World AIDS Day is two days away which is exciting and a little terrifying given how much stuff we have still to do, things are coming together. I picked up the slides we have for 10 cinemas around Pune and my HIV testing info leaflets and night club coasters all arrived yesterday. Quite chuffed seeing all my designs in actuality! So today we have the press conference (for which I pretty much given myself tetanus pushing 30 metal pins through the ribbons for the press packs), I have to finish my RISK/NO RISK game for Saturday (it’s a corker though not as cool as Lucy’s Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, HIV version) and then I need to make 1000 logo stickers to go on the fortune cookies arriving today!!!!
Next weekend four of the volunteers are shaving their heads to raise money for DISHA (Deep Griha’s Integrated Service for HIV/AIDS). The money will go to providing much-needed meds for the opportunistic infections that threaten the health and lives of people living with HIV. If anyone wants to sponsor them please follow the link!!!!!
Busy busy week in Pune. Not helped by the fact that three nights over the weekend were spent indulging in a significant amount of Kingfisher beer. Also, surprisingly a bloody (literally) good steak in a restaurant found by Dave, Carole and Gill. Indian food is great and I’ve no problem with having a mainly vegetarian diet but my god, it felt good to have a steak again!
All the younger LINK volunteers who’d been travelling for the past few weeks got back on Sunday night so the house is pretty much full to bursting, and the somewhat more chilled out, laid-back atmosphere that has been so nice, has burst and things are back to feeling like we are living in boarding school once again! Still, it was nice to see everyone again!
So this week we are all out putting up my lovely World AIDS Day posters, sorting out leaflets with shopping malls and planning street dance performances, getting red ribbon iced cookies and fortune cookies done for December 1st and getting slides done to hand out to the cinemas on Thursday. Crazy days. Someone is also going to have the fun job of putting 1000 condoms into little white boxes and tieing them up with red ribbon. We have been given the okay to hand out condoms, but only if they don’t look like condoms! Don’t ask, even oral sex is technically illegal in India, seriously! And on Saturday night about 1000 of the inhabitants of Tadiwala Road slum in Pune are going to have the delights of watching a group of us do a Bollywood dance performance at the Celebration fo Life Rally being held for World AIDS Day. Our friend Rujuta is a dancer in her spare time and is teaching us a dance all this week…there is a lot of jumping involved…
Yesterday evening a group of us went along to the Film Archives in Pune to watch the screening of a series of short films about children in India that had been filmed and produced by children in India called Child’s Eye. The films themselves were incredibly well constructed, well composed, and impressive if a little harrowing to watch. It really demonstrated how powerful the medium of film can be, especially in the hands of children who maybe don’t have the self interests or inbuilt censorship of adults. I’ve been in India for over 6 weeks now, I’ve read a lot of literature, walked around the slums in Pune, seen beggars with their kids asking for money at the signals but it wasn’t until I watched the films that it struck me just how grim and stark the poverty in India is and how children can be such tragic victims of this.
There was a story of a seven year old girl living in Delhi who every morning trawled through the city’s enormous garbage dumps, barefoot, exposed to numerous diseases and injuries so that she could bring back money to care for her mother (in bed paralysed), her father (bed-ridden through chronic asthma), brother with TB and her younger sister who was in pain due to a deblitating skin disease that they had no money to treat.
The most interesting for me was one called ‘Street Children’ which focused on the lives of three boys, all about 12, who lived in Hyderabad, collecting garbage to sell, begging so that they could buy enough food and clothes for themselves and spend the rest of cheap alcohol and drugs. The film almost glamorised the life they led, showing them high, teasing and play fighting with each other and walking the streets of the town as if it belonged to them. But it also showed the wealth of scars and sores they had on their bodies, how they have nowhere to sleep at night and how their dreams for the future were very different from the current life they led. It just struck me as the kind of film a group of adults could never have made in quite the same way. Continue reading
I hadn’t really expected to like Goa a huge amount, I imagined a very touristy, built up beach resort and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Goa has a really strong Portuguese influence from their occupation and as a result the beautiful white churches and the architecture in Paniji and even the beaches reminded me wonderfully of Brazil. I met up with my friend from Nepal, Andrea, in Anjuna where Lucy from Deep Griha was also staying. We had a little guest house set back from the beach path which led to our favourite restaurant San Francisco on the corner of a long wide beach on which lazy cows slept all day, a few tourists lay sunbathing and a very warm blue ocean came slowly rippling onto the sands. Lianna also turned up in Little Vagator just up the coast so we joined her for a late afternoon swim and watched the most perfect sunset between the palm trees from up the side of the hill behind the beach drinking cocktails! That night actually got a little messy, Lianna had befriended two English guys, Mike and John who were great fun although it was their fault we ended up trying the local paint stripper which may account for why we ended up partially clothed in the very nice pool of their lovely hotel at 2am!
I decided to hire a moped on Tuesday and immediately decided that they were the best things in the world to drive. I went to raise Lianna out of her hangover and after a restorative lunch we headed up the coast through small beach villages, along palm forested hills and up to Mandram, a lovely wide empty beach about 45 minutes north where we stopped for drinks and a afternoon swim. I still can’t get over how wonderfully warm the sea is here! On the way back ominous clouds started to roll over the horizon and the light was fading. I would have been fine had it not been for the collapsed electricity wire across the road which was being held up by a policeman with a plastic truncheon. I stopped then edged slowly forward under the held up end, the road was wet and the wheel slid slightly, I panicked worried we would hit the wire and hit the brakes but sadly pulled the brake on the accleration handle and in pulling down pulled the acclerration too. We skidded and Lianna hopped off the back and the moped fell on top of me. Nice. Right in front of the policeman aswell. Luckily Lianna was fine and apart from 10-year-old style grazing on my elbow and knee I was fine. Moped 1. Claire 0. We were fine after that and ditched the moped and got a motortaxi to the beach bar to meet the others, Ayesha and Sarah were also in Anjuna by now aswell!
Wednesday morning Andrea and I took the moped down to Paniji, an hour drive south and explored the Portuguese churches and buildings, so like so many places in Brazil, and kept seeing these gigantic papier mache torsos on bamboo scaffolding everywhere through the town. It turned out they were devils that are burnt at midnight to herald in Divali! In the afternoon we all went down to the famous Wednesday market at the bottom of Anjuna, it was fairly huge but I guess I’ve just been travelling too long as I didn’t really see anything I hadn’t seen before, allbeit on a much smaller scale. Plus being a tourist trap the sellers started at totally ridiculous prices, it almost wasn’t worth bartering! That evening there was the mother of all thunderstorms, lashing rain, forked lightening which was a little too close for comfort and the most deafening thunder. Once the lightening had journeyed a little further away and the rain died down we fled to the nearest beach restaurant for food. We could still see streaks of lightening far out at sea briefly lighting up the whole beach area. Impressive but a little unsettling.
On Thursday Andrea and I headed down to the beach at Palolem in South Goa which was lovely. The beach is a huge crescent fringed with thick groves of palm trees, in between which tiny villages of basic beach huts are built every season. We found ourselves one such wee hut and had two days of doing very little but reading, eating lovely Goan food (prawn curry mmmmm!), going on a mini boat trip, watching the sunset, buying embroidered bags and scarves in the market and chatting. I think because the season is not in full swing Goa was not too busy and just seemed very unobtrusive and chilled. Although I was looking forward to getting ‘home’ to Pune it was definitely a wrench to leave.
With the celebration of Divali we had been given the week off work, so Friday evening I headed south east on a 12 hour bus journey to Hampi. The Indian bus was actually far less worse than I expected and I was not too much of a sleepless mess when I arrived after a half hour rickshaw journey from Hospet 12 km away. I had inadvertently arrived in Hampi during one of it’s biggest festivals, Vijaya Utsav, which meant the place was full of Indians who totally obscured the tourists, about 5000 policemen and buzzing with activity. It also meant that my room reservation had gone totally out the window and it took me a while to find just about the last, and hugely overpriced room in Hampi. Still an hour later I was clean and sitting on the roof top restaurant over looking a peaceful river, palm trees and the impressive boulder-strewn landscape of Hampi.
The ruins of Vijayanagar around Hampi are the remnants of one of the largest Hindu empires that ruled the area from 1336 to 1565. The main temple that dominates the immediate landscape is the main structure of the Virupaksha temple in the centre of the sleepy place that is Hampi Bazaar. The temple was illuminated at night and after dinner I stayed up to watch the performances of Indian dance and music on a stage area inside. I also saw an amazing duo, a drummer and a guy (apparently very well known internationally) on the Mandolin which was fantastic.
I spent the weekend exploring; the river side and closer temples on foot my first afternoon. Walking along the river a few simple archways, remnants of temples lay scattered in between the boulders on the shore, a small boat ferried passengers over the water and a shepherdess crossed down to the river leading a rabble of black and brown goats. It was as if one of the scenes from the traditional Indian fairytales I’d read in Nepal had come to life in front of my eyes. A sudden realisation of one of my fantastical visions of what India would be like, a suddenly I understood why people come back to India time and again, why it’s worth the hassle and daily frustrations (not that I’ve had many actually), it really is just an incredible place!
On Sunday I rented a gear less Indian bike for the princely sum of 30 rupees (about 45p) and set off to visit the elephant stables, royal palaces, forts and ancient mosque ruins. Most of the ruins are incredibly well preserved and stunning, lotus flower shaped archways, hugely intricate temple roofs, carved stone gods and animals, geometrically designed water tanks and everything is set off magnificently by the gentle hills, paddy fields, palm trees and giant natural boulders. I popped across the river in the early afternoon with my bike on a corale. It looks like a giant wicker basket, about 7ft in diameter with creosote sacks plastered on the outside to waterproof it. In this one corale on the way back over there were a total of 3 motorbikes, my bicycle and 11 people. It defies physics, how can you not love this country?
Some things in India are reliably bizarre. Power blackouts for example. They will generally occur during any of the following situations:
- 10 minutes before the climax of a film you are watching on TV or half way through the season finale of LOST
- Just as you are going to sleep on a hot night and the electric powered ceiling fan is the only thing keeping you cool
- When you urgently need to get anything requiring a computer or a fax machine done in a hurry
- Thursday afternoons starting between 2-4pm and lasting until about 7.30pm.
The house has been very bizarre this week. The supervisor, Aunty, had a huge blow out with the cook Kamal early in the week which meant Kamal seemed to have gone on strike for 3 days. No more over-boiled eggs for breakfast. I’d only just forgiven her for pillaging the entire box of Earl Grey tea bags when she ran out of tea leaves for the morning tooth-enamel-melting sweet chai! Also Manda who usually stays at night times to supervise us has been away so for the past few nights we have been footloose and fancy free. (Useful for a spot of mid week boozing and being able to come back at midnight without fear of reprisals!) Co-founder of DeepGriha, the Revered Basker came around and was planning on staying overnight to check all was fine, but upon realising there was a man (Emmanuel, 21, French, wouldn’t say bonjour to a goose) in the house decided we would be fine without his protection! Clearly all the strong, willful female personalities in the house were not deemed sufficient enough. Gotta love these patriarchal societies. Interestingly I think I am experiencing what it must have been like to go to boarding school…when the Reverend rocked up, everyone ran into my room to hide all the empty beer bottles in the toilet, (in theory we are not allowed alcohol in the house) and after he left we sat up till 4am drinking the rest and watching cheesy films on Lianna’s laptop and smoking cigarettes out of the window!
Just finished Stupid White Men by Michael Moore, interesting and illuminating but I feel he really should have included himself in the title.