Friday, January 29, 2010

Blacked Out

Its 9 am on a Wednesday morning and we have been blacked out since about midnight. So here I am with literally nothing to do until the power comes back on; I guess I will write until either the power comes on or my battery dies.

I am certainly looking at the bright side; at least its not the middle of summer when my sanity is linked to a functioning ceiling fan.

I am really looking forward to my visa running out in May...busting for a trip home. January has been a very slow month for me and has been plodding along at a turtle pace. It has been freezing here at the ashram with heavy fog rolling in each night. A couple of times we have found ourselves driving home not looking out the front windscreen but head hanging out the window looking for the centre line on the road to guide our way.

There finally seems to be a bit of a shift in the weather though. This morning when I rolled out of bed at 7am to head to the Mandir (temple) for a bit of exercise there was hardly any fog and heaps of birds where chirping. Its feeling a bit like spring.

A few of us are getting up at 7am these days to meet in the temple to do a bit of a workout. We set up a circuit and work out way around for about an hour. Giresh our blind massage therapist/yoga instructor is also up doing his sun salutations at the front of the temple. Sometimes I join in with his warm up, but I move onto my own routine when he stands on his head. His core strength is unbelievable and I have never seen any one move from downward dog to cobra so gracefully.

So what else has happened this month. Well we had two patients die within five minutes of each other on Saturday morning. Below I have inserted an excerpt from Ruth's blog as she articulates their stories so well...

Two of our patients passed away this morning. One of our staff came and told Ruth before breakfast that they weren't doing well. She found them in their beds semi conscious and struggling to breathe. Pyara Baba had been with us for months and was on TB meds but over the last couple of months his brain had slowly deteriorated from TB menengitis and he had become one of the crazy characters that makes life at the ashram so colourful and different. His tall and skinny body been helped to the clinic for his dressing as he called out "koi baat nahi" (hindi for 'don't worry') was an everyday sight and sound that we'd gotten used to.

The other patient, Lakhan, was a more recent admission, also suffering from long term TB. He was old, emaciated, and had a chest drain protruding from his right lung that sucked in air every time he inhaled. He'd been walking around the ashram even as recently as yesterday, and didn't look too close to death. But this morning, he looked like another man, gasping for breath, eyes glazed over, and not responsive to questions.

The decision was made not to rush them to a hospital as they probably wouldn't survive the journey and the hospitals won't intubate someone whose sputum positive for TB anyway. So we put them on oxygen and spent the next hour with them, comforting them as best we could as we sat with them, holding their hands and inwardly hoping they wouldn't struggle for too much longer. Lakhan was the first to give up his struggle for oxygen and his laboured gasps became slower and slower until they stopped altogether. Pyara Baba followed him within minutes.

The Indian boys then wrapped the bodies in white linen and covered them with flowers from our garden and we had a small funeral service for them. A time to reflect on the value of life, its shortness and the importance of how we choose to live it.

The service for deceased patients is a relatively new thing here at the ashram. The bodies have always been wrapped, adorned with flowers and placed in the temple until they are taken to the crematorium. But these days we have a small service and say a few words and prayers. This particular Saturday morning there was quite a turn out and Ruth did an amazing job of leading the service.

Afterwards it was suggested that we could drop the bodies to the crematorium on the way to soccer. Ruth however pointed out it would be a bit squishy in the car with the four of us as well as two bodies, not to mention that it might traumatise the kids.

I am hoping that time starts moving a bit more swiftly in February. We have quite a bit planned over the next few months. Firstly we are off for a week of skiing in the Himalayas. There will be 8 of us loading into the car for the 9 hour drive up to Manali. There has been much hoohaa as to which hotel we should book. I have two sure fire ways of picking a hotel; first I go with a recommendation from someone I know and if I don't have a recommendation I pick the hotel with the most unusual name. So if I get my way we will be staying at the Yak Hotel in Manali. Once I picked a hotel in Cooma based on its name. it was called the Hawaii Motel....couldn't be further from Hawaii if you tried; not a palm tree in sight. Ray described it as one of those motels that you see in movies like Dusk til Dawn where massacres takes place. I will keep you posted as to how the Yak Hotel turns out. One very extreme sport that Manali is famous for is Yak skiing. Here is a very amusing description of Yak skiing taken from TIME magazine (I love the use of the word behemoth)...

In the Indian hill resort of Manali, Tibetan Peter Dorje runs an operation dedicated to the most implausible extreme sport in the world: yak skiing. In winter, he takes up to five skiers and his herd of beasts to the hills above town, making overnight camp. Come morning, Pete heads to a high slope with the yaks, trailing out a rope behind him. You wait below, wearing your skis and holding a bucket of pony nuts. When Pete reaches the top, he ties a large pulley to a tree, loops the rope through it and onto a stamping, snorting yak. Now it's your turn—and this is the important part. First tie yourself onto the other end of the rope, then shake the bucket of nuts and quickly put it down. The yak charges down the mountain after the nuts, pulling you up it at rocket speed. If you forget yourself in the excitement and shake the bucket too soon, you'll be flattened by two hairy tons of behemoth. Or as Pete says, "Never shake the bucket of nuts before you're tied to the yak rope." This piece of Himalayan sagacity can be restated in many ways that apply to everyday life: do things in their proper order, make adequate preparations before embarking on a risky venture, and so on. Or it can be seen for what it is: a barmy injunction to even barmier tourists. There's one thing Pete won't tell you, though. If you spike the nuts with pain au chocolat from the bakery at the northern end of town (where you'd also find Pete), you'll transform the yaks into slobbering, compliant puppies. That you'll have to discover for yourself.

The kids have started back to school early this year in order to get ahead before the traveling begins. Sam is doing really well thus far and is enjoying his new elective subjects of Electronics and Photographic and Digital Media. Its great being at the ashram too as there is always 'educational' stuff happening that he wouldn't learn at school. Yesterday he took a break from History to duck down to the clinic to see a patient with an abscess the size of a tennis ball on his neck being lanced. It wasn't very satisfying... it didn't gush like Om Prakash's abscess it was more of a trickle. The last time we had some new patients arrive at the ashram from the Yamuna bazaar Sam was in the clinic with the smell watching who knows how many week old bandages being removed from very smelly and maggoty wounds.The other guy we picked up was literally a skeleton he also has leprosy and would have been dead within the day. At this point he is still improving but I am not sure if he will survive. We have a few patients here with active leprosy at the moment....don't worry its hard to catch.

When will this power come back on!!! I need to work. I need to do washing. I need a hot shower!

We have a few other short holidays to look forward to in March when my sister and brother in-law come to visit. Of course when they are here we will do the Golden Triangle (Delhi- Agra- Jaipur- Delhi) where we will see the Taj Mahal among other things. After that I am tossing up between an Elephant Safari to see wild tigers etc or visiting Udaipur (as featured in the Bond movie Octopussy) or perhaps a camel desert safari in Jodhpur... so much to see so little time! We will finish our holiday together with a week in Goa. I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing the ocean.

The month of April will be the last month I have to fill before we head home. At this point it will be a lonely month as all out amazing NZ volunteers will have headed home and it will just be Judith, Uwe and the four of us at the ashram. We do have one small adventure planned for the end of April. We will be heading to Rishikesh which is on the banks of the Ganges as it flows fresh from the Himalayas .We will be camping with 80 other expats and enjoying a long weekend of white water rafting in the icy water. Soon after that I plan to head home and escape a couple of months of the scorching Delhi summer.

Well my battery is getting low and I have run out of things to write about... I hope I have not been repeating myself as I can't get on the internet to see what I last wrote. I think I will go for a walk.


Its been nearly 48 hours and the power is finally back on. It turns out someone stole our $2000 power cable that brings power into the ashram. We now have a temporary fix. Just had a luxurious hot shower (no power means no water here as power is needed to pump the water onto the roof)

Monday, January 18, 2010


So we were watching the trailer for the new Australian movie Bran Nue Dae on YouTube and we are at the scene with all the aboriginal boys in the school and Sam says "Why are there so many Indians in this movie?" Clearly we have been in India for too long.

Hope I get to see it on the big screen, but something tells me it won't be showing here in Delhi!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Good food & a not so proud Australian

I am inspired to write a quick blog after gatecrashing our local Gurdwara and having a good feed. Over the past week or so the Gurdwara (sikh temple) has been kicking up their noise level and prayer time in the lead up to a festival. The prayers have been blasted louder than usual from 3.30am and continue with little reprieve throughout the day. The other morning when it was particularly loud Ruth one of the NZ volunteers went over to the Gurdwara at 5am after laying awake for hours. After playing charades for about 10 minutes (too loud to be able to talk) they offered her chai...she left exasperated. After one or two nights sleeping with earplugs I am now able to block it out. Today must be a particularly special day of the festival as a couple of truckloads of sikhs arrived and the street outside the ashram is filled with people. When the lunchtime bell at the ashram rang today I wandered over to the clinic and saw that they were serving kedgeree (dahl and rice mixed together = stogy and flavorless). I managed a few mouthfuls was wonderinhg if that was enough to tie me over until dinner when one of the ashram staff wandered in after having a good feed up the suddenly clicked; if there is a festival run by sikhs there will be food and they will have an open door. Ruth, Hunter and I were off and dreaming about warm naan. As we approached the entrance there were men brandishing big sticks trying to keep the very cold and hungry looking slum kids away (it is about 8 degrees at the moment). Ruth, Hunter and I wrapped a scarf around out heads to be culturally appropriate and in we went. The place was adorned with hundreds of orange and red flowers (calendula?) threaded onto lei's and strung around the compound. There was a ceremony of some sort going on at the temple end of the compound and several food stands at the other. It didn't take long before we were scoffing down sum delicious channa marsala and some sort of roti I was not familiar with. There was so much food, loads of different dahls and curries as well as desserts, fruit and nuts. I also enjoyed some warm buffalo milk flavored with dried fruit and cardamon..mmm perfect on a cold day. It was a great time of people watching them and them watching us; and of course there where the ubiquitous photo requests. Its moments like these that just make me love it here..I just stop and take it all in.

Just as I was getting a second cup of milk before I left for the ashram I was unfortunately compelled to lie when I was asked where I was from. I took a breath, was about to say Australia but instead I said New Zealand. Sadly it is not a good thing being an Australian here at the moment. Australia has been making front page news most days for the murders of Indians...not good :(

Otherwise all is well here... we are perpetually busy and have many things to look forward to. The kids are starting back to school tomorrow...its a couple of weeks early but we have quite a bit of travel coming up over the next few months and they need to get ahead.

Thats it for today will blog again soon


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Well the cold weather and fog has really kicked in now. Its just after breakfast on the Saturday morning after New Year and my cold fingers are refusing to move over the keyboard at my desired pace.

Since my last post we have had Christmas and New Year; both where great days and lots of fun. We had been staying in a really flash apartment in South Delhi for the lead up to Christmas but it was good to get back to the ashram to celebrate Christmas day. This was our second Christmas at the ashram and once again an amazing day. On Christmas eve we had a bonfire and dinner with all the ashram staff to say thanks for all their hard work. After dinner we had the music blaring and it was so funny to see some of the more conservative staff members break loose on the dance floor. Ruth instigated a round if limbo which was enjoyed by all.

Christmas day started with a breakfast of Channa Marsala and puri (chickpea curry and fried chapatis). After breakfast we hopped on Skype to check in with the family back in Australia, it was so great to see them. We had one Christmas parcel to open with lots of treats... Tim Tams, chocolate bars...mmmmm and Christmas decorations which we hung on the tree outside our room.

A DJ arrived during the day and set up the biggest and loudest speakers you have ever seen. Us westerners thought the ashram speakers were fine and plenty loud enough, the new ones though could be heard several suburbs away. The DJ seemed to like the Spice Girls, he played wannabe three times.

After lunch we played games and had wheelchair races and generally hung out and had fun together. The ashram kids spent much of the day performing a nativity play in South Delhi and when they got back to the ashram I has the privilege of being Santa (no I did not dress up) and handed out all the new clothes to the kids and staff. I had spent several hours on Christmas Eve with Savita (the teacher) and all the children buying clothes. You would think that it would be the girls who would take ages mulling over which dress to buy but no... it was the fashion conscious teenage boys who took forever and funnily valued my opinion. I suggested Savita buy a pair of jeans to wear to the ashram but she said no as she is too old now to wear jeans (she is about 28); she used to wear them when she was younger. I asked the boys if they thought Savita should wear jeans and they said very seriously that Savita was a good Indian woman and should not wear jeans but it was fine for me to wear them.

After the gift giving the kids performed their Christmas play for everyone at the ashram. They were so great. Jake the NZ guy was in the performance and played a wise man. After he said his one line in Hindi there was huge applause.

The blaring speakers which could be heard for miles around meant that we had about 100 gate crashers show up for Christmas dinner, a lot of them were from our neighbourhood and the nearby slum, many of the kids looked so cold as they did not have shoes or socks. Somehow we managed to feed everyone... we had catered for about 150 but fed about double that. After dinner the music was cranked up and the dancing was in full swing. Their were a couple of teenage boys from the neighbourhood that did a performance, they were so serious about their moves and a friend filmed them on a phone, you should have seen them playing it up for the camera...Marisha you would have been doubled with laughter.

It was a really great day and as nice as it would have been to have a hot Sydney summer with family and friends I would not have wanted to be anywhere else but here.

New Years

After Christmas we headed back down to South Delhi to chill out in the very fancy apartment some friends of ours gave us to house sit while they were back in the US for Christmas. The apartment has 4 massive bedrooms, five bathrooms, huge living areas, an amazing kitchen, servants quarters and great views over the pools, golf course and other facilities.

For NYE the NZ volunteers came down to spend a couple of days with us. We all really enjoyed cooking and made delicious soups, pastas and desserts. For New Years we had roast chicken and vegetables followed by chocolate fondue for desert... a real treat.

Buying chickens was an experience... I have been here for a year yet I had not been to the butcher in all that time. So, at the butcher I ask for two chickens with the skin on and also two with the skin off (it seems that they are generally sold with the skin off). They show me the plucked intact chickens and ask if I would like them cleaned... you bet I would! So the chickens are handed to a guy who is sitting on a raised platform. He trims the chickens of all their bits and pieces (except I had to ask him specifically to remove the neck). He then they takes out the innards and with a knife between his toes he expertly cuts and separates them into edible portions and puts them in a separate bag... which I promptly chucked on arriving home. One of the skinless chickens I cut up to make a soup and when I did I found the heart still attached to the chest I took the opportunity to give Hunter an impromptu biology lesson.

On another occasion the 'cleaned' chickens were not gutted... I could not face that so Jake had to do the honors... I tell you,I am just about vegetarian. Funnily enough as I write a rickshaw full of live chickens has just arrived at the ashram... tonight's dinner. I have always prided myself on being able to ignore the fact that meat was once alive, but I tell you its becoming harder and harder.

That's all for today... I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year