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 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 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!