Saturday, 30 November 2013

Lots of Pavement Pizzas and Tea!

Several weeks have past since my last blog entry and yet it feels like months given the madness that goes on daily!

On the first of November, a special celebration was held to mark the discovery of Kerala. The whole school embraced this memorable occasion by hosting a fantastic exhibition provided by some of the students and teachers. The different types of food, dress, agriculture, religions and traditions were proudly displayed. Female teachers were requested to wear saris and the men were invited to wear the traditional 'lungi'. This is a long piece of cloth similar to tea towel material and worn like a bath towel around the waist (instead of trousers). For the second time in seven months, I subjected the children and my fellow colleagues to another visual assault by wearing the Kerala sari which is CREAM with a coloured border! Typically, it was an absolute scorcher with humidity once again hitting around 96% along with a temperature of 31/32 degrees. Those conditions are bad enough to suffer in normal clothing but when wearing 5 metres of fabric wrapped tightly around one's body it was a real challenge not to become a serious contender for the wet t-shirt competition or to look like an incontinent old lady. I was, however, extremely pleased to overcome the concern of being able to spend a penny and achieved success without any unfortunate or additional unwanted sari decorations. Infact when I returned from the delightful squat bog I was quick to announce this to the whole of my staff room only to be met with a rather forced laugh and perplexed look. It was quite an anticlimax not being offered a high five!

Not only is the 'lav' a problem area but so too was the challenge of eating breakfast in a canteen that I have more suitably renamed as "The Zoo". I say this because in addition to the students, there are 6 stray cats along with 3 kittens, crows, cockroaches and the occasional rat occupying the very area that food is prepared in and served from. It won't surprise you to learn that parents are NOT permitted to enter the canteen under any circumstances as quite frequently we are surrounded by and dodging the lavatorial remains of the 9 cats roaming freely. I am well renowned for shooing the cats off the tables with a jug of water and yet this is described by some students as English madness! In this instance I would love to expose the Health And Safely Executive to such an environment for them to assess the 'shit pit' this canteen has become! It is a miracle that there aren't cases involving serious illness reported from this school on a daily basis! Furthermore, whilst contending with the skanky environment and remembering that only the right hand is used, I was sat right on the edge of my chair trying to troff chicken curry and rice without spilling all over my cream shroud and treading in cat splat. This was all before 0915!

The day was made all the more enjoyable by the arrival of Jo who is the latest volunteer teacher to join this madness. Jo is 30, from Brighton and is on my wavelength entirely. We get on extremely well and she is a very welcome edition to my Indian life!

After those sorts of days, the necessity and desire to enjoy a cold beer or glass of plonk is pretty intense. In choosing Kerala, I thought I had done particularly well given that this state has the highest consumption of alcohol in India. That was certainly a bonus ball or so I thought but trying to locate the 'giggle juice' has proved as tricky as finding an Indian who doesn't wobble their head during conversation! We conducted a thorough search in many restaurants and shops in the nearest main city but the mere mention of alcohol was considered as distasteful as making the announcement of becoming an atheist in this entirely secular country! One of my fellow colleagues who has become a close and dear friend, has kindly provided me with a bottle of homemade wine which tastes exactly like the smell of petrol and burns all the way down, but it definitely does the trick! Sometimes the edge needs to be taken off a day of incessant demands of "ma'am, ma'am, ma'am" and that's just one student! I feel like I'm living in the days of Al Capone and the alcohol prohibition when the Principal and his family are totally forbidden from smelling alcohol let alone consuming it or possessing it and so storing my prized bottle of 'rotgut' in my knicker drawer might not be as overdramatic as it sounds.

One thing I have noticed during my time here is that the Indians love to go on strike and since May there have been numerous days wasted, where Kerala has simply shut down for the day. A classic example of this was illustrated recently when a bus strike was announced with immediate effect. The majority of staff here rely on such a method of transport and so panic set in. As my female colleagues were seen running down the road in their beautiful saris holding them off the floor and flagging down any bus that was operating, I couldn't help laughing. The buses were overflowing to such an extent that the men were literally dangling out of the bus with no platform beneath their feet, holding on for dear life with the doors held back.  It was just like a scene out of a gripping action film! Whoever let go was going to receive nasty injuries without a doubt but somehow and with great fortune that didn't happen.

Talking about buses, we had the most amusing experience recently when we were invited to Ooty, a beautiful hilltop station famous for producing tea, cardamom and chocolate! The day trip was arranged by the same family who had taken me to Mysore and therefore I knew it would be nonstop madness, I was not wrong. The day began at 0500 where we started the 4 hour journey to the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. We travelled on a minibus big enough for our group of 23 liberated women. The bus turned into a disco on wheels. Lights of all colours of the rainbow were flashing inside and on the outside of the vehicle and the music was booming like a Ibiza nightclub! Then the dancing began like an Indian festival with screaming and shrieking like nothing on earth. Those who know me well will appreciate that I don't do early mornings at all and may laugh at the image of me sat there with a face like thunder, totally monosyllabic and sporting the Linington scowl. The mood was somewhat dampened (but not for long) by a rather unfortunate case of travel sickness by one of the few children present. After the long journey we arrived in a picturesque, clean and pretty town where we enjoyed a boat ride on the lake and the highlight for me was visiting a tea factory. It was noticeably colder than Kerala with a maximum temperature of 18 degrees. Such was the reduction in temperature that for only the second time since my arrival, I wore my jumper! How will I cope returning in the middle of an English winter? The tea factory was fantastic and the overpowering but pleasant smell of fresh tea leaves was very welcome indeed. We were able to sample the delicious chocolate on offer which was nowhere near the standards of Cadburys back in the UK, but it was certainly the tastiest I've had here. Thereafter we enjoyed a visit to the Botanical Gardens but yet again we were the focus of attention with the normal stare and " excuse me ma'am what is your good name please?"

The long journey home was sadly dominated by projectile vomit after the same poor person from the first leg was violently sick on the return and consequently this triggered others off. The disco bus has since became fondly known by us as the "Vomit comet" particularly as one of the bus drivers was leaning his whole body out of the bus in order to paint the town green red orange and pink!
Poor guy wasn't just driving his bus but also the porcelain bus which saw 10 different individuals bearing their guts to the world!

Aside from that, it was a great day and I absolutely loved Ooty. It was certainly a day that I shall never forget!!!

The same family who were kind enough to take us to Ooty are intent on keeping me here in India after making the serious offer of searching for a marriage proposal. It was a pretty awkward conversation in politely declining such kindness but there are no limits to which these people won't try and help.

So in enjoying my last few weeks I will try not to be married off and return only as Miss Linington but I am in India and anything can happen so watch this space!

Wishing you well wherever this finds you

With love to all family and friends

Luce (CiCi)

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