Preparing to leave India

Trip Start Jan 06, 2006
Trip End Mar 28, 2006

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Thursday, February 2, 2006

I'm writing to you from the beach in Kerala where my 'roomies' and i have been staying for the week since finishing the Aidcamp in Tamil Nadu. We were all exhausted from the non-stop schedule of sight seeing and so some time on the beach is exactly what we needed. We are staying with a friend of a friend in a flat over looking 'Silent Valley' which is covered in palm trees and looks out to the sea. It's really beautiful and only a short walk to the beach. As it is more touristy here, we have been able to get western food which we were all very happy about. Although some of the Indian interpretations of western dishes are quite interesting. Lori ordered a tuna salad one night and the plate of food she received looked like cat food with a few slices of tomato around the edge! It was so vile she didn't eat it! Anyway, there is also surprisingly, a German Bakery here which we have been to for breakfast a few times. As a result of all this lounging and eating i haven't much to report on this week. However the last week in Tamli Nadu was very busy.
One of our last weekends away was to the salt pans in Tuticorin and to the southern-most tip of India, Kanniyakumari. SCAD have helped regulate the salt pan workers pay and have help set up women's self-help groups, so we went there and saw their village, school and the actual salt pans. The latter are usually dazzling white but due to rainfall they looked cement grey.
The following day we had a 2 hour bus ride to Kanniyakumari. Kanniyakumari is very tacky and it's where lots of Indian tourists go. There are so few westerners there that for a moment we were the tourist attraction! A big family from Darjeeling got so excited by the sight of us that they insisted we pose with their family for loads of photos! It's also a very spiritual place with a temple on the mainland and a huge religious statue on a tiny island that the tourists can get a short boat ride to. Thousands of pilgrims come here. Fortunately, there wasn't a festival on. There is also a Gandhi memorial here where his ashes were laid to rest for a number of years before they decided what to do with them. The building was specially designed with a hole in the roof so that at a specific time on his birthday the sun shines through lighting up the spot where his ashes were laid. We also saw the tide mark left by the tsunami. This area was hit particularly bad.
Swimming in non western tourist areas is quite different. Traditionally, the women go in the sea with their saris on. We turned up on what looked like a deserted beach just a bit further on from the main beach. As we were all looking forward to cooling off, we all stripped off into what we would call 'discreet' swimming costumes and dived in. Literally a few minutes afterwards, the beach was suddenly busy with the entire local population of pre-pubescent boys all staring at us! Luckily they were boys and quite harmless! I don't think they could believe their luck that afternoon!
The following week was spent mainly muraling the classrooms and having farewell ceremonies. I was given the job of copying the Indian national symbols which i felt quite alot of pressure to get right! All the teachers and builders kept coming to check i was doing it correctly. It turned out fine in the end.
The last few evenings were also quite busy. We had a 'Cultural Evening' of dance put on by the children and on another night we had a feast put on by SCAD's founder, Cletus and his wife, Amelie. On this night we all wore our saris for the first (and probably last) time. I found it quite difficult to walk in and at one point nearly tripped and fell down the stairs! There must definately be a knack. Cletus had somehow found out that it had been 3 volunteer's birthdays during the Aidcamp and had organised a huge cake, which went down very well.
The day before we left for Kovalam, there was a grand opening of the newly finished classroom. There was lots of singing, dancing and speeches. We also took part in blessing the new room by all tipping a cup of milk into a pot which is then boiled. Everyone then has a cup to drink. It was a very emotional day and everyone was in tears when we left. In fact the whole week was very emotional. So much effort was put in to say thank you and farewell to us we didn't feel like we were really worthy of it. Especially with the classroom as the builders did most of it!
Saying goodbye the next morning to all the SCAD staff we had worked so closely with for 3 weeks was even harder. But, arriving at Kovalam beach just as the sun was setting was a consolation. It was also the first time we had seen loads of Europeans and as a result we all started shouting out every time we saw one! A week later, however, and the novelty has worn off. XX
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