This blog skips the travel log because life is moving on apace and there have been a lot of big changes here on the ground in India.
For those of you who wish to follow my journey to Varanasi and on through Rajasthan you will find this towards the end of the blog.
By now I should be due to start my teaching role with the team in Hyderabad. I had always planned to spend a short time in Kerala before this to recover from the exertions of the tour and experience of many new things in adjusting to the Indian way of life. so today finds me on my last day in Varkala, a beach resort on southern Kerala.
Instead of departing for Hyderabad I shall be returning to Berhampur, in the State of Odisha, a very poor state on the east edges of India boarding the Bay of Bengal. I had spent a week there earlier visiting the NGO “Love the One” who care for a child I have supported for the last 2 years..
While I was there Samyi ( full name Sammyaswari) had her 6th birthday. The school and preschools always make a big thing of children’s birthdays, to help the children feel valued and often this the only opportunity for the occasion to be marked. Because in such a poor society birthdays are not significant, or the date often is not known because the birth was never registered ! We also celebrated Republic day (26th Jan.) The school held a parade and lots of speeches were given and dancing displays, some composed by the children themselves. Watch out “Strictly … ” here comes serious competition. At the end there were was prize giving – it appears that virtually every child gets a prize, there was even a prize for tidying the classroom and a best hat prize for the little ones? I was asked to perform the prize giving in a full sari costume .
Sorry the photo would@t download !
I got to home on the school bus with Samyi to meet her family who live in a small 2 roomed single storey house, with very few possessions but so hospitable and thankful for their meager daily existence. It made me feel very humble and small.
Love the One is making a positive impact working in the community not only providing quality education, but to be a place where the children can learn through play and self direction. Not by rote and beatings as is found in the state schools even today this is common place. In the state of Odisha there’s a high level of child abuse and domestic violence in all its forms and Love the One are working with their local staff and parents to change attitudes and build trusting relationships with the wider community. The school children’s happy smiling faces bears witness to the fun and sense of self-worth they are gaining by attending.
Some of the children’s stories are pitiful. They have been burnt, scalded for minor misdemeanours or perceived disobedience or maimed or malnourished to assist their parent in begging. Those born with an obvious physical disability are often left to die or hidden away at home for fear of shame being brought on the family. These undiscovered children often come to light when the medical team headed by the two directors and qualified pediatricians, Cat and Mary set up local outreach clinics in the villages or go into the homes to meet the families. They are then invited to attend the special needs learning centre where physiotherapy can be taught and the children receive stimulation and the parents given love and care. Many are single women abused,deserted or widowed, some only in their late teens my heart goes out to them in their struggles as life is hard enough as a couple let alone when ostracised and poverty-stricken. Frequently the organisation is creative in making jobs for the parents so they can be on hand for their children rather than working long hours in heavy manual employment as farm labourers or hod carriers in the blistering heat of Odisha. Yes it is already climbing into the upper F 80 s 33-35 degrees. and this is only spring !
Please take a moment and view to amazing website of Love the One ……www.lovetheone.org
So I left Berhampur with reluctance, promising my hosts that I would return at the end of my time of teaching in Hyderabad.
So what changed my mind …….? Simply a strong message from my heavenly Father to say that Berhampur was where He wanted me.
I arrived in Hyderabad determined to settle in and enjoy my time there and give it my usual enthusiastic approach to any given situation. However, so much on the ground there had changed in the immediate time before my departure to India. The single lady I had been due to share a flat with in the city had returned to the USA on sick leave and wasn’t due back for a least 6 months. I now found myself sharing an all-be- it large villa with 4 adults and 6 children aged 2-17 years of age Much as I like children I also need my own head space and a little peace so found myself retreating to the bedroom vacated by my absent co-worker. I am thankful for her lovely comfy bed, a soft mattress is a rarity in India as many budget tourists will know. The families live in a gated elite community a long distance from the city, and not the local community I was hoping to join. The journey into the city took 30 -40 mins. through heavy traffic and could only be undertaken by scooter or Uber taxi a very expensive alternative on a daily basis. I did not relish the first option of taking my life in my hands and risking Indian driving habits. Where no one stops at red lights or signals, they just honk their horn to forewarn you of their approach !!
When I visited the language school and was introduced to the curriculum and heard the teaching levels expected I knew I was out of my comfort zone however much effort I put in.
So, after a great deal of soul-searching and praying I spoke to the team leader and expressed my reservations. He was most gracious and said it was good to be honest because as he put it.” India is hard enough , it will drain you , and if you are not convinced that this is the right placement you won’t thrive or serve well” I spoke to my UK sending base and my church leadership about being released they all agreed it would be for the best. At this point Love the One leaders contacted me to say they wanted me to return and take up a role with them and they had accommodation organised. friends and church leaders give this their blessing and feel it is a better fit for my skills and passion of nurturing and empowering others.
On Wednesday I fly to Bhubaneswar where I am to be picked up at the airport for the 2 hour journey to Berhampur. A little roof top flat above the newly rented guest house is awaiting me . Sheer BLISS….. after 3 months of ” homelessness” since moving out of my cottage in Oct.( no offence meant for those who kindly gave me a roof.) Somewhere that I can make and relax with a cup of tea when ever I like.. aaaahh. It’s the small things you miss most when away from home.
More news will follow once I have settled and begun to work in a voluntary role which will be made clear in the coming days. Keep praying for safe travel -2 more flights this coming week. Pray for the remaining team in Hyderabad,we meet on Monday or Tuesday,when I pick up my additional luggage. Pray for their work among the students that they forge positive relationships. Lastly thoughts for my family back in England, its been as much of a roller coaster for them as for me. I thank them and friends for all the support I have received.
CONTINUED travel log. Leaving Delhi behind with it’s traffic congestion, smog and chill in the air. Janet and I fly east to Varanasi, a Hindu city straddling the Ganges river. A sacred place where devout Hindu pilgrims come to die. Their bodies are wrapped in a shroud and placed on funeral pyres where the sandalwood logs are burned on the ghats beside the river each day. Each evening Hindu ceremonies take place there to honour the Gods and the dead. This involves the use of incense and fire, the giving of offerings of flower petals and much chanting and bell ringing.
It is a sight which has not changed for hundreds of years.It was an eerily melancholic scene as the winter mists hovered over the river as we took a boat ride one early morning. Listening to the chants of worshippers and clinking of bells drifting out of the gloom made me realise how temporal life is and how vital it is to value each day as a blessing.
I felt Varanasi was a brooding place. It was sombre, possibly my mood influenced by the weather. I have never before seen so many cows in one city. they are sacred so wander freely thus vehicles and people manoeuvre around them in very confined narrow alleys and very crowded roads . Our hotel even had a cattle grid at its entrance !
Following our stay in Varanasi we flew on to Khanjaroo famed for its World Heritage site containing many temples. These are covered with erotic carvings, a sight to behold.
I shall only publish the most discreet and hopefully non offensive photos.
We enjoyed an evening sound and light show set in the grounds. It retold the history of the region and was very amusing for it’s corny voice overs delivered with such dramatic effect. At the hotel I experienced my first Indian puppet show and was mesmerised by the artistry and young musicans.
Leaving Khanjuroo…….. we took a 3 hour drive to the railway station to pick up our train to Agra. A ride on the extensive Indian railways are a must for any intrepid traveller
The 3 hour journey is punctuated by regular sellers of chai, sweets, and other services making their way along the carriage. Included in our fare was an in-service meal consisted of at least 6 small tin foil containers., filled with curry rice and veg. a paratha as well as a sweet fruit yoghurt. All washed down with a strange tasting tropical fruit drink which I did not recognise. It rivals anything served on a top airline in flight meal.
Our sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal did not disappoint. It doesn’t matter how many pictures of this iconic building one has seen, nothing quite prepares you for the sheer beauty of the marble structure as the first rays of sunlight hit.
As the sun rose the Taj turned from a glistening white to a golden hue. Right on cue the mists rolled in from the river and the mausoleum appeared ethereal as if floating in mid-air. close up the sheer beauty and artistry of the decoration leaves the viewer incredulous.
we spent the afternoon relaxing on the hotel roof top by the infinity pool with a distant view of the Taj Mahal on the skyline.
Our next destination was Jaipur with its magnificent Pink fork sitting astride a nearby hillside. An elephant ride took us up to the entrance. My second such experience in less than a year and it served to confirm my dislike of the lurching nature of this mode of transport and the demeaning use of such an intelligent animal.I have pledged it to be my last, moreover I shall seek to support Indian agencies which aim to protect them from expoiltation
.The pink fort is an amazing sight for its sheer size The Palace of winds and the opulence of its interior is breath taking.
Our our tour continued with stops in Bijapur, staying at a 16th century castle in the countryside. Having a jeep ride where we were shown a field of opium poppies and an evening cookery demonstration by the lake where we were joined by the heir to the castle were all wonderful experiences.
the castle where we stayed as guests of the current tribal ruler.
The last stage of the tour before being flown back to Delhi was 2 days in Udaipur. This was a real delight as we stayed at a very plush hotel within the maharaja’s palace right on the lakeside. For anyone visiting the city I should recommend the Palace museum a beautiful building and full of interesting insights into the history and culture of Rajasthan.
More Hindu temple visits and a boat trip, relaxing by the pool meant time passed very pleasantly.
All too soon we were back a Delhi airport our point of entry on this fascinating adventure. This time, Janet is dropped off at the international and me at the domestic terminals. She to fly back to Heathrow and myself to carry on my exploration and love affair with India, it’s people and their joys and struggles, it’s craziness and its dynamism…. so what is around the next corner?
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