Sunday 29 November 2009

Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan - providing shelter for the homelss of Delhi

We visited a shelter for the homeless in Delhi on Friday evening - a very humbling and yet inspirational expereince. Please do take some time now to read about their great work

The Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan project has 15 shelters in Delhi , each housing about 1000 people. It is a financed by Action Aid and run by a fantastic set of folk, led by 34 year old Sanjay Kumar, who has spent the last 9 years dedicated to this project - a really inspirational young man with a mission. Many of the staff had been one of Delhi's homeless at one time, others are retired civil servants, others like Sanjay have given up secure lucrative jobs to do this work. They made us feel very welcome, which is hard when you feel a bit of a intruding voyeur.

By way of background, consider that there are some 100,000 people living on the streets of Delhi. They make a living driving rickshaws and working on the numerous building sites springing up around and within Delhi in anticipation of the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Many are migrants from other Indian states where they have been for one reason or another displaced from their familes, homes and livelihoods. These include women and children, many of the children are orphans.Inside the shelters sleeping space is provided, nothing more than your own space on the cold concrete floor, but it is secure, dry, with blankets provided and available for 12 hours in the day for a small fee of 4 rupees for an adult and 2 rupees for an older person. It was amazing to see the respect offered to the elderly men who were allocated their own line of sleeping spaces, everyonelse respecting their age and giving them a sense of pride and respect with no one violating their space.

Unfortunately the only shelter catering for women was forced to close last year as the building it occupied was in an area which was being redeveloped. Some children are luckier and we met about a dozen boys, including one pair of brothers, who live at the shelter we visited in Old Delhi. Whilst there they are safe, well fed and looked after by the staff, sent to school so their education is secured as well. They are seen through into jobs,  many going onto jobs within the tourist industry, working in hotels and restauraants. They boys we spoke to were in school grades 3-5 with ages up to 14. They are noticebly small  for their age, but are alert, bright and happy. Sanjay personally is the official legal guardian of 65 children.. They had a great time asking us all in English what our names were and what we did before we came to India. They were incredibly well behaved , laughing and joking as all young boys do but especially they liked our Kenyan colleagues account of being a footbal coach, so a spontaneous lesson in the necesary skills to play a good game had to be given. Evans had them enthralled as he spoke about precision, ball control and the like.

But AAA's work does not stop there. The organisation has managed to persuade the government bureaucracy to issue voters registration cards to the homeless people. This sound a simple achievement but it is all the more amazing as it required the governing bureacry to bend the rules - never an easy thing! Its impact however is tremendous - it has such a powerfully uplifting effect on the people affected by it, giving them a sense of self worth and pride. It is a huge step, meaning a whole gambit of things ranging from an end to intimidation by police to the ability to get an ATM card and secure their money from their work. Let's hope their aim of replacing their lost woman's shelter can come to fruition.

If anyone is visiting Delhi for the aforementioned Commonwealth Games or on vacation please support their work

Video Post Number 1 - Old Delhi

From the roof tops of Old Delhi Spice Market

Bread making

Rickshaw Ride

Monday 23 November 2009

Old Delhi Rickshaw Ride

We went for a cycle rickshaw ride through Old Delhi on Saturday. This was my first time in one of these contraptions. Basically, they are a bicycle at the rear of which is a buggy-like seat for two a la the style of a horse and trap. The rickshaw man then peddles away like mad to haul two passengers around. They come in two basic models - one which has a metal frame around your person offering something to hold onto and some semblance of a shell space around the passenger, and the second type which does not have this. The one without the frame seems to be forever slanting forward and balancing on its seat without anything to hold onto is very much an acquired skill. Care must be taken that no part of you extrudes from the area of the buggy seat else you risk injury by passing rickshaws, motor bikes, cars, buses, and between the hours of 10PM and 6AM, lorries.

At first, Delhi traffic appears to be very disorganized, haphazardous, with little or no rules of the road or lane discipline. What I have come to call The Delhi Symphony is continual with horns of all descriptions blaring every few seconds.Now most of the older cars don't have wing mirrors so much of the tooting is to indicate that the approaching vehicle from the rear is about to over/undertake the slower one in front. It seems to work. I've actually come think people are very careful drivers in the circumstances. I've yet to see an accident - a lot of extremely close maneuvering is required by all drivers of all types of vehicles to weave in and out and through the mass of traffic jostling for position on every inch of the roadway. Remember that in addition to all this mechanical mass are people, men, women and children, going about their daily life, shopping, working, walking, crossing roads and generally mingling with the traffic. I think one could adjust to driving here but I wouldn't particularly want to as I suspect that when you returned home you'd probably be considered a quite aggressive driver.

Old Delhi is traversed by Chandni Chowk, an wide street with numerous alleys leading off from it into warrens of shops and bazaars selling all sorts of things. 
One of them is the Spice Market. Immediately upon entering the alley you are engulfed in the aromas, in today’s case the primary nasal onslaught was from chilli and cinnamon. The spice dust is in the air and it really hits the back of your throat, resulting in much sneezing, runny noses, and coughing for a few minutes until you acclimatize, then wow you comprehend what you are smelling. After a few more minutes you are well adjusted and loose your sense of smell discrimination. We went up to the roof to see the size of the spice market, essentially a square building with a great many very small stalls from which a vast array of different spices are for sale. I'd have a field day, if I was remaining here in Delhi, walking slowly round these, asking all the vendors what each thing is and how to use it in cooking. I tried a bit of Hindi asking what the name of each was. Sometimes I knew but wanted to know the Hindi word, mostly I could work out what the spice was and although I go the Hindi name this made me none the wiser as to what it actually was. naturally there were many we'd all recognise from Asian stores at home - pepper, cumin, coriander, but others in forms unsual at home such as turmeric root rather than ground turmeric, dried ginger root rather than fresh. I am so looking forward to eventually being able to experiment and cook in my own kitchen in Orissa.

The other place we stopped was to visit a Jain Temple. The Jain religion is quite strict but does permit visitors into their places of worship as long as you adhere to certain rules including no leather, no menstruating women, no cameras, and you do your ablutions before entering, washing your hands and mouth. The inside of the temple was in use with people lighting candles, incense and walking up their deities and wafting incense over them. Upstairs in the temple were an amazing set of painted glass mosaic pictures depicting thee life of their Lord. These were very beautiful, very colourful and the work quite intricate. I wandered of to a corner where I saw a man working and realised he was a painter. He becond me into the alcove to see the work being done. I climbed up the the dome, an area about 10ft x 10 ft with a fluted dome about where another man was seated painting the walls. He told me that he had spent 1 1/2 years painting the dome and expected to spend another 3 years painting the walls. Their paint is made from crushed stones and gold leaf is also used. It is a shame in many ways that no photography is allowed as the craftsmanship was of a very high standard and I would have loved to have posted a picture as my word cannot do it justice. The colours are beautiful clear pure colours and the drawings executed with such artistry I was really impressed by this and their dedication to the work.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Delhi belly or just a case of a rottten egg?

Well it had to come, didn't it?

So first, a little about our eating arrangements during this month in Delhi. Through the week we have breakfast and lunch at the cafeteria in the Institute's hostel where we are staying and are left to our own devices in the evenings and for lunch and dinner at the weekends. The food is totally vegerarian and is always accompanied by a massive amount of rice and bread. Pancakes, breads - parathas, naans etc abound. Sometimes the veg dish is potato based so the amount of carbs is very high. I'm finding the cooking style quite monotonous and very liquid, there is nothing much to get you teeth into veg wise. The one delightful taste I discovered when we went out as a huge group with the office staff here on Saturday night is a south Indian dish called Rassum - it is served at the start of the meal, in a glass, to drink. Its consistency is like a clear soup. It is made from lentils and coriander and is delicious. I must try and hunt out a recipe. I managed to get some ginger tea that evening as well, served south indian style with metal cup and saucer for pouring from on high - Tuareg style to aireate the tea. The containers were extremely hot, but I proudly showed of my skills and managed to pour from about a couple of feet high straight into the saucer and back again without spilling a single drop!

The restaurants along our local such street are basic and I could see a few worried doubtful faces as we approached them for the first time - but before you jump to conclusions, they are not where my problem has come from! In the UK we'd call them "greasy spoons". I think the best meal we have found so far has to be the night we found beautiful large yellow fin tuna steaks in one of the greasy spoons and got the cook to fry it simply without adding curry spices to it! Otherwise everything has basically the same sauce on it. Being a bit of a foody I am so far quite disappointed with the cuisine - the range of vegetables is limited but this may be because it is winter - mushrooms, onions, spinach, potato, cabbage, peas and chickpeas - this seems to be what is currently available, along with the ubiquitous paneer, which is nice but not every day. Chicken is the only meat around and as expected quite boney, but when we have managed to get it it has been very nice, including a spit roasted / tandooried type one night. So for our dinners we have been successfully finding something locally so far but some folks have ventured further a field to the likes of Khan Market, Dille Haat etc but these are a factor more expensive and required autorickshaw/tuk-tuk rides to get there and back. These are more set up for the tourist market.

What we have found locally is a nice coffee shop for those who need their regular caffiene fix of cappuccino, expresso or the like and for me it does a passable cup of nice darjeeling tea. It seems to be run and frequented almost exclusively by Sikks with the addition of ourselves. Unfortunately it is compabably expensive with a cuppa clocking in at the grand total of 47 or 49 rupees - Exchange rate is around 77 rupees to the pound. Not a lot in Western terms, but having one's daily fix could blow your volunteer allowance for Delhi of 8000 rupees for the month. If you compare that to the 4 rupees for a chai in the Insitute's training building's cafeteria you see the difference. So comfy chairs and coffee/tea become a once a week treat.

Unfortunately, Sunday breakfast's boiled egg was, I think, the culprit and I have had today off, laid up with horrid stomach pain. It could have happened anywhere so I'm doing the usual 'don't eat for 36 hours' to fast the bug out of my system. Grumbling guts kept me awake all last night and the attempt to eat breakfast this morning was way the wrong thing to do. But I have had worse, way worse!

My room mate has returned tonight with fruit and digestive biscuits from Khan Market for me to break the fast with tomorrow, but so far is refusing to tell me how much I owe her! Clearly more than our local market street. But 12 hours after the attempted Monday morning breakfast I feel much better and am sitting up in bed scribbling this down for when I get my next turn on our shared mobile internet dongle. I hope this hasn't been too squeamish for those the sensivite amongst you but I am determined this blog will be an honest reflection of my time here.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Week 1 Delhi

So the first week in Delhi has been and gone.

We arrived on time on the very early morning of Tuesday landing around 1:30AM local time. For information all of India in on one time zone which is currently 5:30 hours ahead of the UK. By the time we all got through the usual airport niceties of baggage and immigration and collected landside, loaded bags galore onto two cars/people carriers and drove into the city it was gone 4AM.

After a quick introduction to the Social Institute which is to be our base for the next 4 weeks, rooms were allocated and we all headed off bleery eyed for sleep around 5:30.

We are a group of volunteers from the UK, Philippines, Kenya, US, Canada and Australia, with ages from 23 upwards. We are still waiting on 3 additional volunteers who are still getting their visas sorted out or have delayed departure dates. There are 6 of us going to Orissa, the others will eventually be in Chennai in Tamil Nadu, Saurat in Gujarat, various places in Jharkand, and in New Delhi itself.

The pace of this first week has been surprisingly relaxed with 2 hour lunch breaks. The content has been as expected - health breifings, security breifings etc. Next week I start discussion with my programme officer regardingthe specifics of my placement, arranging accomodation etc - should be fun!

Language learning in the mornings started on Thursday but only Hindi, so I have acquired an Oriya book and have made a slowish start but at least I have now heard the language spoken. It sounds strange to my ear and even weirder when you look at it written phonetically! The Hindi is progressing well and I can hear words I recognise when evesdroppinng others conversation. Morpakhare gote bahi achi - I have a book!

We had a dinner out last night with all the VSO Programmme Office staff who work here in Delhi and a few of the Delhi based volunteers and visiting Kenyan and London office staff. Other than that we have all been finding dinner out nearby in the various "greasy spoons" down our nearest market street. In my opinion these have been better than the restaurant for the group dinner. To give you an example, tonight two ofo us shared a meal of Tawa Chicken, spinach paneer (cheese) and chinese vegetable noodles all for 155 Rupees. With a current exchange rate of about 77 rupees to the pound sterling that's all of £2!

Sunday 8 November 2009

Here we go, here we go, here we go!

Ok It is Sunday evening after a lovely roast dinner at K&B's. Will I sleep tonight? Who knows. Up really early tomorrow morning for the journey to the airport as K has a work flight to make as well. I'm excited to be meeting the other VSO folks who will be travelling from the UK. Then the 8 hour flight to Delhi - amazingly short, it takes me longer to get to Djanet! - then hopefully some sleep before meeting the whole Delhi contingent for In Country Training. There will be folks from UK, US/Canada and Australia - I think there are to be 18 of us in total - a large contingent! So fingers crossed for a smooth, uneventful flight and my next post will be from India!

Monday 2 November 2009

A ramble about my last days at home

Time is now rushing headlong onwards towards 9th at a rate of knots. Quite weird after the long slow wait that has been getting to this point. Incredibly, I am into my last days at home.

It is now time for final preparations before I get invaded on Wednesday by the removals people to pack everything away into storage and safe keeping for two years. It feels really quite strange, I've left everything behind before quite long periods of travel, I've packed up to move house many times and I've even moved countries but I've never had to do this. In some ways it is quite daunting: if I forget something I should have taken with me there's no way to get it, if I forget to do something there wil be no way to deal with it. When I have moments like that I just have to say "Chill" to myself, sit down and relax.

My To Do List got a major item ticked of since my last post - I sold my car. This happened without much hassle and without having to hire another one to get about with until I leave. Where I live is rural, you really can't live here without a car for any length of time: there are no shops within walking distance. In fact there are none in the nearest two villages. The nearest are 5-6 miles away. Luckily the pub is closer only a walk of about 1 mile! Not that I have needed either as I've been trying to empty kitchen cupboards of foodstuffs and the drinks cabinet but I know have resigned myslef to the fact that I am not going to make it, so I think my neighbours will be getting some goody bags. And aren't friends amazing? P&G are coming out on Tuesday evening to drive me out for dinner, G&G organised a neighbourhood dinner on Sunday evening and K is picking me up after a business trip to Cambridge on Thursday and I am staying with K&B for my last weekend in the UK. I have been promised a well stocked drink cabinet and a traditional Sunday dinner as well as a drive to the airport on Monday morning. Then I've just been finalising meeting up with D in Delhi on the evening of 10th. So I am going to be unsociable to my In Country Training Group and head off out for the first evening we are together. I'm sure they will understand when I say that I haven't seen him in 10 years and we just happen to be in the same city together for once!

So it is back to those last minute preparations. Having trial packed I've emptied everything out again and am trying to streamline the contents of my bags. It is at times like that when you realise you packed two swiss army knives! It is crazy to think that actually I could go with very little but it is all those bulky things like a wind up lantern (for all those Indian power outages H has been telling me about), and heavy things like papers and books that are filling my main bag. And that's not even thinking about electrical gadgets and the weight that is PC and camera equipment. Then there are things that are just simply big eg my orthopedic pillow, lightweight but bulky, but also a must as it does help me keep my back in good working order. I still feel there is far too much stuff there and I am sure I'll regret it on the train cross country from Delhi to Orissa. But there you have it. BA give VSO volunteers what is called "missionary allowances" for baggage - 3 bags of 23 kg each! An incredible amount and great for the folks heading to live in Delhi but the thought of 2 nights in trains sharing a bunk up with the second and third bags is not exactly the most appealing way to sleep! My hope is to head towards 2 bags for the hold, totally about 30 kg, plus my Crumpler as hand luggage for PC, camera, and electronics and to not open one bag at all whilst I am in Delhi! That's the plan!

And that's not all the packing I've had to do. I've self packed all my personal papers etc. And as it is quite likely that I'll return home without any European clothes, in the middle of winter, with the tenants still in my house, with all my stuff still in store, I have packed two other bags to leave here in the UK. One has already gone to my sister in law's who is my emergency evacuation point - VSO insist that you nominate somewhere just in case you need to be evacuated - and the other will be left at K's.

It will be approaching Christmas by the time I have unpacked everything and be settling into my new home, whatever that will be. And that feels very strange at the moment!