Monday 14 December 2009

A rather eventful first few days!

Wednesday 9th December

Arrived Rayagada after an incredibly monotonous 30 hr train journey. I left Delhi at 8:30 Am on Tuesday and finally got here at 2:45 Pm on Wednesday . The up side was the train was on time, in fact a few minutes early. I had shared my compartment with a family travelling to Vishakhapatnam. He was a sailor and had been at one time to the Soviet Union to pick up a boat and him his wife and daughter were going to V for work reasons, quite what I never did manage to establish. His daughter was at University and had good English but was very shy. They were a lovely family very demonstrative of there feelings to each other, lots of what the man described as “chit chat” between themselves,very touching, clearly they had a close intimate relationship and at one point he even bent over and kissed his wife, something I had not expected to see done in public. At Bhopal, we were joined by a man for the overnight leg to Raipur, he was a advocate in the construction business, very talkative, quite philosophical about life and the world and the lot of India. Pleasant company for a short period of time, but everyone was wanting some sleep and that was good as he was clearly a heavy smoker.I can only compare the journey to the only overnight ones I have made elsewhere namely in China I have to say the Chinese ones were a more pleasant experience, at least in the class I was travelling in - 2AC. They had actual compartments with doors, the Indian ones only had what are called privacy curtains but which are anything but – they wave with the breeze, have gaps at the sides, and the compartment has in fact no wall to the corridor, only these curtains. I had assumed they were on each bunk from the descriptions I had read but not so.

Being on the train for that long one concern is of course food. At the longer station stops boys come on selling whatever, and the train itself has a food service. This man comes round and you order breakfast and lunch from him just as you leave Delhi, then later for your dinner order just after Bhopal. Our friend the smoker clearly does this route regularly and knew best, he telephoned an order to a hotel and the next stop who sent it by courier to the station and straight to his bunk. I was quite envious as his meal definitely looked more appealing than mine, in fact then I had given up trying to eat much of the train food. The breakfast omelettes were fine, but lunch and dinner wasn’t much to write home about – rice, watery dahl and some vegetables with paneer. I have to say I’ve had my fill of dahl. I do like lentils made into soups, and maybe the dahls will be better once the vegetable dishes are better. In Delhi and on the train these can only be described as mush. The vegetables are over cooked, to the extent who often cannot tell exactly which vegetables are being used in the dish. Oh for texture! Roll on cooking for myself Any way enough about the train journey. Our sailor friend helped me off the train with my luggage, which was most helpful. Although I was told the train stops at Rayagada for 10 mins, I couldn’t be sure , as the stoppage time at some intermittent stops was only a few minutes, certainly not enough time for me to battle through boarding and unboarding passengers to do two lots of luggage runs. I was met on the station platform by Harish one of the project coordinators at Shakti. I had been wondering whether I would be taken straight to the office or not, or what if anything had been planned for my first afternoon. In Delhi, the group of us undergoing In Country training had been talking about whether we’d be expected to start work straight away or whether we should insist on a few days grace. I had decided to play it by ear. As it turned out our first stop, courtesy of Rajindra, Shakti’s driver, was my “residence” as everyone here calls my new home. Me and my goods were unloaded and I was told R would be back in 15 minutes after I had freshened up to take me to the office . A face wash never felt so good as that one did after the journey.
At the office I was not prepared for efficiency. I met Mr Panda my new boss, given a place to sit, notebook and pen – yes it felt a bit like the first day at school. He introduced me to the few staff actually in the office that afternoon, most Shakti staff are field workers and only come into the office once a month or so. Mr P told me a little about Shakti, explained about my accommodation, asked about police registration. He asked me to make a list of things I need for the residence and that he would arrange for me to be taken to the market than evening. As I sat making my list, I had thought of this as a first night task so had to rethink quickly and compile my list there and then. During my discussion with Mr P I indicated that VSO had advised me to begin registration asap in order to start visa extension proceedings. I had been expecting to have to remind everyone about this over the next few days, but next thing I knew I was being asked for my passport, telephone calls were being made, and I was filling in forms. Harish had clearly been given the task to make this happen and next thing I knew we were on our way to the Police station and the registration Bureau after a short stop back to my residence to have my mosquito next fixed up with string and nails. Luckily I was appropriately dressed as per VSO’s instructions about how to behave in the Police station, so I just smiled and looked demour! As it happened everyone was interested in who I was and why I was there. Was this really going smoothly? Yes I was asked why I had a tourist visa, but Harish’s explanation and mine seem to work and no more was said about that. Vso had told us that some local police chiefs would not be aware that this was the correct visa for us to come in one, as agreed with the Indian national government. Everything seemed to be going really well - surely this was too good to be true?. After the visit to the police station we had more forms to take away to fill in and return the following day.  A good afternoon’s work. I kept warning myself it wasn’t done yet, but I have to say things were looking good. So fingers crossed tomorrow will be the same.

The next thing was to meet up with Mr P for what he calls “marketing” and dinner. More about my accommodation later but suffice to say it is bare. I plastic chair and a bed with mattress, pillow and one cotton cover. Mr P explained he wanted me to choose the cooker – how many variants on two gas rings can there be I am thinking. After much “marketing” and my first experience or real Indian haggling, we headed to a local restaurant for dinner - chicken, rice and yes dahl, luckily also roti, so I managed to skip the rice. Eating local style with fingers was OK, I’d been practising in Delhi and no one said a word as I tried to soak up the last bits from the plate. By 9:30 everything is closing down, we were the restaurant’s last customers and we ate quickly, no chit chat here just eating. Outside again the streets of the market were absolutely deserted. Not so the main road out of town to the district that my residence and the office are located in. I can only say the route into town is a long one and not at all pleasant. People do walk but quite honestly it is a nightmare, it is clearly main route for trucks heading for the coast or inland. The road is lined with garages and mechanics workshops. Once you turn of into our district the tracks are sandy dirt tracks. The area is newly being built on, and leads up to the side of the main railway line. And yes that means noise as each train which comes through in typical Indian style blasts it horn. But this noise is intermittent and there is the up side is NO traffic noise. So the Delhi Symphony has disappeared at long last to be replaced by an occasional chugging sound with horn section was a backing group – more like an extended call from a certain Glenn Miller number!

Thursday 10th December

I’m up and just getting my things together to head into the office to meet up with Harish again when someone is at the door. It is the young man from the Old Folks Home that Shakti runs with a gas bottle to fit up my stove. I’m shown where the local general store is and purchase some basic home essential groceries,  rice, salt, spices, bread etc. For now I can’t seem to work out what shops sell what things!

No Mr P today as he is taking his mother to hospital for an eye operation, cataracts. This is her second eye to be done. He’ll be back in on Saturday and says we will begin planning then. For now I start to fill in the forms from yesterday and then Harish and I are off again to the police station. This time the Police chief is not there, amazingly we are seen by his wife, even though another officer is there! Am I being given a sly going over I wonder? Again I smile and try to look demure. She and the officer asks various questions which Harish answers, and some are directed at me. Every time I look at her she has this smile on here face, is it a grin? I cant make it out. Finally we leave the forms as everything seems to be filled in Ok, did I pass the test or not I wonder?

As I still don’t have much in the way of food the driver is sent to get something for me from a local restaurant – I chance it and ask for chicken. Good move! The meal which comes is huge, I waste most of it. But I assemble my water filter as I know this will be needed tomorrow. I brew a cup of tea – oh heaven! I’m tired but  happy and fall asleep with my usual speed.

Friday 11 December

I’ve checked the date and no it is not a Friday 13th, but boy was it ever one! I’ll let the video tell the tale of this eventful day!

Mr P returns and come to visit me at home to check everything is OK. This is really nice of him and I give due praise to the way his staff looked after me and remember to ask after his mother. Yes the operation went well, she is fine, and will have eye drops for the next few weeks.

So this new pill popper takes her tablets - calcium, potassium and iron plus the usual antimalarials, I ‘m taking more tablets than I’ve ever taken in my life as a result of today’s events, but I suppose age does mean that bones need assistance to heal. I make a cup of tea, eat some fruit and head for an early night.

Saturday 12th December

I arrive at the office at 9:30 but can’t open the gate with one hand. Only Mr P and the driver are about, everyone else is out in the field.

I’m introduced to the system of travelling vegetable sellers – sabzi-wallas. These ladies and gents walk or cycle round the district with bags of vegetables for sale every day. I buy mooli – white radish and aubergine, brindjl with the assistance of Mr P and his next door neighbour. The woman asks where I am staying, clearly she is looking for newcomers to the district to expand her clientele. Mr P says they earn only about 20 rupees a day for their work through adding a markup of 1 or 2 rupees over the market price. But given where we are and how far it is into the town this will be the way to buy. I just hope there is enough variety in what they bring. Later on a man selling ghobi, cauliflowers appears. I go out to find the woman next door buying one, she helps me get the cauliflower properly weighed and pay the same as she did for the kg. Numbers are difficult enough in Hindi but in Oriya even more so as different words are used whether you are counting or quantifying eg weighing, very confusing anyway but as some veg are sold per item price and others by weight it is even more confusing., Compound this with the fact that this locality has a great many Tegelu speakers being so close to the state border with Andrah Pradesh. For now I can’t even tell which language a person is speaking as everyone slurs,rolls words together and speaks so fast – just as we all do in our native tongues of course!

I am left with some project reports to read. Mr P is heading of to a meeting at one of the projects in some remote village. He says he was going to take me but won’t in my current state. It is seemingly too much of a walk/climb and I’d really need my arms. I can’t persuade him and reluctantly accept that I am going to miss my first village visit. I settled down to read one project’s quarterly and Shakti’s annual reports. This is an area where Shakti want to improve on what they currently do.

Later I am sitting talking and getting to know the lady who does the documentation when there are some phone calls, the first it turns out is from the Police station, she refers him to Mr P. The second is from Mr P saying they are on there way back as there is a problem with the vehicle. The Police chief it appears is taking the usual route of saying I should have registered within 15 days of arrival and there will be a fine. I explain to Mr P that VSO will pay this on a receipt as this is normal when volunteers have been in Delhi. The problem seems to be to do with the next step which is visa extension, which have to be done where you are registered, so no point in registering in Delhi. But everything else seems to be going smoothly. Can it really be?

Mr P and driver and repaired vehicle arrive back at the office and next thing I know I am being again taken “marketing” , this time I have an even longer list, i8ncluding a blanket as I have been cold in bed – yes cold - by about 5am I was waking up cold! We spend 3 hrs trying to find SIM; internet dongle and failing, toilet paper and failing, circuit breaker and failing: but successfully find blanket, towel, blender/grinder, storage box, teapot plus real food – lots of vegetables, nuts and fruit.

Banana sandwiches for supper – delicious! I sort out my purchases and begin to see my kitchen at least taking shape and becoming functional. I am so looking forward to cooking a good meal tomorrow for the first time. I go to bed happy.

Sunday 13th December

The end of my first week in Rayagada. Today is my one day off, so it will be one for getting things done on. Today this takes a lot longer than it will – washing clothes, dishes, me, cleaning bathroom, preparing food one handed is always difficult – a good lesson in disabilities. I learn some handy tips on using me feet and elbows amongst other things when I had the same injury in the US 10 years ago. But here there are no household utensils like washing machines, so it is back to bucket washing. I am perfecting a way to wring things out using one hand and a foot, but it still doesn’t remove enough of the water! Luckily things dry and I can get down, literally down to the floor to iron on a towel. In India everyone is so primly dressed with everything ironed if not starched – this takes some getting used to for someone who could at home survive very well without an iron, Here it is a necessity. The sabzi walla from yesterday see me on the balcony and calls over. I try to shout back Aj nahi, not today but she calls anyway, with the help of my landlady I explain I don’t need anything today but too call again later in the week.

I cook myself a large lunch – grapes,a salad of carrot and mooli, rice with and aubergine and pea concoction - heaven, fresh peas! At least I can pod them with my left hand, whilst holding them with my right even in its cast. Anything much heavier however is still not possible to hold. My first home cooked food in a month! And if I say so myself, delicious! I make good headway with chores and make some soup for the evening, then settle with a cup of tea to write up this diary/blog.

Despite the unfortunate events of Friday I feel I have had a good first few days. I have begun to get to know people at work, I’ve met my landlady’s daughter who came to say hello with a school friend and to practise their English, at least one sabzi walla has found where I am, my kitchen is functional and I am eating and sleeping well. Mr P and I have begun to talk about what he wants me to do. Not bad for the first few days!


  1. Sheila
    well what a time of it....
    poor you, I do hope that bone heals quickly
    (any access to Symphytum - that's homeopathic Comfrey or KnitBone as we used to call it way back when) have seen this have remarkable effect in speeding fracture healing both with Sally's upper arm and the wrist of a friend of ours.
    Worth asking around if you felt it appropriate.
    great to hear/see you and get all your news of the routine and ordinary things coming together - sounds like Shakti is well clued in to handling the bureaucracy - phew.
    Did you get your dongle or otherwise what sort of internet connection???
    Really, really great to get your news and best wishes for a speedy recovery.
    Sally and I are off to Bantry Bay on Friday and back before the New Year.
    Ken xx

  2. Sheila - I wish I knew what had happened, my internet connection is so poor that I can't get videos downloaded but I've managed to work out that you've broken something. What a shame, I'm really sorry that your start has not been quite what you anticipated. I'll try to catch up with you on the phone soon!

  3. Sheila...only just read your recent blog entries (bizarrely partly because I sprained my right wrist a few days ago!) So sorry to hear about the mishap with your arm. But it sounds as if you are finding your feet in more ways than one! Do let me know if there is anything specific you'd like sent to you. Take care and all good wishes for a good and speedy bone healing

    Helen xx

  4. Tx everyone. Slowly the bone will heal, it just takes longer with advancing age unfortunately.

    Helen I'll be in touch re sending some goodies

    Hilary tx for the phone call, it was nice to hear afirendly voice.