Saturday, February 21, 2009

Long time no speak!

  I know its been ages...and I am trying to think of an excuse as to why (perhaps excuse is the wrong word). I think it is partly because we have been here for long enough that everything is starting to feel a bit normal; the traffic, the chaos, the animals roaming actually feels a bit like home. The other reason I have not written is probably because we have been so busy. Time has just flown by and here we are with less than a week to go.
   We have just returned from 4 days at the ashram which was as good as ever. Spring has truly sprung and all the flowers in the ashram are in full bloom and made for some great photo ops.    Sam had a great time helping out with the construction of a second story on the clinic. Hunter and I helped out with the beading of several key rings which will be sold at markets and to other interested buyers. Sam also played his first game of cricket Indian style with a couple of boys from the ashram and the surrounding neighbourhood. While Sam was playing cricket Hunter and I made small talk with a Rhajastani herdsmen who wanted me to show him how to take photographs. I was more than happy to show him as I was finally able to get some shots of the camera shy Rhajastani women with their amazing horn bangles that cover their entire arms (I will upload the pics shortly).
  We also made a trip with all the ashram volunteers to the family house which was fun. We all squeezed into the car together and on the way we got stuck in traffic (like you do everywhere in India) however on this particular occasion we found ourselves crushed in gridlock between buses, rickshaws, cars and two elephants. That's right, squeezed between our car and the one in the next lane (if you can call it a lane) were two elephants which Sam reached out and patted their leathery skin.
    In my last post I wrote about some of the little quirks I have come across in India and for memories sake I am going to add a few more. The first is about escalators; I hear you wonder how can there be anything unusual associated with escalators... well I have noticed a couple of things actually. The first is that for a country that does not worry too much about road rules, seat belts or the wearing of motorbike helmets they seem to insist that the utmost care is taken on the deadly escalators. I had not noticed this right away until Sam pointed it out to me. We were in a shopping mall when Sam said as we approached an escalator "watch this" he then proceeded to briskly climb the escalator (like you do), which caused a security guard to freak out and yell at him to stop and stand still...hilarious. Needless to say he has done this a number of times for a laugh and I must admit I find it amusing. It was then that I noticed there is a security guard manning every escalator in that particular shopping centre. The other thing about escalators is that I have noticed that many of the Indian women are petrified of them; especially the getting on and off. On one particular occasion as we approached an escalator we were behind a family of three and as they were getting on the escalator the woman freaked out and got left behind. We waited patiently for her to attempt to get on but in the end we stepped past and made our way down to the lower floor. When we alighted she was still standing at the top of the escalator and her husband was waiting not to patiently for her to descend. We tried our best not to stare but we had to see if she was going to make it down or not. Before long her husband walked to the other end of the shopping centre to the 'up' escalator and went to get her... I think they caught the lift down...not sure how she coped with that as it was one of the glass ones.

  This next quirk is one you probably have to experience to appreciate. Last week we came down from our apartment to our waiting car to find our driver frantically trying to repair his horn, which probably died from overuse. He seemed quite troubled by the fact that it didn't work. Now, I don't know about you but if my cars horn broke it would be months before I would even notice. But here I think a broken horn would make a driver feel somewhat impotent. We had a few stops to make that day and when we got back in the car after our first errand he proudly demonstrated the fixed horn.

I know this post has been short, but better short than not at all. We have five days left in India and I hate to think that this is my last post as there is so much more to share but we are finding that our days and nights are pretty much booked solid until we leave. 

See you very soon!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Beige Socks, Sparkly Vests & Pot Plants

Another week has flown by and it is certainly countdown time until we head back to Australia.

I have just had a quick look back through all I have written over the past few months and relived much of the experience. I also realised that this posting will mean that I have written over 25,000 words over the last 2 months...and I thought I churned out a lot of words at uni last year!
You may be wondering about the odd title for this post...well as well as updating what we have been up to this past week I thought I would also reminisce about a few of the things I find a little quirky about India...this is mainly for my own benefit so I don't forget all the little things that make India unique.

Where do I begin...

So last Sunday we decided to go and check out a church in Delhi that caters for expats which is held at the British Embassy School. We arrived late, which is not unusual for India... when we hop in the car and tell the driver where we want to go he always thinks about it for a second and then gives the impression he knows exactly where he is going. At some point in the journey it always becomes apparent that he does not have a clue. His driving becomes a bit erratic and he keeps looking around and eventually he will stop and ask for directions or we will have to make them stop and for this reason we were late. The service itself was a little conservative but the message was relevant and the structure flowed really well. There were about 300+ people in the congregation from a multitude of countries. We saw a few people there that we had met before but we did  not hang around after the service to meet people. 
  Afterwards we thought we would get some lunch and then go to the movies to see Slumdog Millionaire but when we went to get tickets we found that we had missed all the English sessions...

  Monday was India's republic day, which happens to fall on the same day as Australia day. We had planned to head to the ashram for the week. Ray was worried that the traffic would be bad because it was a public holiday and suggested that we put it off until Tuesday, but I insisted we go anyway. The decision to go was bittersweet, in that we had the best run to the ashram ever as there was virtually no traffic...but, had I listened to Ray and waited until Tuesday I may not have got a nasty bout of Delhi belly.
  We arrived just in time for lunch...I made sure we were there in time as lunch at the ashram is my favorite meal of the day. This may have been my second mistake, because it was Republic day some organisation from outside the ashram had bought in a special meal. The food was nice enough, but I was not so keen on the sweet...I ate it anyway as I did not want to be impolite...perhaps my third mistake. 
  The kids and I had a really nice afternoon catching up with the children and some of the patients. At one point we were walking though the area where most of the patients sit outside during the day when one of the patients called out to us and beckoned us over...not unusual... So we headed over to say hi. He was not a patient we had met before and was only picked up the week before. He was on a bed and very skinny, when we got closer we could see he was a bit distressed. With our limited Hindi and some good charades on his part (as well as showing us his emaciated torso) we ascertained he was hungry so we indicated we would go and get him some khanna (food). When we got to the kitchen it happened that none of the English speaking staff were there. So again with my limited Hindi I said to Sangeeta and one of the guys "man wants food" and indicated he was hungry...unfortunately I could not remember the right word for man so I basically used the Hindi word for human as it was the only one I could remember. Sangeeta found this highly amusing and then said "patient"...of course I should have said patient...every Hindi speaker in the ashram would have known the English word patient. So we were given a plate of food which Sam took to the patient.
   That night I paid dearly for my "mistakes" of the day. I probably slept for about an hour when I awoke not feeling so great...I lay there for a while trying to get back to sleep but at 2am I had a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately the urge was to strong to make it to the bathroom... to get there I had to walk 50metres, climb up a ladder and over a wall, then walk 50metres to the clinic to get the bathroom key, then get to the bathroom. There was no way I was going to make it. So I toileted the way nature intended...several times over the next few hours. By 4am things changed... the Gudwara had started broadcasting their morning prayers and the vomiting began... I don't do vomiting well, by this stage I was feeling very dehydrated and very sorry for myself. At sunrise I wasn't feeling much better but I had nothing left to expel, so I headed over to the bathroom for a much needed shower. I asked Ray to get me a bedpan from the clinic to take back to our room...just in case...but he wouldn't :( (Just to let everyone know, that prior to me saying no I had spent my evening assisting my wife with her "illness" - Ray)
   I felt like rubbish most of the day, I was overtired and nauseous. By lunch I managed to keep down some hydrolyte and dinner some bread. The next day I was keeping down food and drink but it took the rest of the week for my appetite to return. Probably not a bad thing as the usually wonderful ashram food was slightly tainted by an oversupply of cauliflower. I used to love, not so much. Renford had found a place that was getting rid of some cauliflower that was too old to sell...250kgs of cauliflower. So there was fried cauliflower for breakfast, cauliflower and lentils for lunch and aloo and gobi for dinner (potatoes & cauliflower). I don't even think I would like cheesy cauliflower anymore.
   On our third day we went to the "family house" for the afternoon. Family house is about a 10 minute drive from the ashram. Prakash (Dad) drove us over; on arrival we were warmly greeted by Presida his wife. Prakash and Presdida have 12 children which they care for. They really are the most beautiful children and each has their own story of how they came to live with Presida and Prakash. The story that struck me most was that of one of the girls and her younger brother. They were found when they were about 3 years and 8 months respectively. They were brought to the attention of the police by a shopkeeper after they had been sitting on his stoop for 3 days. Everyone just assumed that their parents were nearby. It took 3 days before it was realised that they were alone. This just highlights how used to seeing poverty people are here, to think nothing of leaving a child alone for hours or even days while the parents go out to try and earn money or beg. Just today as we were coming home from the shopping mall in a rickshaw we were at a set of traffic lights at a particularly busy intersection and on the median strip in the middle of the road lay a naked baby about a year old sleeping, one arm and leg hanging into the gutter inches from the teeming traffic. I can only assume the mother was somewhere nearby approaching the windows of cars begging for money. I just so happened to have my camera in my hand today and I took a couple of photos of that baby. Lets never become numb or blind to what happens in the world...I plan to upload the photo to my web albums and may it shock some to action.

   We had a really wonderful evening with the family. The children all had a great time playing together and once again the language barrier was not a hindrance. Before dinner the family joins together and sings some songs together...they sound amazing. And then a passage is read from the was also read in English. Following the reading Bobbi (one of the older girls prayed) I am not sure what she prayed but it was a long prayer and I recognised a few names here and there and I am wondering if she prayed for everyone at the ashram. Following this time dinner was served. The food was amazing and I would have enjoyed more had my recovering digestive system allowed me to. I have to say I even enjoyed more fried cauliflower. We were invited to stay the night at the family house and had we been prepared we would have loved to but I was a bit worried that my stomach might revolt again during the night and Hunter is having trouble mastering a squat toilet. We really had a wonderful time at the family house and talking and if time permits I would love to spend a bit more time there before we return to Australia.

   I still have so much more to write about in this post but it is getting late. But before I finish I have to write about beige socks, sparkly vests and pot plants.
  Pot plants- I don't know why and I am yet to ask, but there are pot plants everywhere in this country...and I am not talking about one or two. Take for instance out apartment block. The parking area looks like a nursery. New plants are coming and going all the time. Our neighbours all have a few pot plants by their door which are regularly moved around. The shopping malls also have random plants dotted around the place...I cannot emphasise enough...THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. They are not particularly beautiful plants either. They are often quite scrawny plants covered in dust. You know I appreciate a pretty potted plant as much as the next person.. in fact I do own a very cute little potted African violet which I have managed to keep alive for 18 months (nothing short of a miracle) but I am struggling to understand why so many plants are in very ordinary pots...and often sitting in a garden bed.
  Beige socks- I am assuming it is only winter that beige socks are required as the rest of the year it would be too hot. It seems that the main colour of socks women wear are beige... I can only assume it it is because it is the closest thing to skin colour. The other interesting thing about these socks is that it is a bit like a mitten in that is has a separate segment for the big toe. This is because the women mainly wear slip on shoes and primarily thongs. I have to say it is a great idea as you need to take your shoes off in most houses so it is most practical to wear thongs. But beige? Seriously? We are talking about a country that has the most vivid and colourful clothing on the planet...why are these mitten socks only sold in beige? I get the skin colour thing but frankly they just look like ugly beige socks...sorry, couldn't help myself. Oh, one other fashion faux pas I have to draw attention to... Sparkly, poorly cut, lairy coloured vests...worn by the men...did I say sparkly already? These things are hilarious! What are they thinking? You would not believe the colours...aqua, purple, hot pink, bright orange. Sometimes you will see a group of men hop off a bus all in different coloured sparkly vests. The kids and I now play spotto with sparkly vests rather than yellow cars...much more fun... I reckon we would see close to 100 on the hour plus drive to the ashram. Got to love India... the most colourful and interesting country in the world!