29.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

My Sunday began with a lie-in, as usual, but the rest of the day was not at all relaxing; as I’d been out on Saturday, I’d not heard the news of the terrible earthquake in Nepal until I went to Shruti’s apartment to pick up a letter from my parents. I’ve already made a post on this, but the news shook me a lot; I stayed there for a while to watch the English news on the earthquake. The fact that I am geographically so close to the disaster area really hit home just how vulnerable this part of the world is, and how easily I could have been in a similar situation to the thousands who are dead, injured or missing.

However, it was lovely to receive a letter from my parents; the week-long wait is a bit better than the two weeks it usually took for post to reach me in America when I was there last summer! Mum really does like to write letters; I suppose it’s a fragment of light in her dull life without me… (Joking, Mother!) Took me a while to write back, as usual! Always feel a bit guilty getting my mum’s letters; they’re so detailed and I’m really rubbish at writing back. I didn’t do much for the rest of the day except nap and check emails and things.

I went back to school again on Monday, again took some time to watch the news; the death toll had risen to nearly 3000 at that point. Terribly high but nowhere near the latest count of around 7200. I don’t know if anything had been mentioned in the school about it, but when I was teaching a Humanities class later in the day, I decided to skip a couple of chapters to talk about natural disasters, and preparation for and response to them. Topical, at least. The children didn’t seem to have much of an idea about what was going on in Nepal at that point.

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26.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

Saturday was my first proper trip out of Dehradun; I took the bus with Hema to the nearby city of Rishikesh. It’s on the bank of the River Ganges, and an extremely popular place for both tourist and local people due to the abundance of temples, ashrams and leisure activities in the vicinity, not to mention the fact that it is a popular site for bathing in the river, whose waters are believed to cleanse people of their sins.

First off, the bus. The “bus station” in Dehradun, ISBT, is more of a haphazard assortment of buses parked in the road than an organised station as such. Thankfully I was not alone this time, as the signs on the buses were all written in Hindi, and once Hema had identified the right one, we were off!

I’ve said this before, but Indian public transport is an utter health hazard. I love it though. The bus was fairly rickety and the driver went unwisely fast during the hour-long journey to Rishikesh. A few fear-for-your-life moments on the winding uphill road but nothing too terrible. There were signs at the sides of the road saying to watch out for elephants! A little different from the pheasant warnings you see more often in the South West of England.

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24.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

On Thursday, I made it in after the morning session as I still didn’t feel great, and taught half a day in the school. The good thing about school starting and ending so early with only one short break, is that everyone is out by 1.30, and you have the whole rest of the day! I feel like I have more time than I know what to do with.

When I got back to the shelter today, there was a new boy sitting with Shruti and Dr Pandey; they were speaking to him in Hindi so I didn’t find out much about him for a while. His English was non-existent, though he later told me he wanted to learn. The boy had run away from home to earn money, but had ended up being pretty much enslaved in a local bakery where he worked for two months with no pay at all. He stayed for a couple of days, managing to make a bit of an annoyance of himself in terms of hanging around in my room and generally being a bit odd.

(I later found out that the boy was in fact addicted to drugs, and seemed to be causing some disruption and so was moved to another shelter.)

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22.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

Worst luck; ill again on Tuesday. Spent most of the time in bed working on le blog and reading whichever books I can get my hands on. I uploaded a few photos I’ve taken so far onto my computer and showed them to the girls, who seem very interested in anything computer related!

In the afternoon, Dr Pandey and Shruti came by as usual, and we had something of a conversation class with the girls. I have found that the girls are far more forthcoming with their answers and attempts at English when they aren’t in a big group being quizzed! Understandable, as most of them speak only very poor, broken English and so often don’t have a clue when someone asks them a question.

In some ways, it’s difficult and frustrating to teach them, especially when just getting started. But once they’re stuck into something, they do seem willing to learn; less willing to do outside work and studying though!

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Nepal earthquake; devastation and relief

This is a few days overdue, but I thought it was important to take a break from the usual diary entries and articles (not that they’ve been particularly regular) to talk about a current event which has devastated places not too far from where I am living.

I’m talking, of course, about the earthquake in Nepal. The epicentre of the natural disaster is located in the mountainous region of the Himlayas, near a region named Gorkha, and the earthquake has caused thousands of deaths in the country. Most of the media coverage is centering on Kathmandu, as it is easier to get to than many of the rural communities which have also been terribly hit. Foreign aid is sent in every day, and I’d urge everyone to donate money to the relief efforts if you can.

When I first heard about the earthquake, I had gone to Shruti’s apartment at the school to collect a letter from my mother; the previous day, I’d been out and about in Rishikesh, a city about an hour away from Dehradun, on the banks of the river Ganges. So I hadn’t heard about the earthquake at the time it was happening; around 11am our time (6.30am in England) the previous day. I was shocked that I hadn’t heard about something so huge, but why would I have? Any Hindi conversation about it, if there had been any, in the streets of Rishikesh, would have gone straight over my head.

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20.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

Got to have a lie in on Sunday (YES). Can’t believe that the kids wake up at 5.30am every day. If I’m lucky I get up at 6.30 but usually later. I have to be at the school for 8am and unlike the kids, I don’t do chores. I have offered to help with some things but been vehemently turned away. Boo.Bit of a change from rolling out of bed in time for a 9am lecture…

Sunday is the only rest day in the week for the kids, but most shops are open, business as usual. More teaching of the songs! The function for the 2nd Anniversary of the Saheli Trust was on Monday, and Sunday was the last chance to practice! Little ones getting on well with Wheels on the Bus and the older girls mainly had “Titanium” learnt by heart. Couldn’t say the same for myself but I don’t think I was really the focus!

For the rest of the day, I went to visit the “Mindrolling Monastery”, locally called the Buddha Temple, a Buddhist Stupa in Dehradun. It’s an amazing place; after the usual taking off of shoes, you can go into the temple and look at the amazing decorative work inside (no pictures though, stern monks patrolling!). The grounds are really beautiful and I took some time to sit outside before getting an iced coffee (Costa withdrawal!). Also saw another monastery, smaller but with another huge monument; a statue of the Buddha.

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19.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

I’m settling in pretty well! On Friday, I had intended to go to school again, but instead went to the market with the warden of the shelter and one of the older girls. This actually consisted of waiting 3 hours in a fairly grimy office for an ultrasound doctor to appear; the girl has to have an operation because she had gallstones. The office was packed full of people only a short while after we got there, and I won’t lie, the smell wasn’t brilliant. There are a lot of private doctors’ offices in India, and only a few public hospitals. In these places, you have to queue for hours from six or seven in the morning to be seen, and they’re hardly sanitary compared to British hospitals. More on that later.

When we were FINALLY done at the office, we went out into the market area. I visited my first temple! It wasn’t much, but it was interesting to see a small one in amongst all the tiny shops in a side street, as opposed to the huge things people imagine when you say “temple”. Did the usual removing of shoes and taking a look around; interestingly, there is an inner section of each temple which you can’t enter if you’re on your period! Apparently, it means you’re “unclean”. Rude.

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17.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

You know that feeling when time is simultaneously going quite slowly but also flying by? Yeah.

Wednesday was my first day in the school where I’m going to be teaching for the next few weeks. The Headmistress of the school is my Workaway host’s mother, and she is very kind and welcoming (like everybody I have met here!). I was introduced to all the teachers in the school, and spent the rest of the school day observing different classes. I took a few notes and terrifyingly, was later asked to tell the Headmistress what I thought of how the classes are taught? Feeling mildly like an Ofsted inspector. I AM NOT QUALIFIED FOR THIS!

One thing I have noticed is that the children here are all so well-behaved and respectful! As soon as a teacher enters the classroom, they all stand up and say, “Good morning, ma’am.” It will take some getting used to! I have a feeling that it’s down to the fact that in England, kids are so spoilt but here, they are appreciative of everything they have. I haven’t heard a single child complaining about going to school. They love it! Continue reading “17.4.15; DEHRADUN, India”

15.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

Culture shock is not even the word. Neither is tired. I have no suitable word.

It’s been just over a day since I arrived in Dehradun, Uttarakand, India. It’s only just sinking in, really. Seems like I should still be at home, getting ready to go!

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I think my first wobbly moment was probably saying goodbye to my parents at the airport. After fitting what seems simultaneously a ridiculously small and ridiculously large amount of things into my new 45L backpack (yes, it really is that small), I had exactly that backpack, a handbag full of electronics and various bits of useless rubbish, and a bag of snacks with which I would be travelling out into the big bad world for the next four months. This only hit me when I was checking my bags in and turned around to see that my parents had not left yet, and I frantically signalled to my mum to wait a minute.

I wondered, do I really want to do this? It’s quite one thing to travel alone, but it’s really another, to go completely to the other side of the world with very few belongings, where you don’t speak the native language, with a vague plan to volunteer for two months in India before moving on to South East Asia, and not much else mapped out. I realised that it’s been so long since I travelled to a country where I don’t speak the language; I’m so lucky in that respect. Comparatively, my couple of weeks in Germany seemed practically idyllic. Continue reading “15.4.15; DEHRADUN, India”