Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Flatulence, fluffy towels & Fort Kochin

Since my last entry, I have enjoyed a sightseeing adventure which finally felt like I was actually on holiday. Naomi (the other volunteer teacher) and I ventured to Kochin which is within the state of Kerala. We abandoned our teaching duties on Friday lunchtime and headed South to Kochin by car. As per the norm here, we had a driver for the weekend which in my view is the only way to travel (and safely too!) in this country. Having experienced and witnessed driving standards that frankly would result in multiple prosecutions for 'driving without due care and attention' and 'dangerous driving', I was somewhat concerned about the long journey ahead. It was wasted energy because our wonderful driver Abeesh drove so beautifully that those lunatics of which there are many didn't register on my radar at all!

On the way to Kochin and some three hours from the school, we visited an elephant sanctuary in Thissur which cost a staggering 5 rupees to gain entry and a further 25 rupees for the privilege of taking a camera in. That amounts to approximately 25p! There were at least 30 elephants to observe from and the highlight was being given the opportunity to stroke a female elephant called Tara. I must confess that I was a little apprehensive in approaching her and faced with the prospect that she could react badly to my being stood next to her, I was somewhat surprised but largely amused by the biggest burp she let rip. The noise was similar to that of a walrus mating call but fortunately, given my close proximity, it was odourless. I was mightily relieved, otherwise it could have been a very nasty gassing indeed. For a split second I thought I was in Bridget Dassow's company after consuming a can of diet coke! Class!

On leaving Thissur, we endured a further two and a half hours in the car before reaching Willingdon Island, home to the Indian Navy and a relatively short distance from Kochin itself.  We stayed in a positively luxurious hotel compared to my current living arrangements. There was hot water, fluffy towels, a television, a comfortable bed, beer let alone it being cold and varied foods other than curry and rice!!!!! I can confirm that I have not seen or experienced such treats for 9 weeks so it was simply amazing to once again sample such delights! How life becomes so simplistic here and yet back in the UK those items listed above are almost considered essential in the day to day living standards of the Western world!

Saturday was a day spent in paradise aboard a houseboat cruising the Backwaters. We joined the boat in Alleppey late morning and spent the rest of the day and night on board being thoroughly spoilt. A houseboat to ourselves in glorious sunshine, which is a treat during the monsoon season and being waited on hand and foot, life was a struggle. Lunch was a delicious mix of fresh fish and vegetables until the pud was presented. Their famous rice noodle soup arrived on the table and consisted of a grey coloured gloopy liquid similar in appearance to that of paper mache, with what can only be described as bits of spaghetti floating around, sugar, oh and the occasional pistachio nut making a guest appearance! The taste, well frankly it was as disgusting and unappealing as described. In an attempt to discard the soup overboard and prevent any offence caused by leaving a full bowl, I managed to tip the entire contents onto my lap and my prized sunglasses slid off my head and sunk to the bottom of the muddy waters.  However when I asked if there was a net available, I was very surprised to see one of the crew members jump in and after several minutes, my sunnies miraculously reappeared! (God know how he was able to see anything) Most definitely Indian madness and kindness all at once!!!!

Sunday was slightly less eventful - a relatively short drive back to Kochin where a guided tour of the Chinese fishing nets, Fort Kochin, Jew Town and the Dutch Palace took place. Fascinating sights and once again we were extremely fortuitous with gorgeous weather. On the way back to Calicut, we were able to stop off at the LuLu Mall which is the biggest shopping mall in Asia. It didn't disappoint and with all the major brands available it was a much larger version of  Westfields in London. The rest of the day passed off without incident  - a couple of prangs and cars written off by suicidal drivers going about their daily business at 300 mph the wrong way, on the wrong side of the road and probably without a licence but that's the norm here, so nothing out of the ordinary to write home about!

We reached Calicut at around 8pm on Sunday evening a little weary but in great spirits. I feel extremely relaxed and refreshed and ready to kick the kids' asses once again.

Normality is once again upon us and Monday morning slapped me in the face like a big bowl of rice noodle soup. Suddenly immersed into present continuous and simple present tenses was not all that appealing but then being met by bus loads of children with beaming smiles and their charming broken English, how could I remain glum for too long?!!!

As I am writing this, the power has just given out much like the appearance of a lot of the Muslim students who are part way through Ramadan (Holy fasting month). No filling their faces from 0450 until 1850 including all liquids makes for very tired students, colleagues and the Principal and his family. Amazingly there are no short tempers or displays of petulance from food deprivation but perhaps a little less concentration than usual. Frankly they are entitled to be offline during this month and they are certainly a race to be admired! 

I was thrilled to learn of England's victorious performance against the Aussies! The students here are all supporting England so at last there is united front over cricket teams. I am occasionally teased for the ICC Champions Trophy defeat last month but I would still rather beat the Aussies in a test match over a game of pyjama cricket!

Nothing to report on the lavatorial front finally! The main objective during the week is not to get caught short at school but I have pretty much mastered the required fluid intake necessary to survive the day without having to impose myself on the squat bogs. 

Will be in touch again soon - much love to you all 

Luce (Ci Ci) xxx

 Chinese fishing nets - Kochin

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Goodness Gracious Great "Bowels" of fire!

Evening All,
Hope you are well wherever this finds you.

So as the title of this particular entry suggests I finally fell foul of the backdoor trots after a rather unpleasant experience of having a blockage in the old drainpipe. The recurring theme of the last 7 days has most definitely centred around my lavatorial activities which have been either scarce in my attending or panicked runs to the bog!! To experience both extremes within 7 days has been quite extraordinary, pretty uncomfortable and frankly bizarre given that one doesn't associate India with the phrase "when you've gotta go, but your ass says no"! 

Despite these minor difficulties, I am continuing to thrive here at the Apex Public School. Sadly my reputation is based upon my disastrous attempt to speak what little Malayalam I could on that fateful day, but at least students know of me! I have not signed anymore autographs recently but the array of gifts I have so far received are as ever growing. I received a pair of earrings during the week along with yet more flowers to add to my existing spray. 

It hasn't been all about fake flowers and "Lucy Ma'am" as I recently endured a fairly tense encounter with the District Chief of Police, in order to register my visa at a police station, which was about an hour and a half away. What was meant to be a tick box exercise in registering the visa, which is a legal requirement, turned into heart stopping moment when I appeared before the big cheese Chief himself. For a few minutes after being fully interrogated as to the purpose of my stay and why had I chosen India I was told that I would be given the necessary paperwork to be allowed to leave India which only he can authorise. Without such paperwork, I am stranded here and I could also incur a hefty fine for the privilege. Fingers crossed for December! Appearing before the Chief unfortunately triggered the Linington giggles which has a habit of surfacing at the most inappropriate moments. Fortunately the Principal who accompanied me was able to do enough bowing and grovelling to convince him that Miss Linington would not be a suitable permanent fixture. The palpitations intensified at the exact moment when the Principal let slip that I was a lawyer and I thought I was going to be on a very sticky wicket explaining my role as a defence lawyer! My liberty was once again returned to me and I almost ran back to the car before he could change his mind!

As you can see from the photo, the peculiar and obscure foods continue to flow, and on this occasion I was given Jackfruit which was originally surrounded by a semi sweet crunchy exterior with some flesh inside. I ate rather tentatively but its end product has the unfortunate appearance of a Kangaroo penis off  "I'm a celebrity get me out of here!" and left me feeling pretty nauseous I have to say! I won't miss this particular inclusion of one of my five a days come the end!

Last weekend was a real adventure when I ventured into Calicut which is the nearest major city, approximately 30 km away on a bus! With hindsight I am quite glad that my mother has in her possession a copy of my will because I really thought that my the game was up during various points throughout the journey. If you can visualise a bus, (a photo of which is shown within this blog) overtaking at speed not just a car but also an auto rickshaw on a blind bend! It is somewhat surprising that there are not more Formula 1 drivers being discovered and nurtured from here because the dare devil factor is most definitely alive, just rather unfortunate that it happens to be fully demonstrates with 80 passengers on a bus that should clearly only accommodate 50! Combined with the erratic driving, the mood was jolly and colourful with music blaring out and a wide spectrum of colours flashing from the disco lights added for ambience perhaps?! For a 60p round trip it was a thrilling experience, not one I am that keen to repeat but having said that the hysteria and panic is really rather enchanting in many ways!

You have probably noticed a rather unfetching photograph of me dressed partially as an Indian bride, the students here who are boarding close by to the Principal's home thought it would be amusing to dress me up one night after school. I have to say the girls found it highly amusing but having what appears to me like a cowbell stuck across my forehead and a shawl that makes me look like a Jewish refugee, I was not that taken by my new look. Have no fear Gran, I won't be marrying anyone here in India dressed in that "get up"! No one would have me for a start!

Today signified the start of Ramzan which is a 30 day Islamic festival where all Muslims fast from approximately 0450 until 1850. Fortunately I am not expected to partake despite the fact that I am living with devout Muslims but the majority of students at school will be observing this Holy gesture. The timetable in school has been amended to reflect Ramzan and so lessons will be shorter to accommodate sluggish and tired students, understandably! Amazingly the students that board here at the school in actual fact sleep on mats in the library during this month because after supper they are engaged in prayers until 11pm. In the early hours of the morning they are then expected to wake up at 0400 to eat before the fast begins at 0450. The students are literally sleeping on mats and nothing else during this month which for some is the most important academic year of their school lives! Not only that but the parents pay for their children to be educated in this way! The school adopts a strict and disciplined approach and this emphasised in the Principal's stance on corporal punishment! Since I have been here, two male students have been shown the cane for displaying insubordination towards teachers, which I have to say sits rather uncomfortably with me. That said whilst I am a guest here in India I accept the massive cultural differences and actually manage to keep my mouth shut (surprisingly) on such topics. Not sure what I will do if I learn that one of the girls' behaviour gives rise to a beating but hopefully I won't have to consider this particular issue. 

Today has been a fun filled day as there was no school due to a strike across the whole of Kerala. Given that today was the start of Ramzan and knowing that the family would not be feeling too energetic I ventured out to the nearest local village with the other volunteer teacher Naomi. We walked 5 miles whilst managing to avoid cars, auto rickshaws, scooters and cows in search of the shops, only to discover everywhere was shut. The monsoon heavens opened and for a brief time, our day was looking very bleak, until we were approached by two middle aged men who kindly invited us into the nearest RC Church a short distance away. We were given immediate shelter along with tea, cake fruit and biscuits. As such kindness was shown by these two men we gave a small donation before being shown their Church and we eventually headed back to the Principal's home. 
This example does not just demonstrate the kindness shown by Christians but by the Indian people itself. This is so typically Indian and further help was given on our walk home when we once again saw the man from the Church who invited us back to meet his family. We politely declined and then with the help of some other men we were able to get an auto rickshaw in torrential rain back to the Principal's home. Without such help we would undoubtedly had to suffer a soaking wet long walk back. 

What I have already learnt from my two months here is that generosity and hospitality extends to everyone. Indians are warm hearted, caring and keen to please. They symbolise kindness and sincerity that simply cannot be found in abundance in the the UK. 
Safe to say that for the first time in eighteen months I feel content and happy in my life. Of course I miss dear friends and family but the simplicity of life here suits me and ironically I am much happier here in India than I ever was in London.

Sending you all lots of love 

Luce (CiCi) xxx