I had a great day today, despite an ominous start. As I played Tomb Raider yesterday into the early hours of this morning my heater finally ran out of gas after gallantly battling on for six weeks on its first cylinder. When I arose this morning my room seemed particularly cold, and initially I figured it must be a psychological reaction to knowing that I had no heater option. However, when I opened my curtains, snow. Bugger. I had no choice but to use the built-in forbidden second option available on my heater – electric fan. As I plugged in and switched on I half expected the electricity police to come bursting through the door, but all I could hear was sound of the fan gently heating my room. Just my luck that my heater runs out on my first night of snow in Srinagar!
Once heating arrangements had been taken care of, the next priority was, of course, food. I was starving. I figured I’d start off with something plain – tea and plain sponge cake. It could have been champagne and caviar, it tasted so good. I snuggled into bed and switched on C+L; another classic, with Cagney getting back together with an ex who she’d split with due to his cocaine addiction. Now off the cocaine, he was worried that without the extra stimulus he would not be able to perform in bed as well as she was used to. Cagney’s response brought back to me exactly how I used to feel about David:
C: Dory, dammit, I loved you making love to me, but more than the sex what I loved is what we had afterwards. I loved the tenderness, and afterwards is when the barriers were broken down, and afterwards is when we really touched each other.
D: It’s Just...
C: Dory, I can’t help it. I don’t think I know any other way to get there.
Neither do I Cagney, neither do I.
As the episode played out, I found it increasingly difficult to focus on the storyline (which was not a problem as I’ve already seen it about five times) because the potatoes in the plastic bag with two litres of sunflower oil at the side of my bed were calling out to me, ‘Peel us! Chop us! Fry us! EAT US!’. As soon as Charlie had given his blessing on Cagney and Dorey’s relationship and the theme had begun blaring out – as usual – at four times the volume of the programme itself, I was out of bed and into the shower to get down the office and get those bloody chips made.
About forty five minutes later I was in heaven. Freshly cooked chips with buttered bread and ketchup. Bloody marvellous. I’d been in such a good mood making them that I’d even prepared extra for Dobby and his nephew, although he seemed slightly shocked when I’d presented them to him and tried to refuse – out of politeness, I think. Either that or whilst I was hungrily wolfing mine down, the two of them were secretly stashing theirs away into a plastic bag for later disposal, in a kind of unwitting karmic retribution for my earlier treatment of their food offerings. Anyhow, I didn’t care: it’s funny how food can have such a strong effect on your mood, but as I sat there eating chips and checking emails the stress of last week melted away, along with snow outside which was rapidly disappearing in the rain.
My afternoon programme was a trip to the orphanage and two kidnappings. Let me explain. I’d spoken to the nice orphanage warden, Aziz, who’d confirmed that it was fine for the kids to play some games or watch a DVD. Unfortunatly, the projector was with one of IHI J&K’s partners, HELP Foundation (Human Effort for Love and Peace – fairly ambitious title!), but I was passing it on the way so thought I would pop in to see if they had finished with it. As it turned out, the HELP Foundation en route was just one of the training centres, the projector being at the main office, but the manager insisted I come in. ‘No, I can’t,’ I said, ‘I really have to get somewhere.’
‘Please sir, come in for five minutes and chat.’
‘Sorry, I really can’t. I’m already late,’ I pleaded.
‘Just five minutes, please sir.’
‘Okay. FIVE minutes.’ So off we went, up the stair to main training room, which he led me into and the left there alone...for five minutes. Another random Kashmir moment. I sat there looking around, beginning to wonder whether to start planning an escape, when he finally returned and sat down opposite to chat about where I was from, what I was doing here, where was I going, etc, etc. By the time I finally left I really was late.
But luckily, kidnapper number two was on hand to give me a lift: a small white car which unexpectedly pulled up alongside me, the passenger door opening and the driver saying, ‘Get in.’ I looked at him: did I know him? He seemed to know me, and I have met a lot of people since I’d arrived in Srinagar – once in a while I do forget a face. He seemed friendly enough, and not wanting to offend him I got in, the more sensible side of me shouting inside my head, ‘This is bonkers! You give out your telephone number and address to strangers because you don’t want to offend them, and now you’re getting into their cars too?!’ It’s hard to explain, but it seemed like the right thing to do in spite of the million obvious reasons why it might not be.
So off we went, me looking at him to see if he rang any bells, but the conversation (where was I from, what was I doing here, where was I going, etc, etc) pretty much confirmed that we’d never met before. Besides, I figured I probably would have remembered a middle aged guy wearing and wig and a cap with half his teeth missing and a slightly crazed look about him. As we drove past the orphanage I said, ‘Here is fine.’ Either he didn’t hear me or he thought that I was just making a general observation about that particular part of the street, but he kept on driving. I started to get a bit worried, images of me waking up dazed, glued to wheelchair and having kerosene poured over me flashing through my mind. ‘Er, where are we going?’ I asked.
‘To town,’ came the cheery reply.
‘No!’ I exclaimed, ‘I need to get out here. I’m going there!’ I said, pointing back to where we had just come from to ensure that there was no further confusion.
‘Oh, no problem,’ he said, suddenly throwing us into a 180° turn to take me back towards the orphanage, nearly killing two pedestrians in the process.
Anyhow, I finally made it to the orphanage where I spent a wonderful afternoon with the children, most of whom have now returned from their communities. They were in high spirits, clearly enjoying the games that I’d remembered from doing ‘Golden Time’ activities as a London primary school teacher. In fact, at times they became so animated that some of them were almost naughty, which in strange way was great to see. It was ages since I’d spent a good chunk of time just playing with children, and I hadn’t realised how much I missed it: nothing like a couple of hours with a bunch of kids to help clear away the cobwebs and re-energise you. I was actually a bit worried when we had to break for 4:00pm prayers that they were in too silly a mood to turn their minds to serious worship, but they seemed to have no problem switching from one mode to the other. After prayers, more games and then another Planet Earth DVD before 5:45pm prayers.
Part of the reason why I’d decided to head over to see the children today was that tomorrow I’ll be carrying out my evaluation of the orphanage with them, as previously mentioned. I wanted to refamiliarise us with each other so that whoever got chosen would be a relaxed as possible about joining Rahim and I for the afternoon. I also wanted to confirm with the warden that he had been spoken to by the chairman, and was clear about what I was doing and why: if he felt uncomfortable about it there could be ramifications for the children involved, should anything negative come up. Thankfully, the chairman had kept his word and Aziz seemed perfectly happy with me going ahead with the evaluation. ‘I think it will be a good chance for you to see what it going well here. It’s important to recognise and celebrate those things.’ I reassured him.
‘And to learn what we can do better,’ he added. Seriously, these guys are good.
I left the orphanage before it got dark, in spite of the usual pleas from the kids for me to stay the night. To anyone who knows anything about children it’s clear within about half an hour of being with them that they are craving the love and attention of adults: the way the younger ones come and stand next to you and hold your hand when they’re out of the game; how you’ll catch them staring at you instead of watching the DVD; the way they always want you to stay just for five more minutes, for dinner, to sleep. It makes these children very endearing but incredibly vulnerable and highlights how strongly institutional care impacts on emotional well-being, no matter how high the quality of care. Aaqil is still always there with his neatly combed black hair and big innocent brown eyes, and in spite of making sure that he’s treated by me exactly the same as the other children he’s always the one to go unasked to fetch my boots when it’s time for me to go, always one of the boys waving me off on the doorstep.
On my way home I met Rahim for a dinner of pizza at ‘Smokin’ Jo’s’ (which, in my mind must always be said with an American cowboy accent) and then headed back to the hotel, buying a large bar of Cadbury’s en route. Well, it had been a day of lovely food following my 24 abstinence, and as they say, in for a penny, in for a pound (of chocolate).
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