is a story I was going to write earlier in the day when I needed to vent. Probably better that I waited until now as there would have been lots of &^?#@ in it.

So basically I have discovered a little piece of hell on earth and it is called Narela Post Office. I have now had two visits to hell and each time I did not achieve what I set out to achieve. On my first visit I went to post two parcels of school work back to Australia. I arrived at the post office to find the 5 men there eating their lunch. I said I needed to post parcels to Australia they said wait twenty minutes while they finished their lunch. So I waited for them to eat and then they very slowly packed there lunch boxes away. Once I finally got some service I was told I had to go and get the packages weighed... IT IS A POST OFFICE SURLEY A SCALE OF SOME SORT IS A MANDATORY TOOL OF THE TRADE ... At that point I left in exasperation and got one of the guys at the ashram to post the parcels for me.

So today in a moment of insanity I decided it was time to conquer the post office. I headed off with a parcel and 6 postcards. This time I was ready...I weighed the parcel on my handy kitchen scales which I brought all the way from Australia (a must for weighing the flour for pasta) and went to the post office late enough that they would have eaten lunch. So I arrive at the post office with Ray who I have dragged along this time for moral support and bossiness. After getting to the first counter we are then sent to another counter. When we are finally served there my parcel is on it way but then I have to go back to the first counter to post the postcards. When I get to the front of the first counter out some the lunch boxes; I did not know whether to laugh hysterically or cry. Ray looks at me and says you are kidding...I wish I was. So we duck out of the post office to run another errand... credit for Sam's phone... which involved a long winded palaver with the phone guy. So I left Ray there and go back to the post office. Lunch is over but no one is getting served as they are busy stamping documents and ignoring everyone lining up to be served. About and hour after first arriving at the post office we get to the front of the queue only to be told they have run out of stamps... come back tomorrow. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!

I should add that while Ray was waiting in line I was enquiring about a long overdue parcel for one of the volunteers and I was literally sent from office to office and counter to counter until I eventually was sent back to where I started. Grrr

So never ever again will I put myself through the torture of Narela Post Office.

On a lighter note yesterday we had a girls day out. Five of us set out early on a long drive to the fanciest malls in South Delhi to watch New Moon... loved it. We followed the movie with buffet lunch and cocktails a spot of shopping. This leads me into lots more thoughts about this land of contrasts and extremes but there goes the dinner bell I will save those thoughts for next time... Aloo gobi and chapati tonight.


Thursday, December 3, 2009


I know its been ages!!!!

So what has been happening? Well a couple of weeks ago I went the the blood bank with 4 other ashram volunteers to donate blood for a couple of our patients. It is not like Australia where you give and receive blood for free. Rather if someone needs blood they need to know someone who will donate blood for them or it is very expensive. Unfortunately when we got there Ruth and Jake were not eligible to give blood as they had had a rabies vaccination just a few days before and Jenni was on asthma preventatives which excluded her also. So Michael and I were left to donate a unit each....not really enough but it will have to do. It costs about $30 to receive blood from someone who is donating specifically for you and double that for purchasing stored blood.

One strange superstition seems to be that the person donating has to leave there shoes outside the room. They could not be on the floor in the room, yet everyone else in there with me had shoes on...

It was my first time giving blood so I was a little nervous that I might get woozy, nauseous or faint... but it was all fine.

Unfortunately the guy who I gave the blood to died on Saturday...

Actually, we do need more blood for some of our new patients so now would be a good time to visit *hint*hint*

On a lighter note I have finally purchased a sari... it is wedding season here at the moment and we have been invited to four weddings so far but I am not sure I will be able to attend any of them due to other commitments...ah well at least I have a sari. At the moment my sari is with the tailor as the end piece of the 6 metres of fabric needs to be cut off and turned into the top that you wear under the sari. I will post pics when it is done.

A few of the volunteers and I where discussing a few of the funny things we catch ourselves saying here at the ashram. Things that would sound crazy in any other place...here are a few of our favorite "ashramisms"

  • "Is anyone helping the Rajastani (nomadic herdsman) in the clinic? No. He is just waiting for his mobile phone to charge"
  • "I will be right there... if I can just squeeze down the alleyway past the angry monkey"
  • "What is that poster on the rabbit hutch advertising? Oh there is a tele-evangelist in town"
  • "Is there a car available? No, just take the ambulance"
  • "Raj Pal could you please stick this notice on the door?" So Raj Pal puts the notice on the door with the blue tack on the outside of the paper stretched like chewing gum from the corners of the paper onto the door! so cute!

Okies there goes the dinner bell... cya

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quick News

Ok... this is going to be brief... I have a few minutes to kill so here is a quick summary of what has been happening.

  • We are just back from 10 days in Hong Kong. We had to leave India to renew our visas. The kids had a great time at Disneyland and Ocean Park. I saw my first Panda... soo cute!
  • Sam and Hunter were pulled out of the audience to participate in the High school Musical show at Disney... Sam was not impressed.
  • While we were away Abeeda (one of the ashram women) had her baby. She had a little girl weighing just 2kgs. Just as she was delivered there was a blackout at the hospital and they were literally standing their holding the newly delivered baby in the dark until the lights came back on. The baby does not have a name yet. For more info have a squiz at Ruth's blog http://www.thedailydhal.blogspot.com/
  • Ray's front tooth fell out while he was chowing down on some fried crab in Hong Kong. He gets his new ceramic tooth fitted on Thursday for a meagre $100 would have cost thousands in Australia. The root canal specialist was not impressed by the dodgy job performed by the Australian dentist (sorry Sarah).
  • Ray contributed to India's car accident stats the other day when he ran up the back of another car. The other guys car had major rear damage and the rear windscreen popped out and shattered on the bonnet. The accident was not reported to the police as they would want a slice of the monetary action. Rather ray had to pay 1000RS ($250) and the damage and problem disappeared. In Australia the damage would have run into the thousands.
  • Ray was pulled over for speeding the other week. Asked for proof that he was speeding before paying the fine. Said he would rather take it to court than pay the fine on the spot. All too hard so they let him go. Oh... the fine for speeding is only $10.
  • We are back living on the ashram again. Much better than the 6 weeks we lived here in July with the intense heat. I quite like living here. Ray and Sam not so much. Starting to sleep through the 4.30am hoohaa coming from the Sikh Gurdwara up the road.
  • Have been invited to a couple of weddings... very excited as I now have to purchase a sari. One of them is in Kerela at the end of December...may do a train trip for that one.
  • Hunter has finished baseball for the season and is now looking forward to soccer. Sam has a few weeks left to go. He had a great game on the weekend. Caught one guy out from the out field and made it home twice.
  • Bit over Indian food but loving Tibetan food. We often eat at the tibetan colony as we can feed the whole family including drinks for $10. Oh and they have beef on the menu! (not that I care but Ray and Sam order it every time).
  • Participated in the American Women's Association Christmas Mela (market) on the weekend. Sold some ashram made jewelry and lanterns there. Have the German Embassy Mela coming up early December.
  • Had a desperately needed haircut the other day. Now have shoulder length hair and a chunky fringe... pic on fb. Wash cut and blow dry at a 'nice' salon only $12.50. Would have been even less up the road in Narela.
  • Sam is averaging 250 text messages a week... luckily you can buy 200 texts for $1. Apparently his Aussie friends back home are racking up bills in the hundreds. Good life stage for Sam to be in India I think.
  • As I speak Ray is having a massage... one of our current patients was a massage therapist in his pre ashram life.
  • Have been asked to write a third 'lost for words' with Kathy. Delivery mid next year.
Thats it for now...

Thursday, October 29, 2009


What a great week! As usual so many new experiences. Thats the great thing about India, every night before bed I think "now I have seen it all"

Two Saturday's ago was Diwali. Diwali would be the most popular of all the Hindu festivals, also known as the Festival of Lights. As with several other festivals, Diwali is associated with one of the stories about the destruction of evil. The festival is celebrated over several days and this year it culminated on Saturday night. Over days leading up to Diwali all the houses in our neighborhood started putting up their 'christmas' lights and we started to hear a few fireworks from time to time. Saturday we headed to the ashram in time for lunch and afterwards I headed into Narela with Shar and Ruth to pick up our clothes we had dropped off for dying. Narela was crazy busy with everyone out buying there last minute lights, candles and Diwali gifts (imagine Sydney on christmas Eve times a hundred). As we turned into the main market street we saw it was blocked off and it was too hard to back up or turn around so we just left the car where it stood and headed into the closed street. There were people everywhere buying candles, lights and sweets... oh the sweets! The whole street was covered with a net of tinsel and lights.... the atmosphere was amazing! After swinging by a tailor who invited us in for a drink and some diwali sweets we headed back through the maze of alleyways to the dying wallah... love this place. All my clothes have a new lease on life...either new colours or tie dyed. As we headed back to the car I was not looking forward to maneuvering the car back out of the closed off area and into the traffic... I was kicking myself for not taking the car with power steering. I had no hope of performing a u turn so with the help of Shar, Sam and a policeman I managed to maneuver the car out of the dead end and only nearly knocked over one motorbike.

Back at the ashram hundreds of clay pots were being filled with a wick and mustard oil while a special meal was being prepared. All the patients gathered around helping out while looking forward to the celebrations. The best way to explain diwali is like a cross between christmas and new year, which like the christian holiday christmas is enjoyed by all people. Although the ashram is christian and does not typically celebrate Hindu festivals this one seems to be almost the exception to the rule. We cannot force out beliefs on other people and with this festival it did not seem right to not allow it. So being a christian ashram we put our own spin on it and compared the lights to Jesus being the light of the world and prayed before distributing the lights and lighting them around the ashram. Once the lights were lit the ashram looked magical, lights in the dark is truly one of the most beautiful feasts for the eyes.

Before dinner we had our fireworks display... the patients loved it and where so excited. It was so great seeing Pratap who just a month ago had a huge infection in his external fixator and could hardly move; but that night he was up with his walking frame barely keeping away from the just lit fireworks. The sound of India that night was amazing, there were fireworks going off everywhere... though it did sound like a war zone it only added to the atmosphere.

Dinner was amazing it was a delicious chicken curry with amazing rice a perfect way to wind up a great night.

After dinner we headed home to our apartment seeing hundreds of fireworks lit along the way. The sound echoed around the car the whole way home. Back in our neighborhood we pulled up to one of the temporary firework stores and bought a few fireworks for the kids to light at home. Sam chose a 3 pack of larger fireworks that shoot into the sky, while Hunter chose a 10 pack of candles that spray out sparks and fire. Once we pulled up to our house and the kids let off there fireworks it was apparent we were not going to get a lot of sound sleep that night. Many of the fireworks where quite clearly not about sparks and light but rather about noise. As we stood on the balcony watching all the fireworks being lit all around us out neighbor lit some fireworks that where unbelievably loud...you could physically feel the noise and power of the blast hit your body. After about 10 minutes on the balcony my ears were a little sore so we headed in to bed. I didn't expect to be able to get to sleep that night but listening to the noise outside was actually a nice way to drop off... I am guessing that the noise continued on until 2 or 3 in the mornings. It is now 3 nights latter and still the occasional blast is heard.

Ok so I typed up the above weeks ago and I am only now getting around to posting it... oops.

Quick update... my visa status could not be changed here in India so on Monday we are taking a quick trip to Hong Kong to hopefully get it changed there. If not I will pick up a new tourist visa and sort it out in 6 months. As our lease will be all but up by the time we get back from Hong Kong we have decided to move back to the ashram this weekend. So as you can imagine it is crazy busy at the moment with trying to get the kids ahead in school, packing to move and go away, and having all the loose ends tied up at work so I can take time off!

P.s I have uploaded some very funny photos to facebook of when we went to Splash water park with Jake and Ruth. Hunter, Ruth and I rented costumes...so hot! That's another blog in itself!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thank God for the Woolstons!

Crazy as it's been nearly 5 months since landing back in India. It feels as though I have lived in India a long time as everything has become so familiar. Navigating our way around Delhi - whether in the car, metro, bus or auto rickshaw - is now a no brainer, although being packed in a bus with an Indian's face only 1 cm from my own still takes getting used to ( I mean living in a city of nearly 20 million people has some drawbacks!) We have also now taken to going for a quick feed at the local street food stalls for dinner...chow mein, momos freshly cut pineapple, plenty of hot chili sauce...all tastes fantastic and is really cheap, and the street atmosphere is always abuzz, as in India there are always plenty of people around.....

I am really loving the work, although at times it is really challenging - I have definitely been pulled out of my comfort zone plenty a time! Being responsible for the well-being and welfare of a community of over 180 people and growing - patients, staff and volunteers - can sometimes feel a little heavy and there is never a dull moment. Balancing the day to day community issues and working on the organization and it's new initiatives would not be possible without the awesome team that I have the privilege of working with. They come from all over the world - India, Germany, Switzerland, USA, Australia, Korea and even... New Zealand.

In fact we have a large contingent from NZ at the moment - or we did, as I dropped off the Woolstons to the airport at 2 am this morning, and they made up more than half of the New Zealanders with their 3 children. They all hail from Hamilton on the North Island and belong to an awesome church - Gateway Christian Centre. Having this many New Zealanders around has been great due to the natural camaraderie we Australians have with them and the fact that they were smashed in the Champions League 20/20 and Australia has 2 teams in the semi finals...go the Blues!

The Woolstons are a remarkable family. Scott is a carpenter by profession and makes incredible furniture and Shar is an ER nurse who has tremendous capacity to care for the sick. Both of them have a very natural way of communicating with people - although Shar probably a little louder than Scott! Their generosity is amazing and their ability to connect with people truly a gift. They both had a profound impact on the community, which was so evident on their last night at the Ashram before they came to spend the last couple of days with us at our home before flying home. There were many tears from fellow volunteers, staff and patients. The family has a tremendous calling on their lives which they are living out. I am reminded of the verse 2 Timothy 2:20-21 about the utensils that are made of gold and silver, that are special and for honorable use, ready for the Master to use for every good work. That is Scott and Shar. I truly thank God for the Woolstons, and yet they are only a couple of the people that we have had the awesome privilege of making friends with during this crazy adventure...

Bless ya heaps,


Friday, October 9, 2009

Hi There!

All is well here in India and once again its been a busy week though a little frustrating as we had no internet at home, thus I got very little work done. It was nice to have the forced break though so I could spend a bit more time with the kids while on holidays and more time at the ashram.

Ruth and Jake, a couple from NZ arrived this week. They will be volunteering for the next six months and even after a week their valuable nursing and physiotherapy skills have made such a difference. Ruth is a nurse and has had a lot of experience with wounds and Jake is a physio and has already got Vinod sitting up!

On a sadder note Om Prakash passed away yesterday. He was the patient I wrote about a couple of months ago who had the massive pus balls in his neck. We knew it was inevitable but for a while there he was doing so well, he really took a turn for the worse over the last week or so.

This week I went with Shar, Ruth and Hunter to visit Jonny in the local Narela hospital. Although its a good size hospital it seemed almost like a ghost town compared to an Australian hospital as there are so few nurses. It took us a while to find Jonny as we did not know his full Indian name and we had to walk from floor to floor via long ramps. We were a bit like the pied piper, by the time we found Jonny, we had about 15 people following us, once we found him the security shooed them away. Jonny was in the orthopedics ward which looked like a torture chamber with all bars, pulleys and wires hanging from the bed. Jonny was very happy to see us. We bought him some bananas and Anzac biscuits as well as some clean clothes. Because it took us so long to find him we couldn't stay long, after we left we were once again followed all the way back to the car.

Went for a shopping day this week with Shar, Ruth and Hunter. We managed to fit in three markets and finished up meeting the guys at Khan Market for dinner at the Big Chill. That day we managed to get a rickshaw wallah to use the metre for the first time... he insisted the market he was taking us to was closed but we made him take us anyway. On the way Shar said to Ruth one day a rickshaw driver will take her to a tourist emporio against her wishes (tourist emporios are government run shops which are filled with overpriced local handcrafts, Rickshaws and taxis must get some sort of kickback for taking foreigners there because they only insist that you go in just for a minute) The next thing we know we are out the front of a dreaded emporio, Shar and I gave the driver such a hard time. He was trying to insist that he had taken us to Sarojini market part 1 and that Sarojini market part 2 (the place we wanted) was closed today. There is no Sarojini part one or part 2! We were so angry so we both yelled Chello! jaldi jaldi. Which means get going quickly. Eventually we got to Sarojini and what do you know... it was open.

Sam and Ray are going with 30 of the ashram staff and volunteers to the 20/20 cricket on Sunday night. While I was shopping with the girls I ducked into a cafe and bought the tickets. No ticketek here. The guy was a bit surprised when I asked for 31 tickets. He asked if I was going and I said not a chance. They are going to see 2 matches featuring the NSW Blues and the Delhi Devils and a couple of other teams. Hope they have fun!

Last night we picked up about 10kgs of mail from the Gibbons. It was mostly schoolwork but there was a lovely parcel from the Rogers. It had 3 jars of the new Vegemite as well as loads of melted chocolate :) and jelly beans. Its breakfast time now so I am off to have Vegemite and ghee on toast (forgot to buy butter).


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Another Day Another Experience

I know it has not been long since my last post, but today I unexpectedly find myself home alone with the internet disconnected, which means I can't work....shame.

So, today I met up with the American Womens Association here in Delhi. They are great supporters of Sewa Ashram and many other NGO's in Delhi. Every month or so they bundle up a bunch of clothes from the thrift shop they run at the embassy and donate it to the ashram. Today my visit to the AWA had two purposes, firstly to pick up clothes and secondly I was to be introduced to another NGO in South Delhi. The organisation we visited is called Very Special Arts India. The organisation creates awareness of how visual and performing arts can enrich the lives of people with disabilities. They run all sorts of classes there including music and dance as well as computer studies and various crafts. Charlotte thought to introduce me to them as they have a weaving programme where they recycle old cassette and video tapes by weaving them into bags along with yarn. At the ashram we make hand-spun cotton yarn and as yet we have not done anything with what has been made; we have literally hundreds of spools of yarn. So perhaps we could work with VSA in having it made up into crafts that we can sell at the various markets and melas around Delhi. At the ashram we hope to utilise the yarn ourselves to make crocheted bags to sell. This week I plan to take skeins of the yarn to the dying wallah and have some cool multicolored yarns made up. Once I have the yarn dyed I need to do a crash course in crocheting... I am thinking YouTube could be my answer.

When we got back to the AWA Charlotte and I headed up to the main road to find a rickshaw. Charlotte is an older American woman married to an Indian. When she asked the first rickshaw wallah how much to the metro station he said 50 rupees ($1.25) now this is how much I always pay for this trip, but Charlotte insisted it was way too much as it is only about 20 rupees by the meter...not that I can ever get a rickshaw driver to use the meter so I wouldn't know. Charlotte said she wouldn't pay it and would look for another one but I had to run so grabbed it for the 50 rupees!. From Central Secretariat I took the Metro home but as I was reading my book (Eclipse) I failed to realise I was on a train that would terminate before my stop and I overshot the change over... ahh well more reading time for me. When I got out of the station I called Ray to see where he and the kids were but they had just arrived at the ashram and wouldn't be home for hours. What was I to do with all that free time and disconnected internet as we forgot to pay the bill...Well the first thing I did was go to the Airtel shop and pay the bill, they said that the internet would be back on in a few hours... still waiting. After that I thought I would try and track down a hairdresser. So I went for a walk until I found one. The windows were completely tinted so I could not see inside, upon opening the door I was just about blinded by the lairy pink paint on the walls with purple trim. As I live in North Delhi not many people need to speak English so I didn't know how I would go with my request. To my relief there was one girl there that spoke English. I asked how much hair colouring cost... it was $25 - bargain. She handed me the usual Loreal colour charts for me to choose from. Interestingly medium brown is called blonde here... I guess its all relative. I settled on a fairly standard 'medium brown' and they got to work. I asked about other services they offered such as waxing. I was told a full body wax was $18 - I said I just wanted half leg which was $1.50. They also offered a $40 package which included all waxing, facials, wash, cut and blow-dry as well a manicure and pedicure... something to consider. So while my head was being tortured (they must have a high pain threshold here) I watched all the arm waxing, mehendi and threading going on around me. After my color was done they lead me to the basin. It was only then that I realised this salon has no plumbing. So I stood with my head leaning over a sink while someone poured jugfuls of water over my hair which they scooped from a bucket. I have to say the cool water was nice on my tortured scalp...I don't think its a very effective way to rinse hair though... I can still smell the dye hours latter but I cant face washing it again right now.

So after a quick blow dry I pay for half the job and tell them in my limited hindi (the english speaker had left by then) that I will come back latter with the other 500 rupees. So trusting.... but they know where I live :)

When I got home the orange juice wallhah was outside so I bought a freshly squeezed jug of juice and now I am chilling on the lounge with nothing much to do. Loving it!

Note to self... next time write about the Tibetan guy at the ashram who drank a whole bottle of tomato sauce because he said the Germans weren't feeding him.

Friday, October 2, 2009

My home town :)

Once again it has been way too long and once again there is lots of news and anecdotes. Overall I would have to say we are really enjoying life in India.

Last week I went on a shopping day with the 'girls' , which was so great. I have really missed having a day out. Jenni is a New Zealander who is new to the ashram. She will be here for 6 months and we have heaps in common (except for the fact that she hates shopping) we are already becoming good friends. Jay Kim is a Korean girl who lives in Delhi and volunteers a couple of days a week at the Ashram. Jay is a riot! she knows all the ins and outs of getting around Delhi and finding a bargain.

Our first stop of the day was this great shopping complex full of tailors and racks of denim fabric. I never would have found this place on my own. So it turns out you can have a pair of jeans tailor made with your design and choice of denim for $10. Wishing I packed my favorite falling apart jeans now. Jay ordered a great looking denim jacket... can't wait to see what it turns out like. We visited three other markets that day culminating in lunch at the Oz cafe... not by choice, only because we couldn't get a table a the Big Chill. My favorite Delhi market is Sarojini Nagar and I love it even more now that I know how cheap things really are. So as Jenni shouted lunch my day out cost $15 including 2 tops, cool tye dyed pants and a bag. Jay taught me how to never pay more than 100RS ($2.50) per item.

Delhi is really starting to feel like home, we are finding our way around without a street directory now and the Delhi Metro is as familiar as Sydney trains. Even auto-rickshaws drivers are proving less of a challenge to pay a reasonable fare. We are not so familiar with the crazy jam-packed buses yet but finally took the plunge and caught the bus from the end of the metro line to the ashram. It cost 25 cents each for the trip. You board the bus through the rear door in India and the ticket seller sits in a seat by the door. Jay was with us on our first trip and quickly ejected a couple of guys out of the seats designated for women. The trip back Jay did the same again and about half way through the trip I glanced away from the window and was suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of people jammed into the aisle. I felt a little claustrophobic and was wondering how we were going to get to the front door when we got to our stop. Thankfully a bunch of people unloaded before our stop. The other morning I saw a bus so packed that people where hanging out the door causing the bus to travel with an awkward lean. There were even people hanging off the grill on the back window, I assume they are not expected to buy a ticket.

Ashram News

I have missed a lot of ashram life lately, but the highlight story goes to a Tibetan guy who was a little unusual. Pia gave him a glass of coke which caused large worms about a foot long to come out of his mouth. he then kept one wrapped up in his blanket.

There was another unusual character that came to us after he had been on a trip and had failed to take his medication for some mental illness. Basically he forgot who he was. So at the ashram he caused all sorts of trouble such as turning on all the oxygen cylinders and setting off a fire extinguisher and spraying white foam about the ashram. He would also visit the volunteer bathroom in the middle of the night and then freak out the volunteers. He even left a present on the floor... so we are back to locking the door now. Sam and I where doing some school work under a tree one day and he walked up to us and dumped his rubbish on Sam's work... you have to laugh. Anyway his family, after scouring Delhi for a couple of weeks, showed up and reclaimed him.

As for Jonny and his foot amputation... so he was admitted to hospital but they wouldn't do his operation until his blood sugars where lower. So they starved him for days and then would give him two pieces of bread. Yesterday as we were leaving the ashram Jonny suddenly rolled up in a cycle rickshaw with all his gear and his walking frame. We were all surprised... he had discharged himself and looked very happy to be back at the ashram. Unfortunately for him he was shipped back there that afternoon.

okies ...please keep in touch, would so love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

So it seems Johnny's emergency toe amputation was not enough... he is off to hospital this week to have half his foot removed. Hopefully this time he will be given anesthetic! I am a bit nervous for him going to the village hospital, he is likely to lose more than half his foot. The funny thing is he seems so unperturbed by the whole thing. I don't think I would be so relaxed about a second amputation after his experience let alone a first one.

So let me think, what else have we been up to. Well I have a story to tell that I am not too proud of. It all started when a bad smell started in the kitchen and was getting worse and worse. We could not work out where it was coming from. The garbage had all been taken out and there was no rotting fruit in the fruit bowl and no food scraps hidden anywhere obvious. Then suddenly it hit me. I remembered that the pipe that drains the sink does not lead to anywhere... it just dangles into the cupboard below and the water spills onto the floor and runs into a floor waste with a grill on it. So you can imagine my fear as I opened the cupboard to see what horrendous festering mess I was going to find. Well, it was far worse than you could have imagined... it looked like sludgy vomit with mould growing in places... oh the smell. There was no way I was going to be able to clean that up without adding to it and I doubted I could pay the kids enough. So, when the floor cleaning lady arrived the next morning I asked in my very poor hindi if she or someone she new would come and clean it up for 100 rupees (perspective ... she is at my place for 20 minute or so 6 days a week and gets paid 450 rupees a month. So I offered 100 for an awful 5 minute job) she took one look at it and said 200 rupees and I did not hesitate to agree.

My only dilemma now is how do I stop it from happening again..

On Tuesday afternoon the ashram celebrated its 10th anniversary by having a fun afternoon of games followed by a special meal. It was an amazing time starting with a quiz and some team building exercises such as a group of people passing a person along over their heads.... I have some great photos which I will upload (one day).

For the kids there was egg and spoon races... or I should say egg and lime races as well as wheelchair races.

One of the highlights was an Indian game which was like a cross between rugby and dodgeball but without a ball. Great fun and a laugh to watch. Apparently it is a televised sport here in India.

For dinner that night we had a special meal that included hot chips and papadams along with a lamb curry and palak paneer...it was so good.

The Delaney's joined us for the afternoon which was nice for the boys so they could join in the fun. I spoke about the Delaney's in one of my blog postings from our last trip. They live in a slum in East Delhi. They all eat, sleep and live in one small room with no plumbing. Their room is on the third floor so they have to collect their water and carry it up to bathe, and go down stairs to the neighbors for the toilet. They do an amazing job working as advocates for the people of their colony making sure they get access to the services they are entitled to such as ration cards, widows pensions and hospital care. Many people would miss out on these rights simply because they are intimidated or are dismissed by those in charge.

It is amazing the medical cases that get looked over here. Just today Sarin one of the ashram staff was outside a public hospital and a man was lying in the street with all sorts of injuries and sickness. Sarin picked him up in the ashram ambulance to bring him to the ashram for initial review and care but he died in the ambulance on the way... can you imagine if people where left to die outside Australian hospitals.

On a lighter note Sam had baseball training tonight so on our way to training we stopped by Connaught Place to post the kids homeschool work back to Australia. This would have to be one of my least favorite jobs... the post office is chaos and each week they make up new rules. This week after waiting in the queue (read fighting for our place in the crush around the counter) they wanted a photocopy of our passport... there was no way we were going to head out of there to find somewhere to get a photo copy and fight our way back to the counter again. Thankfully Ray was there this time and he made them take the parcels without the photocopy. After the post office saga the kids and I were waiting around for Ray to get off the phone (as usual - nothing has changed) before we hoped in a rickshaw to the embassy for baseball training. While we were waiting Sam and I were getting a bit peckish so we thought we would try some street food. We started with some potato cooked over hot coals which were then peeled and diced and flavoured with spices and lemon juice.... sooo good and only cost 25c. Next we tried this other weird concoction which tasted like rice bubbles mixed with beans, lentils, spicy sauce of some sort and a bunch of other unrecognisable stuff... once again delicious... So we had a bargain afternoon tea/meal for 60 cents. Ask me if I still think it was delicious tomorrow!

Ok... its getting late now... will save some news for next time. oh, and don't forget Hunter has a blog as well... There is a link to the right


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Can you believe it's September!

I can't believe its September already. That means I have been back in India for 2 months. I think I am starting to notice I am missing a few things. I woke up this morning thinking about sushi. Other things I am missing is wearing jeans (it's still too hot), risotto and good cheeses and of course family and friends. I also really miss shopping and just hanging out with friends.

The door bell just rang... it was the girl who comes in to sweep and wash the floors everyday. She brought another girl with her and asked if I had a job for her... so with her limited English and my limited Hindi I now have someone who will come and wash the dishes each day for just over $7 per month. I know it sounds like I am exploiting her but that is what she asked for and I know it is more than the going rate.

I have not spent a lot of time at the ashram lately as I have been so busy with work and also because I took a long weekend and went to Rajasthan :) I went to the ashram on Tuesday after some torrential rain and the whole place was partially underwater. I had arranged to meet some women from the American Women's Association there who are going to dye some of our hand-spun yarn so that we can crochet it into bags and other items to sell... I just have to learn to crochet now so that I can teach the patients!

I spent the rest of the day sorting through bags of donated clothes from the American Embassy Thrift Shop. They often send us bags of useful stuff and are in the process of increasing their support for us... I need to prepare a list of medical items for them to ask for at their next 'cocktails for a cause' fundraiser.

There are a few new patients at the ashram since my last visit. One I will tell you about via an excerpt from my friend Sharlene's blog...

It turned out to be the most stressful day, everyone at the hospital much except for me is wearing a mask because of the swine flu epidemic and there is a whole swine flu department. After hours and hours of torture I go outside only to find a destitute woman, sitting totally naked outside the hospital. Hundreds of people are walking past but no one is doing anything. I approach the lady, manage to find out that she is 35 years old. Her husband left her and his her sister inlaw brought her to delhi and left her behind with no money. She told us that she was in an accident and injured her foot but the hospital would not help her. She had been sitting there for a week with no clothes and no food. I start talking with the patient and crowds of people surround her. It’s amazing how many people come to watch when a white person is helping. We find the patient some clothes and tell her to wait and we will take her to the ashram.

Suddenly patients are everywhere begging us to take them. They’re showing me their wounds, missing limbs and following us around. I then see another guy again dumped outside the hospital. He’s completely covered in faeces and flies and has a large wound on his forehead. We decide to take him as well...

We put her in the ambulance and she is so grateful and happy to come.

The other guy fights with us saying he is happy how he is and we leave him at the hospital.

The drive back is horrendous and then right in front of me is a massive motorbike accident. One guy slides right across the road and the other guy is thrown off his bike. I make the most of having an ambulance and put the siren on. We stop and help and thankfully everyone is ok so they go on a rick shaw to the hospital instead.

Finally we get home.

I shower the lady who I find to be completely covered in lice and maggots, we shave her head, dress her wound and put her to bed for the night.

what a day!!!

This lady’s foot was completely destroyed. It had almost all been completely eaten and there was very little tissue left. The smell was horrendous and hundreds of maggots came out. In fact when we lifted her out of the car the whole back seat was crawling with maggots…. Unbelievable!!!

How could a woman be left like this outside a hospital???

Someone told me that a week ago she was seen sitting in the same spot with no clothes on. Can you imagine how many people walked past and did nothing. Not even a blanket was given to her. Her body is covered in bedsores from lying on the concrete.

Because of all this that lady went today to get her leg amputated. She hasn’t stopped crying since she arrived. so broken and so sad. I think the pain of what she has endured not just physically is just pouring out.

It is devastating to see someone like this in such desperation.

Parveen has settled in and is chatting easily to everyone. She asks everyone for their rings or watches or just for money. I hope to spend some time with her next time I am at the ashram.

There is quite a bit of sickness amongst the long-term patients at the moment. Armachand one of my favorites (can I have favorites?) is in hospital with septicemia. He is lucky to be alive but is not through the worst of it yet. He has lived at the ashram for 7 years and has a real talent for jewelry making. Hunter loves practicing Hindi with him and Sam flying kites with him. They make a good team with Armachand holding the string while Sam thrusts the kite up into the air.

Another of the staff at the ashram is really sick at the moment. Deepak was one of the patients but he is one of the key staff at the ashram now. He has HIV, diabetes and heart disease. The other week he thought his heart was playing up but it turns out he has TB!!! He must have caught it from one of the patients at the ashram... we try our best to separate the infections patients but it seems we are not doing a good enough job. Deepak would be more vulnerable to catching TB and the disease manifesting due to his HIV status and compromised immune system. For people like me I would have been exposed but it will not manifest unless I became really run down.

We are starting to get the feel for our neighborhood. The kids and I walked to the shops yesterday to buy our groceries; we were stared down by a cow on the way home... I thought he was going to charge at my red shopping bag... I won't take that one with me again.

We often buy fresh juice or vegetables from the juice and vegetable wallahs that walk past our house calling out.

I have discovered where the ironing wallahs have their stand. They iron with old fashioned coal irons at a rate of 5 cents per item... imagine getting a business shirt ironed for 5 cents in Australia. An iron here costs $7 I could get 140 shirts ironed for that!.

Now I just need to find a massage lady... there is one in most neighborhoods and they cost about $3.50 for about 45 mins. Apparently I just need to ask someone in my neighborhood who has a baby to point them out as new mothers get massages.

The weather seems to have cooled a bit... I gauge this by how cold the water is in the shower. It's nearly time to turn the hot water on.

Okies...sorry to end so abruptly... must get to work now

keep in touch

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Delhi Days

We have been in our new apartment now for about 2 weeks now and are enjoying the relative luxury. We are based in North Delhi in an area called Kingsway Camp and our gated community is called Hudson Lane... not very Indian sounding. Our place is great... right opposite a park on the 1st floor of a 2 story block.

So what have we been up to.?. Well the kids and I have been spending a lot less time at the ashram due to my work and their school work. It's a bit of a shame not to be at the ashram as much, but we are so much more productive in the apartment. After three days we get a bit stir crazy though and need to get out.

One day last week we went to the ashram and were sitting outside the clinic doing our work when we heard a bit of a commotion and Sharlene came out really upset. We had a surgeon visiting that day to see if we could drum a relationship and have simple procedures done in-house rather than carting the patients all over Delhi in pain and in the heat. Sharlene showed him Jonny... a relatively new patient to the surgeon. Jonny presented with a crushed foot. His foot was literally split in two separating his toes. It was a nasty wound with lots of jagged flesh and visible bone. Jonny's other issue is uncontrolled diabetes, so a foot injury of this severity is not likely to heal well. Our visiting surgeon decided he needed to perform 'emergency surgery' on the spot. He asked the nurses for a few bits and pieces , got some guys to hold Jonny down and the proceeded to hack two of Jonny's toes off without any anesthetic. Of course he was in agony and screaming hysterically. Sharlene saw the whole thing as inhumane and yelled at the doctor to stop and give Jonny some anesthesia, but he continued as though it was completely normal. Sam and I of course went in to see what all the fuss was about and there was Jonny lying on the table white as a sheet with his leg off the side of a table over a bin with blood and flesh pouring into it. (Sam had a look in the bin later to see if he could see the toes but they were not visible for all the blood.) Below is a nice photo of Jonny's foot post 'surgery' (read brutalisation). There are so many patients here at the moment with missing Limbs. Who knows if he really needed to lose them or not.

They breed people tough here. in fact on of the doctors said to Shar "don’t give these guys any pain relief, it’s good for them to be reminded of the bad choices they’ve made”. I think these guys have probably learnt any lessons they need to learn and just need a bit of compassion.

If the photo of the toes make your stomach turn... my apologies... I have some more shocking photos of the worst bedsores you have ever seen... Another new patient Vinod was taken into the ashram after he had being laying in hospital rotting away for months without an attendant. Vinod's parents died when he was very young and he grew up on the streets fending for himself. He would now be in his mid to 20's. One night about 4 months ago he was sleeping on a roof and while asleep he fell off and broke his spine. Since then has spent months in and out of hospitals being treated very badly. He is paralysed from the waist down and has enormous bedsores. In hospital he was made to sleep on a stretcher, given none or very little food and then kicked out. Each time he was kicked out of one hospital he would make his way to another hospital, hoping that “this time” things could be better. When he first arrived at the ashram he was so dirty and wads of skin would come off his legs in chunks. After a few weeks he looks so much better and his wounds have improved. Hopefully soon he will be able to get into a wheel chair and get outside in the sun.

We have been so busy lately that we have not had much time for language learning. Hunter is way out in front in terms of vocabulary and practices with some of the patients. The other night she was chatting to Amachand; one of the long-term patients who speaks about 10 words of English. Hunter managed to explain what she would be doing between that afternoon until the next time we would be at the ashram in simple words and sign language.

Our most helpful Hindi teacher has gone to Agra for a month to work in an orphanage. Hopefully by the time he is back we will have a better routine and will be able to put a bit more time into language learning.

Ok... so much more news but I will leave it for that today. Until next time