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Published: February 23rd 2006
School-kids come to the window to say goodbye after I paid a short visit to their classroom
The digital camera is proving a great icebreaker, particularly with kids, who get really excited at seeing instant photos of themselves and their friends. It's often hard to get away once a group has gathered!
Namaste to you all! ('Namaste' is an interesting Hindi greeting which means something like 'I recognise the divine within you'.) Thank you very much to all who've been emailing and messaging me, (my Indian mobile number is +919860659764), over the past month! My access to the net is infrequent and always very brief, but when I do get the chance, I really look forward to reading through your emails and finding out what you've been up to! I'm just sorry I haven't had more time to be able to reply individually just yet.
Anyway, I'm now almost four weeks into my Work Experience placement with EFICOR (Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief) in Paratwada, (in the north-east of Maharashtra state). I'll pick up the story from where I left off last time and give a (hopefully brief!) account of how things are going.
I didn't get much sleep on the overnight train here, mainly due to the neverending parade of beggars and vendors making their way up and down the carriages (or 'bogies', as they call them here), loudly advertising their wares, (which included such unlikely items as spinning tops and pocket telescopes!). But when I stepped out
onto the station platform at Badnera (the nearest train station to Paratwada - the town I'm now living in), I was filled with that invigorating (and extremely addictive!) energy you get from arriving in a foreign place for the first time.
My EFICOR contact didn't have any trouble picking me out from the small crowd, as mine was the only white face there. (As far as I know, I'm also the only white person in Paratwada and the surrounding villages, making me something of a local celebrity/curiosity.) Jitu Kumar, the leader of the local EFICOR office, had brought his family along to welcome me - his lovely wife and two little daughters, (who have graciously accepted "Michael Uncle" into their family).
Jitu and his two EFICOR colleagues, Sujal & Bitu, have all been amazingly hospitable and generous, despite the fact that they're very busy with all the work they do here. I am now comfortably installed in a little room above their office, which I initially shared with a small troop of rats, (who noisily investigated my stuff at night and scampered across my bed as I tried to sleep). A couple of Mortein pellets later, my only
A little girl in Hilda village
She seemed greatly amused by me, but always kept at a safe distance.
room-mate is a hyperactive barking gecko who 'barks' his heart out each night and helps me keep the resident mosquito population down!
I have a small ensuite containing a squat toilet, a couple of taps and a few buckets. As in many places off the tourist trail in Asia, the plumbing can't handle toilet paper, so I'm slowly getting used to the 'traditional' toilet method, (using one's left hand and a small jug of water, for those of you playing at home!). =P As for bathing, each morning I fill a bucket from the tap, stick an immersion heater (like the heating element in an electric kettle) into it for half an hour, and then use a jug to give myself a hot 'shower'.
And here's the best part of all - I have my very own cook! An old Maratha woman with a leathery face and a heart of gold, (and the unlikely name of 'Baby'), cooks me three square meals a day and tut-tuts if I don't finish everything. Almost every meal consists of chappatis (unleavened bread made from wheat-flour, water & a pinch of salt), plain rice, dhal (a sort of thick, lentil soup) and
A cautious monkey keeping a wary eye on visitors to the Hindu shrine it lives around
Apart from a fleeting glimpse of a big sambar deer, monkeys are the only Indian wildlife I've seen so far.
subzi (spicy vege relish, usually including cabbage and potato). All meals are eaten using strictly the right hand only, which becomes very easy to remember when you get used to the above-described 'toilet technique'! You mix the rice and dahl together, scoop it up in your fingers with bits of subzi, and use the chappatis to mop up what's left.
Despite the fact that Baby's English is even worse than my Hindi, we're getting on really well and have had some interesting 'conversations'. If I take nothing else away from these three months, at least my charades skills will be much improved on my return home.
Needless to say, however, I'm already getting a lot more from this experience than just a larger sign language vocabulary. After five years of dozing through university lectures, it's refreshing to be starting to apply some of the concepts learned there to a real world situation, and seeing the benefits that are being made in the lives of real people in the villages. I'd better stop here though, I'll write about EFICOR's work the next time I'm able to spend a decent amount of time on the net. In the meantime, please
keep the emails coming - as I said, I do get brief chances to check my account once a week or so, during occasional trips around town, and I always look forward to hearing your news!
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