Sunday 30 May 2010

Malarial quandary

One of the hazards of  living in this region is malaria. Two of my work colleagues have had time off with malaria since I have been here. Orissa is a top malaria state in India and Rayagada is a particularly bad area for cerebral malaria. I sleep every night under a mosquito net and try and cover up as best I can at dusk when the little blighters abound.  The worse place is actually in the office where I often get bitten on my feet, a  hazard of not wearing shoes. No one wears them here, only sandals and it is etiquette to remove footwear before one enters a building - a house, shop, office whatever it is, shoes off. The office bought one of those liquid plug in anti mosquito things that work in the electric socket but it doesn't seem to do any good. The past month or so there have been less about - more ants, more beetles, less mosquitos - go figure. I suspect it will get much worse again come the monsoon and through the winter months the mosquito numbers will rise once more.

The prescribed regime of anti malarials I was recommended was Paludrine and Alvoclor. No way was I taking antibacterials like doxycycline for two years, Larium was out, and Malarone,  my normal anti malarial of choice, is not funded by VSO as it costs over £3 per tablet per day and I couldn't afford to pay for that out of my allowance (at  a current exchange rate of around 65 rupees a Malarone tab costs about 200 rupees, that 6000 rupees a month. I get 10000 per month to live on. The maths are simple) Unfortunately it is the one antimalarial I have been able to take without side effects, but in the UK it is not advised for long term use. The most I have taken it for before has been 6 weeks. So it was back to the double whammy regime of P&A: they work at different parts of the parasites life cycle. Lucky for me, as when I tried to take then in Central America I had very irritated gastrointestinal tract and had to give up on the Paludrine. This time I have been religiously taking them with lots of food. That has stopped the gastric upsets but only when they've been taken at the same time as eating, if I forget and take them even 30 minutes later, I get nauseous and end up puking up the most acidic tasting spittle ever. But I have been persevering.

However last month I had the second bout since I've been here of mouth ulcers, another side effect of Paludrine. The first time I got these I stopped for a few days and they cleared up, but the second time they came back with a vengeance. Eating was difficult, salty foods stung in my mouth, my lips looked like I had overdosed on collagen!  This was compounded by me succumbing to yet another side effect  - hair loss!  Unfortunately it is also a side effect of Alvoclor! Now I'm not particularly vain but I can't stand it, every time I comb my hair, or wash it strands are loosened, my plait is noticeably thinner. This has brought it to a point in time when I have just had to say enough is enough and I've taken a break the drugs. These side effects are reversible I am told, and it is a risk to stop taking them, but I have definitely reached that point. I don't want to look like a female version of the man who wears his last quiff of hair across the top of his bald head

I was never happy about taking Alvoclor for two years - its long term use has more serious side effects - retinal damage with continuous high dosage use for more than 12 months, weekly use for more than 3 years, or a total consumption of 100g.  Ok I shall not be getting up to those extended periods or to those high dosage levels - I am only taking 500mg per week, but how much difference is there between 2 and 3 years? Without personalized medicine how can one tell where on the spectrum of reaction to a drug anyone is? 

Those of you who know me well will know I don't like taking any medicines and very seldom do: the only exceptions to this have been preventatives and inoculations. Many of the long term volunteers here don't take any antimalarials but I have known people who have had malaria, and recurrent malaria so I had expected to take them, so succumbing to these side effects left me in a bit of a quandary. It is a big decision for me not to continue.  I only hope that since I have been healthy so far in India, my strong immune system will see me through and I can get some further supplies of mosquito repellent before the next wave of the buzzing insects descend!

Saturday 29 May 2010

Hot season blues by Sheila Ash

46 degrees feels 56
a wringing bra
sodden shalwar  sticks to skin
never dry
4 showers each rainless day
Never fix
the itch of prickly heat
the damp of sweaty sleepless nights

Friday 28 May 2010

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Reader

For the past three weeks my landlady and her daughter have been away visiting their village for family wedding celebrations. I was looking forward to having the place to myself, except for their uncle who was to come and stay overnight in their house. Uncle here meaning loosely some male relative - I'm not sure whether he is there to watch over me or to watch the house, but they do seem paranoid about leaving the place unattended although I have never seen any sign of break ins or vandalism around here. So the past two weeks have been a respite from having to make polite conversation continuously around the topic of what I am cooking and eating that day. Much as I like them and they are trying to be friendly and sociable, I value my privacy and have relished the uninterrupted time to myself. Insect-crop
On the other hand it has coincided with a slight feeling of how daunting the prospect of being here for the whole two years really is. Various factors have come together to make me feel this way: I have found the high humidity of the hot season hard going and feel really quite tired; my friend Hilary has finished her placement and has gone home; Jen is half way through her one year placement and is planning her final Indian vacation for later this summer; Susie and others leave in June/July at the end of their placements and the Orissa contingent are meeting in Koraput for her in early June; and the past few days it has been raining. I was never looking forward to the upcoming rainy season, and the past few days the Eastern part of Orissa has been pummeled by a storm, giving Fox-cropjust a taster of what the rainy season might be like. Yes it has been cooler, but the humidity levels have rocketed into the 80%s during the day as well as the evenings and night. This morning en route back from chicken seller I could feel the oppression of it on me. Flies were everywhere, having decided to "make hay" after the rains. The lower daytime temperatures have brought out other local wildlife as well - some interesting hopper like insects, very slow moving ones, with long antennae and brightly coloured red and green bodies about 1-1 1/2 inches long, are to be found all over the house perimeter wall; a fox can be seen stalking the waste land around the house; two cranes have made a nest on one of the electricity poles. 
So this past weekend I luxuriated in the cool air and the last days free of neighbour's shouting and trivial conversation. I've been indulging in my special supplies of Body Shop Honey shampoo and conditioner, a present from Hilary; getting extended nights sleep in the cool air and free of early morning noise and cooking smells for next door, and, in an attempt to have a taste of home, tried semi successfully with Indian ata flour to recreate Scottish dropped scones, or pancakes, replete with butter and jam. My last tin of tuna remains intact for another low moment :)
Before I came here I was aware of how other volunteers reported that they went through peaks of enthusiasm, troughs of despair and bouts of homesickness in fairly regular cycles, especially the volunteers in the more remote placements. Some reported bring their hobbies with them, or taking up hobbies eg painting. Well I have never been a hobby person, but did bring with me a very large library of ebooks and audio books, as well as take out a subscription to the Guardian Weekly newspaper to keep me occupied. Well the delivery of the Guardian has been plagued by missing issues, although the subscription department have extended my subscription to compensate for the missing ones, it is not quite the same as more have not arrived than have by a long way. But reading has been my main pastime. I'm reading more now than I have for a great many years. I've been keeping a list and since December I have read/listened to some 45 books! Some of them very good reads, and a few amongst the most memorable I have ever read. I'd have been lost without  them. The Sony Reader I purchased for the trip has been an absolute winner and I am now a total convert to ebooks. Something I have wanted for ages has finally been cracked - highly portable, lightweight reading material - the equivalent eureka moment to dispensing with dozens of CDs, CD player, headphones and batteries I use to cart on transatlantic long haul business trips and their replacement with a compact, full MP3 player. Yes, I suppose I was an early adopter of both technologies, realizing very quickly their benefits to me. Now with my local library back home lending audio and ebooks I can imagine a time when I never buy a paperback ever again. So for my fellow book aficionados here is the list so far  - my best read recommendations for each month are in bold italics . Happy reading!
Month Author Title Format I read
December 09 Alexander McCall Smith SS03 - Love Over Scotland Street ebook
Anthony Capella The Various Flavours of Coffee ebook
Banana Yoshimoto Helix Short Story
Mary Ann Schaffer & Annie Burrows The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society ebook
Paul Torday The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce ebook
Steinur Bell The Whale Hunter Short Story
T.C. Boyle Rara Avis Short Story
Wells Tower Leopard Short Story
January 2010 Alexander McCall Smith SP02 - Friends, Lovers, Chocolate ebook
Alexander McCall Smith SS04 - The World According to Bertie ebook
Alexander McCall Smith SS05 - The Unbearable Lightness of Scones ebook
Haruki Murakami The Elephant Vanishes Short Story
James Ellroy LA Quartet 01 - The Black Dahlia ebook
Joy Williams The Farm Short Story
Michel Faber 199 Steps ebook
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency ebook
Stieg Larrson 1 - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ebook

Stieg Larrson 2 - The Girl who Played with Fire ebook

Stieg Larrson 3 - The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest ebook
February 2010 Alexander McCall Smith SP03  - The Right Attitude to Rain ebook
Alexander McCall Smith The Girl who married a Lion ebook
Amitav Ghosh The Calcutta Chromosome ebook - unfinished
Chris Cleave The Other Hand / Little Bee ebook
Daniel Silva GA01 - The Kill Artist ebook
Kate Mosse Labyrinth ebook
Michael Chabon Two Gentlemen of the Road ebook
Michael Connelly HB01 -The Black Echo ebook
Monica Ali Alentejo Blue ebook
Nikolai Gogol The Nose Short Story
March 2010 Chinamanda Ngozi Adichie Half a Yellow Sun audio
Daniel Silva Gabriel Allon Series GA02-09 ebook
Markus Zusak The Book Thief ebook
April 2010 Eoin Coffler Artemis Fowl Series 1-6 ebook
Guillermo Martinez The Oxford Murders audio
Jane Urquhart The Stone Carvers paperback
Joanne Harris Coastliners paperback
John Le Carre Call for the Dead audio
Alexander McCall Smith SP04  - The Careful Use of Compliments ebook
Kate Atkinson Jackson Brodie Series 03 - When will thereJodi Picoult be good news? paperback
Alexander McCall Smith SP05 -The Comfort of Saturdays ebook
May 2010 Kate Morton The Forgotten Garden ebook
C J Samson Dissolution ebook
Kate Atkinson Jackson Brodie Series 01 -  Case Histories audio
Ian Rankin Inspector Rebus Series 01 - Knots and Crosses audio
Greg Mortenson Three Cups of Tea audio
Sarah Waters The Little Stranger ebook
Malcolm Gladwell Tipping Point paperback
Jodi Picoult Change of Heart audio

Thursday 27 May 2010

Three Craws - Tin Kau

For those of your following the I Speak Hindi podcast may have seen the recent P3010184one with a children's nursery rhyme which goes as follows
Paanch choti chidiyam,
Baithi thi zameen par
Ek udkar chali gayi,
Baki rah gaye chaar.

Chaar choti chidiyam,
Baithi thi zameen par
Ek udkar chali gayi,
Baki rah gaye teen.

Teen choti chidiyam,
Baithi thi zameen par
Ek udkar chali gayi,
Baki rah gaye do.

Do choti chidiyam,
Baithi thi zameen par
Ek udkar chali gayi,
Baki rah gayi ek.

Ek choti chidiya,
Baithi thi zameen par
Vo bhi udkar chali gayi,
Baki koyi na chidiya.
This translates as
Five small birds,
Were sitting on the floor
One flew away,
Four were left.

Four small birds,
ere sitting on the floor
One flew away,
Three were remaining.

Three little birds,
Were sitting on the floor
One flew away,
Two were left.

Two small birds,
Were sitting on the floor
One flew away,
One was left.

One little bird,
Was sitting on the floor
He also went flying,
No bird was left.
which reminds me of the Scottish song Three Craws /Three Crows
Three craws sat upon a wa',
Sat upon a wa'
Sat upon a wa'
On a cold and frosty morning

The first craw, he couldnae flee at a'
couldnae flee at a'
couldnae flee at a'
on a cold and frosty morning

The second wee craw, he fell and broke his jaw
fell and broke his jaw
fell and broke his jaw
on a cold and frosty morning

The third craw wis greetin fur his maw
greetin fur his maw
greetin fur his maw
on a cold and frosty morning

The fourth craw wisnae there at a
wisnae there at a, wisnae there at a
The fourth craw wisnae there at a
On a cold and frosty morning
I trust that doesn't need translating! And if you'd like that there are more Scottish children's ditties
and English ones, like  Ten Green Bottles, at children's songs

Wednesday 26 May 2010


It is clearly something that happens about 6 months into a placement but one seems to be thinking about home quite a bit, one's home comforts etc. I've noticed it with other volunteers that it happens about the same time. They have said to me that they miss things like good coffee and cheese. I don't drink coffee so no worries there and much as I love a nice piece of cheese, I haven't had those intense cravings for it that others have described - paneer being no substitute for a good strong chedder, a solid tangy Red Leicester, or a ripe and runny Brie, whichever your favorite cheese tipple is.

So it got me thinking about what I really am missing and what I will and won't miss when eventually I get home - these are not in any particular order and iinclude some surprise when I started to list them out .... so excuse the indulgence but these are what I am missing
  • Green grass
  • Blue skies
  • Seeing the stars in a cloudless night sky
  • Sleeping outside
  • Clean air
  • Dry air
  • Dry heat
  • Recycling
  • Stimulating conversation
  • Being touched
  • Cuddles and hugs
  • Soaking in a bath tub
  • Pottering in the garden
  • the sea breeze
  • peace and quiet
  • a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc
  • Digestive Biscuits
  • Oatmeal biscuits
  • Full cream milk
  • Cream
  • Trifle
  • roast lamb
  • smoked fish
  • crunching on a crisp raw carrot, in fact being able to eat cold and raw food
  • boiled ham
  • good quality muesli
  • muesli bars
  • choice
  • chats with friends
  • exercise
  • a good film
  • a comfortable chair
  • lounging on a big sofa or relaxing on a comfy floor mattress
  • the warm glow of a winter's log fire ( OK I know it is it is hot here but there is something about those flames)
  • 24hr broadband
  • and last but not least Axxxx - tu me manque :(
what I won't miss when I get home
  • plastic chairs and the consequential sweaty bums
  • dahl
  • train horns
  • Indian long haul trains which either arrive or leave in the wee small hours of the morning
  • tasteless naan - although yesterday I had my first really nice one, so light and tasty it was almost like filo :)
  • marble foors - becoming second only to glass table tops as the bane of my life
  • boiling and filtering drinking water
  • ants
  • humidity
  • curry
  • very very sweet Indian sweets and drinks like Thumbs up, sweetened toothpaste
  • power cuts, planned and unscheduled alike
  • street dogs - I've recently encountered a particularly snappy, barky one, mutual instant dislike.
  • sweeping the floor with a grass brush
  • washing the floor every other day in an unending attempt to rid the house of the soot from trains
  • washing clothes by hand and having them still smell stale even when freshly laundered
  • room fans which blow up all the dust and dry your eyes out so you wake up feeling like they are on stalks
  • the time it takes to get things done
  • Indian officialdom and bureaucracy
what I will miss when I get home
  • the cheapness of food
  • tasty potatoes
  • the way Indian mobile telephone companies message you after a call to tell you how much the call cost and to update your balance
  • cheap telephone calls
  • colourful saris
  • Shalwar Kameez - I  love wearing these, especially the shalwar and will more then likely bring some home
It will be interesting to compare this list from 6 months in with what my cravings will be at 12, 18 months into this sojourn and with what I indulge in once I get home.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

The I Ching of I do

I Ching is a Chinese "game" with bamboo sticks. You fling the bamboo sticks and your fortune is told from how they fall.  Perhaps our English phrase "the luck of the draw" has similar origins, but we all know how to draw lots, and that to "draw the short straw" in lottery means to by the looser. I remember the scene in the news office in the film Deep Impact, where the reporter staff draw lots for places on the last helicopters out of the distaster zone, everyone draw straws including one reporter's child. Typical Hollywood, the kid draws the short straw of no place, her mother a long one of a helicopter seat.  Survival, the luck of the draw.

In the lottery of life, our education, health opportunities are often the luck of the draw, where and when we are born. And so it is with marriage. How much do we or can we know of our partners before we marry? Whether it is an arranged or a love marriage, how well do we really know our chosen partners? The high incidence of divorce would seem to indicate that the answer is not at all well - irretrievable breakdowns, irreconcilable differences: pick anyone and let love grow out of a joint life, or "marry in haste repent in leisure? Or spend years trying ot find the perfect partner?

These were the thoughts going through my head as I watched part of the Hindi marriage ceremony being acted out before me on Friday evening. The bride and groom shake and flinging stone dice, presumably with some significance being accorded to their resultant distribution just like the sticks of the I Ching. This was the second wedding ceremony I have been invited to and sadly I have still to find anyone who can explain the symbolism and significance of the various stages of the proceedings. Everyone just says it is our tradition. No one sees to be able to other an explanation. I find this rather sad, this loss  of culture. I'm sure that it is not just a question of language as here many of the guests spoke good English and were very well educated. I'm also sure I'd be able to explain the marriage proceedings and traditions, like throwing the bride's bouquet, to visitors.

At least this marriage ceremony although again a rather solemn affair was brightened up by some fun. It was I suspect a love marriage, and I saw the groom smileat one point ( I couldn't actually see the bride's face below her wedding veil/shawl, and there was much cheering on from their college friends as the couple each set about trying to dislodge stones from each others hands. I suspect this ritual may be symbolic of "who will wear the trousers" in the marriage!

This marriage ceremony kept to a very strict timetable, unlike the other one I went to. I was told that not only was the date, but also the timings of the parts of the ceremony, specially chosen as being very auspicious for the couple. This amused me somewhat as on the day the heavens had open and down poured  the rains, causing huge flies to hatch all at once and in biblical proportions plague everyone present flying into your hair, down your kameez, up the legs of your shalwar, crawling over everything, diving into your drinks. The only person to remain unperturbed by it all was the bride, sitting safely under her veil.  Perhaps forecasting what will be the calm stable core of this couple's life together, no matter what the world flings at them. Good luck to them!

Monday 24 May 2010

Rat a cha cha

I'm sitting peacefully listening to John Crace's Digested Reads podcast  from the Guardian last night when a flash of activity dashes across the floor of my kitchen/sitting room. Oh my, that's a mouse, or is it a rat? Whatever, it is most definitely a rodent. It  has come from the direction  of my kitchen area - not good! Has he been hiding there all the time, how did he get in? Did he come in when the front door was open on these hot steamy evenings, or in an open window?

Clearly why ever it had come to my house for it had not expected to see me sitting there and has scurried for cover amongst my suitcases. Oh no says I, you are not getting in those. I don't know who got the biggest fright - him or me - but next thing I know we are playing tag, dancing around the kitchen: me with the plastic waste bin I use as a veg rack, and him scurrying behind my suitcase, and then  behind a block of marble left over from when the floors were laid, which stands in the corner - good place to hide he thinks.  Yes, I did say a plastic waste bin. I wasn't intending to kill him just to capture and discharge outside. Although I will admit to not having fully worked out how to ensure I wasn't bitten when I tried to get the plate under the upturned wastebin. Don't even begin to think of scenes from a Brave New World!

Anyway back to cat and mouse. At one point I can even see him looking at  me, eyeing me up, Is she going to attack, am I cornered here, how quick is she really?
 As I stalk my prey, he tries to wrong foot me, lying in a dummy  move one way then another in an attempt to outwit me and get away. I move the suitcase. One less hiding place. Exposure is the plan.

Then just as I'm getting ready to pounce with the basket, he musters his courage and darts straight past me back across the room in the direction he came, I turn round and run after him. In a flash he is gone, but I see where - Where he came from and where he went back to. I'm taken aback! He has jumped into and disappearing down the drain stump.

Now coincidently some days back, or more correctly some nights back, I wake hearing something in my bedroom. I should first explain that in India each room has a drain hole. The custom being to wash the marble floors. So the floors all have a very slight gradient to them, so that the water runs away down the aforementioned drain hole. The one in my bedroom has a metal cover with small drainage holes in it, but this cover is not fixed, it is loose. I never gave it a second thought until the night noise. I got up to investigate to find the cover was off the drain hole and lying slightly to one side. Naturally I replaced it and even went so far as to put a piece of marble over the top to keep it in place. My mind was clearly thinking potential animal entry point.  Right. The little blighters are coming up the drainage outlets.

For now I have slushed the kitchen one with buckets of water and left the tap running for some time. Hopefully this particular rodent is trying to avoid the water lying outside after the recent rains and won't feel like coming up my drain if it too has water flowing through it. However, they do swim so it is not a permenant solution. I wonder if I can find something to cover the stump pipe? Maybe better to think about boxing in the area under the sink? Perhaps a very small sized wire mesh, if it could be fixed securely all the way round.  I suspect he'd nibble through wood. Me thinks I need someone with some tools.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Today my heart was gladdened.

I joined a project team meeting in the office to discuss their work - all the usual stuff, what they did this past month, what they plan to do for next month etc. We talk a bit about a full project report, what can be put into the Annual Report. I've been trying to persuade my NGO that they need to improve the quality of their photography for project reporting but also in advance of our web site construction, so when I see some photos I am interested to note good and poor examples. But I am sidetracked by one project member beaming with pride as a short video is run. It shows a group of men are sitting in a village telling a story, which the man from my NGO is caught on camera translating into Oriya. I, of course, understand neither the villagers language nor enough Oriya to know what it is all about, but the project workers face tells me he is very pleased, nay, proud of what this video is showing. While technically it is not  the best video in the world as I am told the story behind it I can't but feel gladdened to be part of this organisation and to share their joy and pride in what they have acheived.

The men have been returned to their village after one year spent in what can only be described as slave conditions. They were lured away by a contractor promising good money for labor work. About a dozen or so men from the village signed up. And that was the last anyone heard of them, no word, no money sent home, nothing,  until a few months ago when unexpectedly one man returned. He told of the group being split up, some taken to Rajastan, some to Hydrabad, some to Bangalore - all far away - and of the terrible conditions in which they had been kept. Sadly a common story, not just in India, where people are subject to unscrupulous gangmasters, who make them work incredibly long hours, with little food, poor accomodations and who take exhorbitant monetary deductions for these from the laborour's wage packet. The prospect of sending money home evapourates, and debt mounts. Dissent is punished with physical beatings and the withholding of food. Effectively the men found themselves prisoners, labouring to repay ever increasing debt, in effect working for nothing.

When the one man managed to escape and eventually get back to his village the story surfaced. The villagers work with my NGO on many projects and felt they could tell the story to the NGO workers. The NGO workers were moved by the men's plight and the situation of the other familes still missing their menfolk. The villagers wanted to act and the NGO staff galvanised their action and helped the villagers track down the remaining men, and finally they all came home, to much rejoycing. Women have their menfolk back home, children have fathers again, families are whole - job well done! 

What makes this special is that this wasn't work funded by some international or even national donor. This was work done because my NGO was in the right place at the right time, was trusted by the community and the staff recognised it was the right and proper thing to do.

I go to bed tonight with a warm feeling in my heart that somewhere someone has done good :)

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Pop goes Orissa

Last Thursday I was telephoned at about 10PM by my colleague and now neighbour Mr Padhi to say him and another colleague Santosh were on their way to my house. Rapid dressing took place as I had just had a pre bed shower! It turns out they were coming to invite me to accompany them, their wives and children to a concert which was being held over in Housing Board Colony, the nagar next to ours. It has been an annual event now for the past 5 years and lasts for 4 days and was well attended. All the main road was lit up with lights, a bit like the strings of multicoloured lights that adorn British towns at Christmas time.

When we got there, the organisers were giving out gifts to the folks from the Old Age Persons Home which my NGO runs. The young people who organise the concert had decided to do this and everyone one from the Home had turned out this evening. They were given gifts of a piece of cloth and some food and sweets. Some of the old dears couldn't make it up onto the stage for their presentations, others had to be helped up the makeshift steps, but everyone got something.

Then the music started. I had no idea what to expect, traditional Oriya songs, Hindi Bollywood stuff or what. The modern Orissan pop was a bit of a revelation!. It wasn't so much the singers, or even the music that surprised me: it was the dancers. In a comparatively traditional area of the country, here were young women, in western clothes, jeans, a dress showing legs and even a tee short which almost showed midrift, gyrating away on stage in public, much to the delight of the crowds. Amusingly I wondered if having one thin and one more well built girl dancer in each pair was planned. In the first pair the girl in orange tee short reminded me of someone from a Chinese movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers or the like, some Wu Xia film where the choreographed fight scenes are made possible by complex wire work and the characters movements seem unnaturallly fast and furious. In the second pairing, the girl in the black dress, with what looked like black cycle shorts on underneath presumably for modesty, wouldn't have looked out of place as a waif extra in a Dickensian fim set in her desinger grunge tatters.  Curious.

The audience seem to like it. It was a family audience, of all ages. When we arrived I was amazed to hear someone call my name. I turned round to see Gauri, one of the young girls from my nagar, she's about 10 I should think, beaming all over as she Namasted me from her seat with her friends.  I could imagine her friends all wondering how and being amazed that she knew foreigner auntie by name! I happily made her night and Namasted her back, smiled and waved. It made a nice change from the usual hordes who come and ask me which country I am from, which of course, happended for the rest of the evening, much to the amusement of Rasa and Madri my colleagues wives who shared an Oriyan giggle over this.

An unexpected and fun evening from which I finally got home and made it to bed just before 1AM!

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Kal Bisaki, spitting and running for the hills

I've commented several times on my facebook page about the winds that pass through here. Often these are in the late afternpoon, and they come after a particularly hot spell. This past week has seen fairly constant 45-47 degrees C temperatures in Rayagada. Even the locals are saying it is hot and feeling the pressure. These winds are quite strong, solid gusts, that raise everything into a real dust bowl, sand and rubbish all go swirling furiously around. I've not been caught out in one and would not want to: I'd be calling for my cheche to keep the dust from my face! I'm told they are characteristic of this period of the year and are call Kal Bisaki.

This afternoon's wind was particularly fierce, and I had to go running round the house rapidly closing every window before they blew of their hinges. I'd just opened them to get the evening's cooler air into the oven/sauna that is my house,  In fact the ones I had not hooked open did slam shut. Windows here have metal grills, and the windows open out and are held in place by a horizaontal metal hooks at their base towards the bottom corner of the frame. When shut vertical bolts secure them to the frame at the top and bottom. Fortunately none broke, but unfortunately I have discovered that the prevailing direction of the rain is on the rear wall of my house. There my bathroom has two corner windows which are made of the sloping, open glass type. The rain was jumping inwards off these and clearly if the prevailing direction of the moonsoon is this way I shall have a permanently wet bathroom. Luckily it is a wet room, tiled up to about 4ft high. I quickly move my toilet cleaner, washing poweder etc to the far wall in an attempt to keep them dry. The bigger problem was I was not quick enough at closing the bedroom window which faces the same direction. This has 3 segments to it and by the  time I had secured all three, water was lying on the floor, but more importantly my mosquito net, sheet and matress were wet.

I stripped the bed and left it to dry. The mosquito net was due for a wash anyway so that went in the bucket to soak. I am so lucky to have two nets. I think 2 are a necessity here because the air is so mucky. The reason is the proximity to the train line and the fact that further along the line there is a coal yard, where coal stocks lie are open to the atmosphere. Soot and dust from there along with exhausts from the trains make everything black. Reminiscent of Industrial Britain in the early part of the last century. Even within one day my bathroom has a sooty cover to it. When I am away for the weekend the first thing I have to do when I get back is wash down the bathroom, even before I have a shower, and wash the floor of the whole house. The mosquito nests I have to wash regularly. I have also bought with me an extra can of permethrin to replenish the net which should be done every 6 months. So I thought you might like to see exactly how filthy it was, so here is a picture of the now two tone net and the black water from one soak in water. Yuck!

Which brings up the whole issue of keeping clean in these climes. I know many of you live in either hot climates, or hot and humid climates, but only a few do so without the benefit of air conditioning. I don't know if the rest of you can imagine what it is like if you have never been to the tropics for any length of time or have stayed anything in other than AC hotels. Typically just now I am taking 3-4 showers per day. The up side is that at this time of year the water supply is warm all the time and even hot in the middle of the day. Showers are lovely. Come December and January they are very very cold and believe me one even contemplates less than one shower per day!

The downside is that I am never dry. I am wet all day and all night. My bedclothes are sodden by the morning, my pillow is wet where my neck was. I sweat, the water runs down  my face, my nose, my neck, my chest, all the usual places - use your imagination. During the day sitting on plastic seats just makes you feel like you've become incontinent! And plastic seats are all there usually is. I am so pleased I bought my wooden one with gaps in the back!

I sleep naked wth just a thin pareo as a sheet - partly for modesty in case some peep
ing tom decided to climb the house wall and gawk in through the window and partly because I hate the air movement on my skin produced by the ceiling fan's activity. The fans are on constantly I am in the house. They provide a little respite but only if you are sitting directly under them.

So at the end of the day all your clothes are sodden  - including your underwear. Washing them becomes a daily job: if you leave them they get musty. Again the grim on them has to be seen to be believed. Initially I was hanging these out to dry on our roof, but after visiting Hilary on Koraput and discovering in the clean air of the hills that all my clothes had a sulphurous odur in addition to the tropical mustiness I have started to hang them in the house overnight to dry in an probably fruitless attempt to get them to smell better.

No matter where you are one of life's chores is washing clothes. No washing machine here! Prior to coming to India I had thought it likely that I would get someone to do this for me and so add some money back into the community. Although I drew the line at my underwear :) I don't think my underwired bras would survive the way I see folks thrashing their washing against a stone. Then having found that the nearest washer woman was in Housing Board colony, a nagar across the main trunk route through the town, the idea of washing my own became  more appealing than the walk to and from there and given how few clothes I have here I decided not to risk the unpredictablity of Indian stretch time and the propsect of ending up without any clean clothes to wear. So  I have been washing by hand. I did this for 8 months on the Soren so nothing new here, Ok I have fresh water to wash and rinse with, but it is back to a bucket and scrubbing brush. So my exercise is one of stomping around in the bucket treading clean my garments, in true Roman grape crusher style. Ladies trouser legs are so long, even when they fit correctly (unless, before Jen and others say something, you are an uncharacteristically tall western woman) As a consequence, trouser bottoms get absolutely filthy, as does one's feet so back to hand scrubbing.

The only shoes I have here are flip flops (that's thongs, for you Aussies and New Zealanders) and most of the time I am barefoot anyway.  You can see the awful colour of the clothes washing water and I draw the line at showing you a picture of the body washing water, just use your imagination and you can imagine why I shower so often.

The pollution in Delhi when we were there in November was bad enough, sulphurous, acidic, corrosive to your lungs and like an acid scrub to your face - I kept telling myself that people pay good money for that in western beauty parlours, and that I was only there for a month and would hopefully never be back. Little did I know what the Rayagada air was going to be like. But it is only soot, not the chemical and exhaust pollutants of the big cities.

But it does make you realise why so many people here are not healthy. Of course there are many contributing reasons, poor diet, hard labourious work, lack of food - Orissa is a famine state, where people die of starvation even today. Many years ago Ghandi visited the Khalahandi district (where i was when I got grounded last week) because of this. 

But specifically you see and hear a lot of coughs, and spitting is commonplace for men and women. Given the particulate pollution of the area this is not surprising. Now there is a decidedly Indian way of getting up phelgm from one's chest. It is a bit like a gargle, deep into the chest, which then brings up all the phelgm from the lungswith lots of addedd noise. This is then spat out quite forcibly. The range of people's spits is amazing - yards! I suspect little boys learn this very early on and their usual "how far can you shoot" game may take on an additonal slightly different perspective :)

So I am left today with this insight into the great Indian spitting phenonmenon  and a real understanding of why the women of the Raj headed for them there hills to cool down. Thank goodness I don't wear corsets!

Friday 14 May 2010

More about Signs

In a recent post I spoke about restaurant and menus signing up Veg and non veg, no onion and garlic and  about no eggs labelling on products. Indian signs show another aspect of cultural difference - check out the whole thing about not wearing your shoes indoors,

the literal translation of phraseology into English - I again heard the use of the English word backside to describe where something is located behind something else whilst in the Adamanns,

and a few other odd ones which have caught my sense of humour

"There is a green hill far away ...."

enlarge and look closely at the photos for the Gents and Kids Beatuty Parlour!,

and clearly I should never again say that a Holiday Inn is a Holiday Inn is a Holiday Inn!

Tuesday 11 May 2010


Apologies for the slight hiatus in activity - I was grounded! And no, I hadn't been a naughty school girl.

I had been  on a work visit to another NGO where VSO Volunteer, Susie, has been for the past 2 years. I went to look at some of the work she has done which might be transferrable to my NGO. She is based in Bhawanipantna, a small town in Western Orissa,  1 hour car journey from the nearest rail station. They get lots of power cuts there, and long ones so I had planned to be there across two days hoping for enough power on time to complete the work. On the second day we were contacted by VSO India office alerting us to a security alert they had received because of mounting Naxalite activity in Orissa. The advice was specifically for anyone in the Koraput and Rayagada districts, ie me. The alert was unconfirmed reports of axalites targetting foreingers. Although I suspected this was unlikely and considered it was a bit over the top, their advice was not to travel back that weekend, but to wait and review the situation on Monday. So I was grounded in Bhawanipatna for the weekend.

Up side was Susie and I had lots of time to cover other work related topics and to generally chat - a delight for those of us who live on our own, without much in the way of social contacts, and very little English speakers. Made more so by the current state of the UK following our election which resulted  in a hung parliament and which we were struggling to get news about, until my friend Keith phoned on Sunday night and was able to supply a detailed account of what has been happening. Exciting times in British politics!

The down side was I got bitten to high heaven by red ants! Tiny little blighters, who clearly decided that like their bigger cousins in Costa Rica they like the taste of me. My feet, ankles, lower calves, and arms are covered in red raised pin pricks which are incredibly itchy. Even my face has been got at! The first sign is heat spreading throughout the effective areas, red blotches on the skin settling into pin prick sized bites which you can follow the path of ant attack as they migrated over me, just like a string of Hansel and Gretel marker stones! Luckily Susie had some Antisan cream, and I ended up using most of her supply. At least they calmed down enough not  to have to resort to ice baths! Now I just look like a pin cushion! And am still applying my Benadryl which I of course didn't carry with me on what was supposed to be a short trip!

For those of you who are a stickler for detail I am informed that a red any doesn't bite it stings! Which ever is the correct description, the effect is the same :) not nice. 

Anyway, Monday came and no further alerts meant I could travel back to Rayagada, exchanging the heat of ant bites for the heat of 47degrees C as I stepped off the train at 3PM. I could feel my skins scorch! Luckily an auto driver  was up for breaking his siesta and I was home in no time, for a very hot but still refreshing shower!