Thursday 31 December 2009

New addition

No, I am still waiting to become a great aunt for the second time. Baby Ash has not decided to arrive just yet. He or she was due on 18th December but I'm thinking s/he is waiting till the cold spell the UK are having is past, either that or s/he is angling to thwart Mel's NY celebrations and make her wait till 2010 for a celebratory drink!

Instead this refers to the arrival in my house of a table - wow! This means that I now have somewhere to place my meals, my light, my kettle, use my iron, my blender/grinder instead of the floor. Little things mean a lot :) Now I just have to find another chair or a small table as currently my sole chair is being used as a bedside table for water, light, glasses, clock etc. But progress. I'm sure other things will be acquired with time and when two arms are back functioning to help carry things. But tonight I will sit at my table and eat!

Thursday 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Power cuts

I get into the office this morning for 9 and it is locked. I sit on the stairs till someone arrives. There is no power again. I finally find out the story. In the past years the monsoon has been small so it has left the reservoirs low in water, so power generation by hydroelectric schemes is less than requirements. So the state government is trying to buy power from other states but is having to cut power supplies each day, currently by 1.5 hrs per day. Last year it was off for 4 hrs each day - 9-10:30, 1:30-2:30, 9-10. This week the power cuts have all been 9-10:30AM. One doesn't know from one week to the next when the cut will be but seemingly it will usually be the same time each day. Luckily I have 90 mins of battery left on my laptop! But damm I could have had an extra hour in bed :( I am feeling a bit tired, I think it is a mixture of long work days, interrupted sleep, change of diet etc and of course the discomfort from my arm.

H tells me her NGO have just purchased back up batteries. Mr P wants to do this as well but hasn't had time to finalise which to buy. At 30,000 Rupees it is a lot of money for them but the upside is that they will supply 4 hrs of electricity to power PCs laptops , printers etc. The down side is that the rest of the time electricity usage has to be minimised so that they can recharge.

Solar power does seem to have made it here. I find this strange when I consider that even deep in the Sahara, even the caretaker at Essendilene has a solar power unit attached to his home to provide light etc. I wonder if the low cloud cover, in other words the air pollution level is too high? I've yet to try my solar charger as I don't really have a safe place at home to put it out. I must try it out this Sunday.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Tawa Toast - a result!

One of the biggest disappointments for many of the volunteers whilst staying at the India Social Insitute hostel in Delhi for our in country training was the lack of good toast for breakfast - it was always underdone and soggy. Indian eat rice dishes for breakfast, here in Orissa a fluffy dumpling like think called igli is the dish of choice - it is Ok, but is dished up with cocunuty sauce, chilli and curry - not the breakfast for me! So after two weeks now in Rayagada it was high time breakfast toast was back on the menu. The question was how to make it without a grill, toaster or similar. Answer - one tawa! An indispensible pan for eggs, omlettes etc. It is like a griddle pan, smooth metal which gets very hot on the stove top.  The only difference is it is not quite flat. My mother always had a griddle pan to hand and made pancakes,or dropped scones as the English call them, on it.  I still love these hot of the griddle, running with butter. So this morning the tawa was out and put to use to see if bread would toast on it. A result! Good crispy toast with lashings of butter and honey, with a nice cup of tea. Mornings are back on track :)

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Where exactly am I?

Someone asked me where I was on the map. Well I am not even on Google maps even although we are officially within the town perimeter boundary of Rayagada. The best I can do is point you to Google map for Rayagada. Locate Housing Board Colony towards the top/north of the map and Sai Priya Nagar is opposite this, between the main road and the train line. Does this help?

Monday 21 December 2009

Various uses of the word madam

In rural India a woman used to not use a name. She would be known firstly as so and so's daughter, then so and so's sister, then so and so's wife, then so and so's mother. These establish the acceptable relationships for a woman. The concept of male friends is not known, too much of a risk of bad naming the girl and spoiling marriage prospects. This has consequences for me:

First, my family has expanded to two brothers and a sister - you know who you are - to pave the way for hoped for visits next year, so you'd better start getting into role!

Secondly, my landlady's teenage daughter and Mr P's daughter are calling me Auntie. Mrs P told me today that when I wasn't in the office on Friday her daughter was asking where Auntie was. As they live above the office the kid is always around with the house maid - sounds grand but most people have some sort of house maid to help clean, prepare food etc. Its quite nice to get a "goodnight Auntie" from my landlady's daughter as I come in from work.

The third aspect of this, to me quaint, politeness is that in the office everyone calls me madame! This takes some getting used to, although I do find myself already answering to it. For me the word madam has distinct conoctations - be it the owner of a house of ill repute, or some the false politeness of some waiter in a trying to be grandiose restaurant.  It isn't like that here at all; it is very respectful. Just as French has its familiar "tu" form of you and its polite "vous" form so do Hindi and Oriya. In fact there are 3 forms in Hindi, namely and the intimate "tu, the familiar "tum" and the respectful "aap". In Oriya there are informal and respectful forms for both the singular "tame" and "apana" and plural "tamemane" and "apanamane" forms of you . Put these two aspects together  - the societal relationships and the language structure - and you understand why I am, for now, a madam!

Saturday 19 December 2009

Waste disposal - pictures

I ask about this to be met by blank looks and am always told just to put it out. I’m incredible self conscious just dumping my rubbish although as you see local garbage collectors of all shapes and sizes abound. Some how I can’t see that the taste of plastics and cardboard boxes as being appealing even to them! The food waste maybe, but the rest?

I am reminded about a movie  Divine Intervention by Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman which contains a scene about neighbour squabbling over one neighbour flinging his rubbish over his garden wall but into the garden of the other. At least my neighbours are garbage eaters and  so far they haven’t strayed into my house or flung the garbage back at me! I think this manner of waste disposal is one of the things I shall find hardest to come to terms with and in some ways I hope I don’t so that I do not become a “fly tipper” once I am back at home.

Week 2 - part 2 - visiting the field projects

Thursday 17th December

We head off today to attend one of the field offices. The second day of a 3 day training course for Panchayat
representatives is underway. I sit in and listen to the training. Although I can't follow it all I hear lots of English names for things, for legislation and Indian Government Acts. Clearly a lot of information is being imparted. There is much heated discussion at one point as some of the details of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) was outlined.

Basically it entitles each household to 100 days of work per year - this is usually manual llabour such as required for road building. The key is that the household has to ask for the work and of course if you don't know you are entitled to it you can't demand it.  The breakout session is mutual cooperation only neeeds a little translation: 3 groups each of about 8 people, everyone picks a letter/word from a hat and the group tries to make a word/sentance. Of course they can't complete the sentance without all 3 groups coming together. The sentance is a quote from a well known Oriyan poet about people's strength being for their country. Smiles and murmours all round when the final sentance is constructed.

The Shakti staff have a meeting and I sit with the attendees and watch a Oriyan movie - classic good v evil, retribution across the generations cum love story. Evening meal is served before the group resettle for a documentary movie about the PRIs .  It was great to see the project in action, how eenthusiatic the representatives were, how welcoming they were to me. Everyone is so interested in whereI am from and why I am here.We head home and get back about 9 PM - another long day

Friday 18th December

We are off early this morning for a 3 hr jeep ride to another Livelihood project.This is way up in the Niyamgiri Hills behnd Rayagada.

 The project running their has been in set up various women's self help groups to generate income, encourage savings,and escape the local moneylenders who charge an exhorbitant 5 per month interest on small loans. We are talking here of tens of rupees to a few hundred at the most to see a family through an emergency or over the lean season whilst waiting on crop harvests. A women's lot, as in most rural economies, if not everywhere is a difficult one. In addition to home making and rearing children, they fetch water, make meals, fetch firewood, tend the domestic animals. It is a long day, each day, from sunrise to sunset. All the households in these villages are below the goverment's own recognition of proverty. For such Below Poverty Line households income generation is very hard.  PL is set at 10 rupees per day!

Shakti has helped organise the women from 10 vilages into several groups each of 5-6 women and seeded the group with 2 sewing machines. The women make leaf plates by stitiching broad leaves together. It takes about 5 minutes to make a basic one, which they can sell for 0,30 Rupee each. Each group now has set up bank acoount and is saving. I was proudly shown their machines and their sewing skills by 3 of these groups. Shakti has trained them to sew and in basic maintenance for the  machines and how to mannage their finances to buy spare parts. The next step in the project is to federate these groups to increase their bargaining power with suppliers and traders. A local road side dhaba, food stall, where we ate lunch, is buying their plates for its customers. very ecological friendly, plates are used once and are biodegradable! Their plan is to start a pressing machine to make more styles of plate with a more substantial paper base onto which the leaf is stitched. Such plates command a higher price at market. The women are very proud of their acheivements, rightly so. They showed of their bank books and balances: in some cases the enormous sum of 2500 rupees!

I was introduced to one woman from a neighbouring village who was visiting where we were. She is from the Dongria Kondha tribe and is the star performer of the groups - producing more plates than anyone else. I wish I could have taken photos, but was wary of asking to on first meeting. Her tribe is very very remote and has a very characteristic way of doing the women's hair. They are also covered in jewelry - 3 nose rings, 10-15 earings per ear, metallic spirals in their hair, and a hair grip about the side of a hand, shaped like a small boomerang, made of engraved metal and very very sharp - a weapon really!

The route is about 1 hr on what goes for a normal road here, then about 2 over cross coutry forest track. Some is tarmaced, other parts just bare ground - Ken if you are reading this, it is a bit like the off roading we did in Fiji, but more potholes! In other parts there are fords across streams/rivers which in some places have been bridge but which are no more.

The project staff live out there full time when the projects are underway. It seems it is always difficult to find housing for them and to finance transportation to the villages around the one in which they live. Their living conditions are pretty basic and it is part of the reason why it is proving so hard for Shakti to find the right employees, who have to be graduates in social work, development work or similar or some specific skills set like animal husbandry for a particular project. This particular field office house has 3 rooms, each leading of the previous - the most internal one is a store for the press machines machined below, the middle acts as an office cum bedroom and the entrance room has is a cooking area cum day room. Cooking is over a fire, light is by electricity when available, otherwise by oil lamp. A pretty basic existence.

This project team has one motor cycle and 1 cycle between 4 of them. A motor cycle costs the equivalent of £500 and a cycle costs 3000 Rupees. I am told that a typical project team has a travel allowance of anywhere between 1500- 3000 rupees per month from the donor organisations. Great but they can't spend it on a bike or cycle as it is given as a travel allowance meant for public transport - which of course there is none in these locations, so although it helps in getting to and from the field office and the main office, it helps not one iota towards actually doing the field work in the 10 villages this project covers.  Currently a total of 30 motor cycles are required across all our projects but only 5 are available. At an currently affordable rate of purchase of 1 bike per year, well you can do the maths! If anyone reading has any experience or thoughts on how to get our donor organisations to fund these I'd really like to hear your suggestions. Any of you biking fans like to sponsor a bike for us?

We finally made it home that evening at 9PM. I went to bed extremely tired and very shook about after 6hrs of bouncing around in the jeep meant my arm felt tired and sore, so I slept like a log through to my usual wake up call by the train horns. It has been really good to be able to see some of the projects in the field so soon. I gather many of my fellow volunteers are still hanging around with not much to do yet, waiting on their boss's presence in the office or the office not being prepared for their arrival. in this respect I seem to have come up trumps! I'm being drip fed project reports and information and having a chance to digest this and meet the project team and see the project in action. A good week 2, long may it continue.

Home begins to look more lived in!

Week 2 - part 1

Week 2
Monday 14th December

The SIM hunt proved successful this morning so I now feel better connected to the world again - drop me en email if you want the number.

A “recharge”, as topping up the phone with money is called here, can be done at the local “greasy spoon” breakfast spot. Much amusement this morning as the English Lady, as I hear myself being called, tries to load her newly purchased SIM into her phone with one hand – of course someone helps, everyone is being so nice. Just to give everyone an idea of costs, the SIM cost me 80 rupees, I wonder how long my recharge of 120 rupees will last? - the answer comes back quite quickly – text messages are 5 Rupees each, internatioanl at 15, so the answer is not very long! Looks like the greasy spoon morning pit stop will become a regular haunt. Mr P tells me that once I am registered with the police I can get a proper number in my name rather than this Airtel SIM which is effectively the equivalent of a Pay and You Go number in the UK. Without a bank account paying cash to recharge is the only way to do it for now.

When I got back to the office we are having a all day power cut – my first experience of this regular rural phenomenon in rural India. What does one do? I shall run out of computer battery power in another 30 minutes but have prepared some short emails to tell folks my new telephone number in the hope someone will call to test the connection. Otherwise it will be back to reading Shakti’s annual reports – essential reading, but a bit dry!

Tuesday 15th December

This has been a very long work day. I managed to source some eggs this morning and was really looking forward to omellette for dinner when the day took a completely different turn than I had expected.

The various project teams come into the office once a month for a review of progress and a planning session from the next set of activities. Today I knew that the forest team would be in and I sat in on their review. First they gave me a very full description of the project in English with occassional asides in Oriya, then I sat and listened to my first meeting in Oriya, with a few English side explanations for me. It was totally incomprehensible! But at least I have now heard the song of the language in real use - how can I describe it but a rumbling, rolling cascade of sound full or "r"s, "aw"s, "oochi"s which sounds like one continual sound from which I could only distinguish the occasional "semane"/they, or "apawna"/you. After an afternoon of listening hard and with 6Pm approaching those eggs were very appealing.

But various other folk have now started to arrive, clearly something is happening. It turns out that a second project team has come in as well and we end up in a second project briefing, report and review. This starts at 6PM with nibbles from a local hostelry. This group and very very little English so the meeting is totally in Oriya, with Mr P interspersing some English explanations for me. This project is about livelihood creation in some of the very remotest parts or the district. There is no road access to most of these villages. We finish at 9:30PM, when we adjourn to a local pit stop for dinner- so out with the omelettes and in with chicken and roti. Very nice chicken too!

We pass a stand of water along side the road. The frogs are singing away merrily. Jantu nam ki? I ask. Bengo come the reply - my first new Oriya word not to come from my language book!

But by the time I walk home it is gone 10:30PM and my attempts to unlock the house gates with one hand noisely alerts the landlady who comes to help me in - doesn't one just feel like a helpless invalid when turning a key in a padlock is such a difficult thing to do that continually the landlady or her daughter keep coming to help me get in the gate and into my flat!

Wednesday 16th December

The livelihood meeeting continues, another full day in Oriya. Now don't go thinking I am understanding it ! I fail miserably with everyone's names but they are a great group and are trying to teach me various Oriya phrases. With the invite khana asuchi, I was invited to lunch again at their favorite dinner. They ask me what I eat. It is easiest to say sab (Hindi for all) but the question keeps coming till I recognise one word from a list - machlaw/fish - that will do just nicely thank you. So fish curry for everyone it is. Lovely. By 6PM I'm really tired and excuse myself to go home. The project team is continuing to work on preparing the final draft of their plan for the next month's activities. They have a journey of 3 hrs by bike/6 hours by bus to do, whether tonight or tomorrow morning I do not know. I suspect they stayed last night in the office, probably sleeping on the floor, but I see no signs of bed rolls. I think they will leave very early tomorrow morning.
I take me leave, head home, take a wrong turning in the dark, have to back track so it takes an extra 5-10 minutes to get home. H phones and patiently listens as I rabbit on for about an hour in English, then collapse in to bed.

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!

Sunday 6 December 2009

Visit to Taj Mahal, Agra

Ok so it is one of the top tourist spots in the world but it is a must see for any born again romantic, so we spent last Staturday visiting the Taj Mahal, now one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

The building is itself quite spectacular, made from white, translucent marble, highky decorated and embossed. It was built as a mausoleum by Shah Jahan in memory of his third and favorite wife Mumtaz. It took some 20 years to build and was completed in 1653. It is a conglomerate mix of styles showing influences of Mughal, Persian and Indian architectures. It certainly reminded me of the buildings I saw in Samarkand and some of the Central Asian mosques

The love story behind it is probably a mix of reality and folklore but it is the stuff of great movies and goes thus: Jahan and Mumtaz met as teenagers within the royal court circles but were unable to marry for 5 years until she was 19. The tale is that she played the role of a merchant with a crystal to tell the future for sale which was actually just a sugar sweet, but using this as an excuse to speak to each other he played along with the ruse and bought the "crystal" for lots of money. In this way they both knew that love was reciprocated. Although Jahan had to marry in the intervening time, by all accounts his heart lay solely with Mumtaz, he did have one other child, but eventually he took Mumtaz as his third wife in a true love match. She bore him 14 children only to die in the final childbirth. He was grieve struck, devastated and decided to build a great place for her to rest. The Taj Mahal is her final resting place.

And then of course there is the now infamous pictture of Lady Diana - that bench is now firmly set on the tourist trail and photo opportunities abound with the inevitable long queues to get just that shot, without any hope of having the VIP treatment to get the place to oneself.

How do you like my new fashionable shalwar kemeez?

Jahan himself was ousted from power later and spent the last years of his life in the Red Fort at Agra under house arrest. We visited that building as well on our day away from Delhi. The Red Fort is much more of a military looking building, very different in its style and purpose.

This was our first tourist trip out of Delhi the month we have been here and was a continuation of our experience Indian traffic. We hired cars and drivers for the day - oh so well worth the 10,000 rupees as you will see from the video of parts of our route back. Traffic is hectic, congested in large parts along the 200km route, and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, speeds and directions, human, animal and mechanical! Enjoy the journey.

The Sights and Sounds of the Agra to Delhi road


Friday 4 December 2009

International Volunteer Day Festival of Street Theatre

December 5th is International Volunteer Day and Delhi has a number of events taking place. We'd taken a walk over to the Gandhi Memorial and stumbled across one of these - a festival of Street Theatre  - taking place in its gardens. Various youth and school groups were performing and I managed to video one group of young tennage girls staging a play about female feotocide.

This is a huge issue in India - according to a recent report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) up to 50 million girls are missing from India' s population as a result of systematic gender discrimination. In most countries in the world, there are approximately 105 female births for every 100 males. In India, there are less than 93 women for every 100 men in the population and in sm estates this is much lower.

The accepted reason for such a disparity is the practice of female infanticide in India, prompted by the existence of a dowry system which requires the family to pay out a great deal of money when a female child is married. For a poor family, the birth of a girl child can signal the beginning of financial ruin and extreme hardship.

However this anti-female bias is by no means limited to poor families. Medical diagnostics can detect the baby's sex in the womb and these were reputedly even advertised with catchlines such as spend 600 rupees now and save 50,000 later. The implication is that by avoiding a girl, a family will avoid paying a large dowry on the marriage of her daughter. It is now supposed to be illegal to identify the sex of a unbord child, but of course it still happens. 

On a more positive note, the girls performance we witnessed was  fantastic to see, very open, honest, forthright, dramatic and great to see these young women committed to a cause and enjoying themsleves performing in the open air. A young Indian man also videoing the show came over to me to explain the story the play was telling, you can just about hear you quiet explanation in the background about  two thirds of the way through.

Street Theatre  - Female Foetocide