Dogs and Frogs
Trip Start Aug 05, 2007
12Trip End Jul 26, 2008
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Never assume anything
I realised this the day a 3 year old started with us at the charity, and I took it for granted that he already knew how to use the toilet - until I watched him wander round the garden, choose a nice spot and take a dump in full view of everyone.
It's the small things that count
When children first start at the charity, they receive a new set of clothes. Upon giving a little lad his new set, I had to blink back tears as his face lit up with excitement. His shorts had pockets! He spent the rest of the day strutting around with his hands in his pockets as if he was king of the world, and we had a hard job persuading him to remove his hands so that he could eat his dinner
Do as the locals do
In order to enjoy my daily bus journeys to and from work, I had to think and act like a local. I would start with an elbows-out, take no prisoners storming of the bus to ensure a seat, followed by gripping onto the rail for dear life as the driver pretended to be Lewis Hamilton (or maybe Frank Bruno - one day he was a little cross with the bus in front of us for cutting him up, so at the first opportunity he got out, boarded the offending bus and walloped the driver). A few weeks in, I'd got used to the general atmosphere of the bus - disco lights flashing, Euro-Hindi pop blaring out of speakers taped to the ceiling, incense burning, fresh garlands of flowers hanging at the front, and glowing and flashing statues of Jesus and Ganesh winking at us. I feared for any epileptic getting on the bus. And painted on the windscreen, big signs which said things like 'Jesus Saves' and 'Mother Theresa pray for us', which I always hoped she did as, on the way home, the bus driver would stop at the garage to get petrol - without turning the engine off.
I loved getting the bus, just for the sheer hyped-up craziness. I always tried to jam myself on a seat that was labelled 'ladies only' but more often found myself on the one specially reserved for 'handcapes'.
Never show your fear
A much less pleasant journey was my daily walk past the local dogs. Goa has a real problem with stray dog. A well meaning i.e. stupid expat campaigned for a change in the law so culling of stray dogs became illegal, with the result that there are now thousands of dogs living on the streets. And in Calangute they like to follow westerners. The dogs down my street, for the first month or so, would growl and bark and sniff around me every time I walked past them. They terrified me. I'd heard the story of a group of volunteers who, walking down the street late one night, were surrounded by the dogs. They tried to continue walking together calmly, until one of the blokes cracked and, flapping his hands in the air, screamed "Split up! Split up! They'll think we're a pack!"
But eventually my dogs must have got used to me, as by the end of my stay they could barely be bothered to raise an eyebrow or emit a half-hearted woof whenever I inched past. I'd finally been accepted onto their patch and I guess had become one of their bitches.
In contrast, I did meet one friendly, non-threatening dog - Coco, the 6th month old rottweiller puppy owned by Neil, an Irish hairdresser I was introduced to. Coco had a beautiful pink leather collar, wore camouflage t-shirts and was so scared of the sea that everytime Neil dragged her down to the surf, she promptly sat down and wet herself. "The gayest dog in Goa!" he proclaimed proudly.
And I did see two very well-behaved dogs sitting up in a rickshaw once, enjoying the ride, unlike the pig I spied strapped to a scooter.
Have a go at anything, you might surprise yourself
I loved working for the charity, and was sad to leave. The children are fantastic, although sometimes teaching them was like trying to contain a box of very jumpy frogs. And, even though I did a fair bit of teaching, I think I'm the one that learnt the most. My highlights include:
- being invited to celebrate Eid with the Muslim families in the slum. Having my hands painted with henna beforehand, and sitting on the dirt floor of a shack which houses a family of 8 and is smaller than my bedroom back home, whilst the family served us food and then sat back and watched in delight as we ate.
- being able to set up Morning School, with planning done and resources sorted and guidance written. All in folders and boxes, and labelled of course.
- snorting with laughter at my two little favourites Kiran and Mubreen, as they accidentally touched tongues during vocabulary work on parts of the body. The shock on their faces was priceless. I bet somewhere in the world this means they're married. (And of course they got over the surprise pretty quickly and thought it would be funny to do it everyday in lessons after that. Never thought I'd be saying 'No tongues!' in a stern voice to a bunch of 3 year olds).
If you want to find out more about the charity, take a look at their website childrenwalkingtall.com. And if anyone's thinking of buying me a Christmas present this year, how about making a small donation to the charity instead....?
So Goa is now behind me, and I'm in Sri Lanka, which is calm and clean and green. I met Helen at Colombo airport, and didn't stop talking at her for the first two days, poor girl. We've made our way down the coast to Unawatuna, a beautiful crescent of sand where the sea water is a constant 27 degrees and the pace of life is set to Slow. Helen brought essentials with her - battenburg, chocolate and new books - and I'm getting through them all. I'm savouring every moment until I have to say goodbye to Helen at the end of the month and plunge back into the madness that is India.