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Dec 12th, 2005 by teragram

Today is the kind of day that makes you want to crawl under a rock, but there are none available. Besides, no rock-hiding helps you crawl out of your own head, which is what you really want to do.

I woke up at 2 in the afternoon, because I’d stayed up so late. Not doing anything useful, mind you, playing a computer game. A game which I would be sorely tempted to return to if the internet weren’t down. The internet went down just as I realised I’d been charged for a service I didn’t receive, and may not be able to get my money back. So, not only am I down $12, but I still have to organise the service.

Add to this that today was supposed to be my grand return to work after two weeks of guilty slacking, and you begin to see why my stomach is in a bit of a knot, and I’d quite like to crawl out of my own head. All this is of course leading to a wonderful indeciveness – should I go finish my Christmas shopping? should I try to get some work done? – which is, in turn, feeding my lovely stomach knot.

I’m also a bit nervous about going home. I’m excited, very much so, but I have these niggling worries. Am I going to spend the whole three weeks running around trying to see as many people as possible, never spending enough time with anyone, and come back to India with a feeling that I didn’t see everyone? Am I going to bore myself, telling the same story 15 times until I don’t really want to talk to the 16th person at all? Will I freak out from reverse culture shock? Who will do my laundry? Okay, scratch that last one.

I think the chances of me getting any work done in this mood are slim. Perhaps some retail therapy will cheer me up. And having the Christmas shopping done will allow me to check one more thing off my todo list. That always relaxes me, in an OCD kind of way.

Tg – flicking that light switch on and off for your sake.

Piercing shrieks of American feminine joy
Dec 8th, 2005 by teragram

Not what you want to be woken by at 3am. And they’re still going! It’s 4:30. I have a suspicion that some of them are from The Company, which is very embarassing. They don’t seem to realise that their voices are echoing around the courtyard. When C yelled across to them they either didn’t hear, or didn’t care.

C just left for Mumbai (yes, at 4:30am) for a gruelling day trip. He’ll be back tonight, poor thing. B missed her flight home, in a very embarassing time-zone confusion. At least I have another day to enjoy her company. B is great. She’s so Irish; she’s actually given me a real hankering for home. We’re going to see Harry Potter tomorrow, I mean today.

Hmm. The Americans have shut up. I wonder if someone knocked on their door? No, their balcony door is still open, and they lights are on. I guess it’s just that none of them feel like a smoke right now.

Tg – not as sleepy as I want to be

Daring adventurer, me
Dec 6th, 2005 by teragram

On Sunday I did a very brave thing. I got on a public bus. It was only because B (who’s going home tomorrow *sniff*) was so enthusiastic and brave about it that I was willing to do it. I’ve seen those buses go by, stuffed so full that I’m surprised people can breath. I’ve also seen what constitutes the bus ‘stopping’ to let people on and off. Somehow B convinced a colleague who is at least a local, if not a Hyderabadi, to come with us on our excursion. He didn’t really get it. He kept trying to tell us that the buses were horrible, without realising that that was sort of the point.

So having refused his repeated suggestions of using a car, and hoping we had given our driver the slip, we went out to the bus stop. The other people waiting were surprised, the auto rickshaw drivers were hopeful, and our driver – whom we had indeed failed to give the slip – was shocked and confused to see us at the bus stop. Ch (the Indian colleague) explained as best he could that we would be back soon.

Having been passed by many express buses, and watched many non-express buses go by on the other side, we decided to take an auto to the next stop, get a bus from there, and then get an auto back to the hotel where our driver was waiting. An enterprising auto driver had spotted us at the stop, and despite our protestations that we were waiting for the bus, he had stopped just ahead of the stop and waited patiently. I suspect he was disappointed that our Indian friend came with us, and that we went such a short way.

Finally our bus came. We got on, and laughed ourselves silly. The locals were very accomodating, and slightly amused. They certainly didn’t seem to mind. We found out once we got off the bus, that Ch should not in fact have gotten on at the front with us. Hyderabadi buses are segregated – men at the back, women at the front – but the women who spoke to him when we got on were satisfied with his explanation as to why he was at the front with us. So we went one stop and got off. We got another auto back to the Taj, back into our semi-permeable bubble of privilege.

Speaking of which, I’m getting a suit tailored! I’ll be picking it up before we leave for home, so you’ll all get to see it at Christmas.

Oh, the idea of Christmas dinner is making my mouth water.

Your pavlovian correspondent,
Tg

Short and sweet
Nov 27th, 2005 by teragram

Good news on the library! The bookshelves are going to cost a lot less than expected. The remainder of last month’s money is going to go into a World Aids Day event that’s being run to educate local kids about AIDS. Then on Friday R (who introduced me to the Freedom Foundation) and I will go to the educational toys shop. I am pleased!

Tg

Send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance.
Nov 19th, 2005 by teragram

I am back!

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted. Several factors have conspired to keep me from updating: 1) my holiday (see below) 2) our ultra-dodgy Internet connection went down for a whole week 3) I’ve developed an addiction to a computer game that is eating up all my free time. Do not start playing World of Warcraft unless you have very strong will-power.

I’m sitting writing this entry in my brand new rocking chair. It rocks! (*snigger*) I bought it in a very non-whitey part of Hyderabad, surprisingly close to our apartment. The driver first tried to fit it in the car, but there was no way that was happening. After much to-ing and fro-ing, the shop owner agreed to bring it in his little mini-truck. I was standing by my car the whole while, standing out like a big white thumb. At a nearby food-stall there was a little girl sitting by her mother. She stared, aghast, and pointed at me. She poked her mother and clearly said something like “what is that?” Her mother was very amused, and I looked at both of them and grinned. The look of disbelief was so sweet. She must have kept pointing for at least five minutes. But, you know, it’s an interesting thing about India: you get quite a bit of amusment and interest and just plain awe, but it’s all extremely good-natured. I’ve felt more unwelcome in parts of Europe than I ever have here.

So the holiday was wonderful. As I said, we didn’t go to Delhi. There were five of us, and some people weren’t comfortable going there after the bombing. It worked out well though, because the trip we did do was so packed, I’m not sure many of us would have had the energy for Delhi. We went to Jaipur (this time to the city itself) and Agra. Our hotel was great, except the breakfast. We only tried it once. C and I bit into our pancakes and at exactly the same time said “don’t eat the pancakes” or rather “momth eaf fe phamphaketh”. They were rank. Imagine eating an oily dish-sponge, and you have some idea what these pancakes were like. The toast was only slightly less disgusting, so breakfast for me was a glass of juice.

We spent the first day doing the sites of Jaipur and saying ‘no’ to hawkers. C got very good at that, by the end of the day. We hadn’t expected to have a guide, and I hadn’t expected to be shuffled through a bunch of forts. (If we fell behind the unexpected guide actually clapped at us, and said “this way”. That’s not the way I like to see sites.) But it was enjoyable. He brought us to two different shops, and the contrast between them was amazing. The first was like a huge warehouse where we were guided around by a man with a horrible voice. It was hugely over-priced, and there was no way we could browse; the attendants were ready to pounce at any sign of interest.

The second shop was inside the city palace of Jaipur. They still have a Maharaja there, though he doesn’t have any actual power. But he has set aside one area of the palace for artists to sell their wares. The quality was much higher, the price was much better, and as a special bonus you didn’t get the sense that everything you were looking at had been produced by small children in a dark factory. As I said, the contrast was stark.

That first night was Diwali, a really big festival all over India (many of the festivals tend to be quite local). We went to the Bazaar in Jaipur and just walked around. There were so many people, and so much light (Diwali is the festival of lights). We took an autorickshaw back to the hotel. I’ll post a short video soon.

We spent the second day driving to and from the Taj Mahal. It was a long way to go. It is pretty amazing, but it’s sort of too large to grasp, if that makes sense. I felt like I was looking at the Taj Mahal on TV most of the time. The marble work really is incredible though.

Photos are on http://www.flickr.com/photos/meaigs/

Now, back to World of Warcraft ….

Tg

Travel update
Oct 31st, 2005 by teragram

So, after recent events, we’ve decided to exclude Dehli from our plans. We’re leaving for our flight to Jaipur in about half an hour, but I thought I’d update you before we head off, in case any of you were worried.

Till Thursday …

Tg

Now that I’m older, subspace is colder
Oct 26th, 2005 by teragram

Progress is pretty good on the library. I talked to an educational-toys supplier yesterday, and have formulated the first stages of a plan. C and I have also decided a budget. I’m going to spend this month’s allocation on furniture (bookshelves and so on), next month’s on educational toys and wall hangings, then three month’s money on children’s books, and finally a month’s allocation on some books for the adults. I’m going to try and meet the manager again soon so I can talk to him about space, the adults’ reading capabilities, and how he would feel about me including some Bibles (in Hindi, Telugu and English). I’m also considering including some tapes and a tape-player.

Please mail or comment with your ideas/suggestions/thoughts.

My work situation has improved dramatically in the last couple of weeks. Not only do I see a light at the end of the tunnel (I will finish – some day) but I’m actually starting to enjoy learning this stuff! Miracle of miracles. I have a long way to go, but it has gotten to the stage where I’m explaining things to C and losing him, while still understanding myself. This could either be a very good thing (I understand more about my PhD than my husband does) or a very bad thing (I’m actually talking a whole load of nonsense). Let’s be optimistic though, eh?

As part of the aforementioned budget, we’ve included extra savings and a good chunk for travelling. This month we’re going to spend the latter on a trip to Delhi, Agra (to see the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur. Yes, we did visit Jaipur on our last trip, but we spent all our time in luxury hotels, so we didn’t get to see much of the Pink City itself. The three cities form a sort of triangle, and we’ve been told that they make a good trip as a group. Next Tuesday is Diwali which is a very important festival here. This year, it happens to fall in the same week as Idu’l Fitr (the end of Ramadan or – as it’s called in India – Ramzan). Basically, what it comes down to is that by taking two days off C doesn’t have to go into work next week. Yay!

On a less positive note, I have become mosquito food again recently. These are even itchier than they look:

nasty mosquito bites

Which reminds me. I finally got our camera fixed. Thus I can supplement my prose with pictures. Such as these of a beautiful menu (those are pressed flowers) and the beautiful restaurant it belongs to.

Our place - menu

Our place - view

Tg

Oct 20th, 2005 by teragram

Only South Africa has more people living with HIV [than India does]“. Andra Pradesh (of which Hyderabad is the capital) is one of the hardest hit areas. In some villages in northern Andra Pradesh, there is at least one person living with HIV/AIDS per household. AIDS carries an extreme stigma here. I read yesterday about a HIV positive woman who couldn’t find a doctor to treat her during her pregnancy. The article didn’t say it, but that may have made the difference between her child getting or not getting HIV. The article was about charlatans who are selling “AIDS cures” to uneducated people. Not only are they preventing people from seeking the right treatment, but these “cures” often involve strict diets which actually serve to make the symptoms worse.

The Freedom Foundation is one organisation working for people with HIV/AIDS here and in Bangalore. I visited them on Tuesday.

They do have adult residents, and they have a clinic every day where people can come for treatment while they’re well enough to live at home, but that’s not what I saw. I was hanging out with the twenty or so HIV+ children who live there. The youngest is 3, the eldest is about 12, I think. Some of them have mental disabilities caused by the neurological effects of the disease. One little girl was too sick to get up, and just watched from her bed. She looked like an AIDS patient. She can’t have been more than 6 years old, but her little body is clearly being ravaged by the “worm inside”. That’s how the younger children understand their situation. The Freedom Foundation make a point of being as clear to the kids as they can. They know that there is a “worm inside” which makes them sick. When they get older, if they get old enough, all the transmission methods will be explained to them. But for now they know that if they get cut they must go immediately and tell one of the staff.

The boys are mostly boisterous, as boys are. They’re fascinated by digital watches and things that make beeping sounds. Many of the girls just wanted to sit on my knee, or climb on my back. One little girl never spoke while I was there. I picked her up a couple of times, and she really seemed to appreciate it, but she had this blank look in her eyes that hinted at some terrible experiences. I watched her stare blankly in the direction of the cricket game the boys were playing and my heart broke to realise that she would probably not reach the age of ten.

They’re just normal children who want to play silly repetitive games, who want a hug, and want to go in the swing. They’re just normal children, but they’re dying.

I spoke at length with the manager about what the Freedom Foundation does, their future plans and their needs. Apparently some recent contributions from a large Christian charity (he couldn’t remember the name exactly) means that they are not in dire need of food and medicine any more. I asked how I could help, and he gave some suggestions.

I’ve wanted to find some way I can contribute that makes sense in the short time that I’ll be here. It would feel weird to make regular contributions until April, and then stop when our financial situation changes again. But one of his suggestions struck a chord with me. He’d really like to have a library for the children, with a selection of books recommended by someone with educational experience. So I’ve decided to set that as a goal, by the time I leave, I want to have a fully stocked library set up there. I’m going to an educational bookshop on Monday, to discuss what I should be stocking in the library, and I’m going to do a budget to see how much we can afford to spend on it.

If you pray, I’d appreciate your prayers for this endeavour.

Tg

Firangis try out desi steps
Oct 11th, 2005 by teragram

(Foreigners try out local steps).

That’s the headline underneath a photo of me in today’s Deccan Chronicle, a local newspaper. You can see the photo here (197 KB). Beside me is D, a colleague of C’s. We were snapped while dancing at a festival on Sunday night called Navaratri with a big group from The Company.

The costumes we’re wearing in the photo are traditional Ghagra Cholis. We got them in a local “crafts village” called Shilparamam. The lady we bought them off was lovely, but hadn’t a word of english. She would just patiently explain things in her own language (Hindi? Gujarati? I don’t know) until we understood. She obviously liked us, because when her colleague suggested a price, she waved her hand dismissively and divided it by three. I was really pleased to find a cotton, traditional Ghagra Choli after looking at manky polyester ones the day before. I did see some nice modern ones, but they were an unbelievable 100 yoyos.

The festival was absolutely incredible! Thousands of people dancing around in concentric circles for hours. I wish I’d danced for a bit longer. I stopped to conserve my energy for the Dandiya raas (stick dance), but after waiting several hours for it we gave up and went home. When someone asked me to move from the main group and join the smaller one near our seats, I assumed I was getting in the way and annoying the locals. I’m pretty sure now that it was so someone could take pictures of the strange firangi in traditional clothes :). I was also asked to “address the media”. As if I haven’t done enough of that in my time! Lots of people from the The Company joined in (including C). So maybe we were on TV too!

Tg

Maharani for a weekend
Oct 4th, 2005 by teragram

The holiday we have just come back from was so wonderful that I’m finding it hard to describe. C had carefully planned the weekend to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary. I knew we were going away, but all of the details were a surprise. And what a surprise!

We took a flight to Jaipur on Friday afternoon. There was a driver waiting at the airport to bring us to the Samode Haveli hotel. We were greeted with garlands of roses and glasses of sweet lime juice. The courtyard had a series of small fountains flowing into one another, and small ponds with fish and water lilies. Our room was enormous with a high ceiling, and portraits of Indian nobility. The shower was bigger than some bathrooms I’ve been in.

I think it was in the courtyard, while we were eating our delicious selection of Rajasthani food, that I was saying how beautiful the hotel was, when C responded with “you ain’t seen notin’ yet”. And I hadn’t!

In the morning I expected that we would spend some time visiting Jaipur and head to our second destination after lunch. (By now I knew that we were staying somewhere else for the second and third nights). I was surprised when C was enthusiastic to go straight to the other hotel, but as soon as we arrived at the Samode Palace I understood why.

It is literally a palace, beautifully maintained. We were escorted up two flights of stone stairs into the first, and then the second courtyard. After checking in we were shown to our room, the King’s room, the only one in the hotel with a private jacuzzi.

The first evening we took a camel “safari” through the town of Samode out to a sand dune. The town is part of the original palace grounds, and seems to be thriving. Thanks in large part, I’m sure, to the hotel. During the camel ride we saw what looked like wild boar, wandering the streets of the town. The children were genuinely excited to see us, though I wondered if some had been trained to shout “hello” to potential customers. They waved and shouted. I was followed by one young boy who kept asking for “just one pen”. For some reason I hadn’t brought any pens with me. We were met on the dune by staff of the nearby Samode Bagh hotel who served us tea and coffee as we watched the sun go down.

After relaxing in our jacuzzi to ease the camel-consequences, we went to the terrace for dinner. They had layed out a traditional low-table, and we sat on cushions. We had the whole terrace to ourselves, though we did get some curious looks from suites that faced onto it. If I had been in a room and they on the terrace, I would have looked :).

The first course was quite possibly the best soup I’ve ever tasted. Tomato and basil, with some Indian seasoning. The second was what they called a “barbeque”. That’s an unfortunate name, because it conjurs images of badly-cooked, smokey meat (for me, anyway). In fact it was extremely tasty and cooked to perfection. We just didn’t have room for the third course, a selection of rajasthani dishes in little metal bowls. But we made sure to taste each of them :). We had a bottle of the local red wine with the meal. I don’t drink much wine any more, but it was so good we had it again the next night. We topped it all off with some lassi – a yoghurt drink. Again, I’m not big into yoghurt, but this lassi was yummy.

As we were on our way to the meal, one of the staff had asked for our key. We assumed that they were going to clean the room or something, but as we were eating (and discussing how unbelievably wonderful this hotel was) we noticed some candles being lit on our balcony. Shortly after our key was returned to us, the candles blew out. Soon after that someone came and asked for the key back again. By the time we finished the meal it hadn’t come back, so we decided to head on up to the room, and see what they were up to.

The whole room – and it was a big room – was now candle-lit. They had put rose petals on the bed, and in the jacuzzi! There were more candles on the balcony and around the jacuzzi. It was so beautiful. We must have stayed out there for hours.

Lunch the next day was in the Samode Bagh hotel, which is set in beautiful gardens. We knew we’d be having a big dinner that night, so we had a light lunch. Then we walked around the grounds a little. They have converted some old military accommodation into “tents” for guest accommodation. They give the illusion of being in a tent without giving up the advantages of having walls (and a bathroom, for that matter). They also have a beautiful swimming pool – original to the 150 year old garden buildings.

On our last night we had dinner on our balcony. Again, the food was unbelievably good. I can’t begin to describe the atmosphere. We spent the whole evening – no, the whole weekend – blissed out. After the meal we moved to the sun chairs on the outer balcony. Looking up, we realised that there was a pair of pidgeons roosting on our light. It was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen, the two of them nestled together, their silouette forming a love-heart shape.

As we were finishing our wine there was a fireworks display. It wasn’t for us, but after the weekend we had just had, it felt like it was.

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