Damn now I have to work!

Trip Start Apr 28, 2006
Trip End Oct 21, 2006

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006

A whole week without having to read my rambling rubbish - you lucky people! Well, I'm now in Dehradun up in the north of India, near the lovely Himalayas, in the middle of the lovely humid mosquito-ridden monsoon :o) Woohoo. Had the biggest stress in the world EVER trying to catch the train from Mumbai up to Delhi - Fran and I tried to post some stuff home again to lighten our loads, but as usual nothing went according to plan - the postal workers were eating their lunch when we finally got there (after much faffing about getting the parcels stithed up etc) and could not possibly be interrupted despite our pleading and puppy-dog eyes! So we reluctantly went for lunch ourselves and what with the slow service and horrendous traffic, by the time we returned to the post office we had veeery little time to get to the train station on time! And, as with most things in India, posting a couple of parcels is not a process to be rushed. They insisted on unstitching the packages for a fat slob of a customs man to glance inside and not even notice all the things we werent supposed to be sending, painstakingly sewing them back up again and making a huge ceremony of putting customs seals on every single seam and corner! All this even though I politely explained I had a train to catch, shouted at them in a rage to HURRY and even burst into tears!! Fiiiiinally it was done and we absolutely legged it down three flights of stairs and leapt into the nearest taxi. The traffic was still crawling so by the time we got to the station we had about 30 seconds to spare and I jumped on the train just as it was pulling away! So what should have been a heartfelt and emotional goodbye for me and Fran ended up as me hanging out of the train trying to hug her while she waved furiously! WHAT a joke!

Anyway after all that trauma, the train journey was luxurious! I'd paid a bit extra to go on a posh 'Rajdhani Express' train, which we hadnt tried before, and it was so worth it! All food was included - food entailing not only dinner and breakfast, but snacks like samosas, soup, tea/coffee and even chocolate eclairs - served practicaly every couple of hours! But what was most amazing was the toilet... It flushed! And eeeven had toilet paper! swoon... Too good to be true. And, also quite comforting for my first trip alone, there was a white guy next to me - he was American, and a bit of a freak, and talked about missionaries... A lot... But it was still nice having someone to talk to!

We arrived at New Delhi station, almost on time, and I decided as I'd splashed out a bit on the train ticket, I should probably go budget for the rest of the journey to Dehradun, which meant getting a good old shitty public bus! After a bumpy seven hours, I arrived at Dehradun bus terminal and was eventually picked up by four teenage boys and taken to Raphael Ryder Cheshire International Centre, where I will spend the next two months. As it was late and most of the staff had left, there wasnt really anyone to properly greet me; so I was dropped off at the Volunteers' Mess, cooked a quick dinner by some dude, then left on my own! Hmm... It was clear that there were no other volunteers there, and wont be for quite a while, so I became suddenly rather down-hearted at the prospect of spending every evening alone in the middle of nowhere for two months! It was especially a shock being without my right-hand Fran after three months of spending literally every hour of every day together (without a single fight I'd like to add!) I suppose I wasnt strictly alone, there were a large number of bugs in my room to keep me company :oS I've become very evil in killing them now though - no mercy! Anyway thank god I'd bought an Indian sim card to keep in touch with the outside world; I probably annoyed a few people with my melodramatic doom-and-gloom texts though!

Next morning I met my cook Dhan (my very own personal cook - how weird!) who made me tea and toast (simple the best!) Then I trotted off to the office and waited apprehensively for the ominously-named 'Director' to see me. After meeting all the official-type people (most with military backgrounds and therefore titles like 'General', 'Air-Marshal' and 'Brigadier') I was given a tour of the compound. Raphael run a number of different projects; there is Ava Vihar (where I'm working) which houses about 70 disabled and mentally handicapped adults and children; during the day the children are joined by about 50 day-students and they have classes in maths, communication, reading, domestic and self-help skills, music and art. There is also 'Shiv Sadan', a colony where a number of cured lepers live relatively self-sufficiently, as they cant be integrated back into society because of all the stigma associated with leprosy. The 'Little White House' (recently painted red!) houses many of their children (who are also ostracised from society just because their parents had the disease) along with other orphans and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. There's also a 'chronic ward' where four very old and decrepid men with severe physical disabilities live; they've been there since Raphael was first founded and no-one has the heart to kick them out! And there's a TB hospital which I'm not allowed to enter for obvious reasons! So thats Raphael anyway!

On my first day of work, I went round observing whichever classes I liked; all the children I met were so sweet and funny - one severely disabled boy told me off for chewing gum in class, which was quite amusing! I was also taken to meet the residents of the leper colony, which was a bit bewildering - I found the best thing was to paste a huge grin on my face and put my hands together in a 'Namaste' greeting to everyone I clapped eyes on! Ther were very friendly anyway, although I did have a huge crowd of people with no fingers around me at one point - bit intimidating! That evening the Liaison Officer (think her name's Rishi or something!) kindly took me to her house for a while so I wouldnt get lonely - she wants me to do yoga with her hahaha! Her house was huuuuuge - there was even a gate-opening man who stood to attention and saluted as we drove in! Craziness!

I spent all of the next day with one class - moving round with them to their different lessons. They were quite young and so CUTE - I'll probably stay with them for a while. The music teacher, Kanti, is awesome (she's also the House Mother at the Little White House) - we ended up dancing round to 'American Pie' with the kids, doing the conga and pulling faces in the mirror! After school finished and the day-kids had left, I hung out with the Ava Vihar residents for a while, getting to know them. I'm getting used to being grabbed, pushed and pulled in all directions ad poked and prodded endlessly! At least I'll have no shortage of love while I'm here - I've been lavished with kisses and cuddles since I arrived, and everyone fights to hold my hand! Also no shortage of saliva, piss and other ming that I dont want to think about - the other day one boy spat all over his hand, wiped it on his face then wiped it on mine and beamed at me as if he'd just given me a fabulous gift! I smiled back, while trying not to be sick!

Yesterday I went round with a different class to try it out - unfortunately there was only one child as the others were absent - a quiet, serious little boy with Downs' Syndrome and an unpronounceable name. But a gorgeous smile when I was lucky enough to get one! In the evening I took Bhola, one of the old men from the chronic ward, for a walk to the chai shop. He gets really bored lying in a darkened room all day so he loves it when people visit and take him out - nevertheless I'm glad I took two boys with me to help with the wheelchair - as well as not being able to get him up the hill, I would never have understood his requests for beedies (cigarettes) and stopping for wheelchair-fixing from a guy in the street! I'm having to learn Hindi fast - I've learnt more in the past three days than I had in the three months before! A lot of the children, but particularly the adults, dont speak any English, so I've been forced to crash-learn some basic words and phrases. Everyone says I'll be fluent by the time I leave - hmm not so sure! The staff are all lovely anyway - they're used to volunteers and they all feel sorry for me as I'm on my own so I think they're extra nice haha! I have weekends free so I went into Dehradun today and got totally lost in the maze-like bazaar (without Fran I'm even more hopeless!) but at least I found the all-important coffee shops - think I spotted a sheesha bar too :o)

So I'll update you all again soon, probably next weekend - there is internet at Raphael but its so slow I dont think I can be arsed! Keep texting me so I dont get too lonely :o) God I'm such a sad-case at the moment, if I get through the next two moths I'll be very impressed with myself!

Miss you all loads and loads! Til next time,
Han/Moses xxxx :oP
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