Ian's India blog continued
Life here continues to be busy but good. Temperature is getting hotter all the time as summer approaches, but we had some very heavy showers during the nights recently, which have caused power cuts. The bad news of that is that the fans stop turning and we all sweat even more profusely, doesn’t that make you think how wonderful it is that you are enjoying an English winter!
I would like to start by reassuring you all that, contrary to some opinions, I have not ignored a player in the great Indian game of driving. Some friends who have had experience of the great game, but in different parts of India, commented that the cows that are allowed to wander along the roads should have been included on my observations. I am not sure whether it is to do with the fact that people in Kerala are of slightly different religious persuasions than the majority of India, being partly Christian (Catholic, Protestant and Syrian Orthodox, only partly Hindu and partly Muslim, as well as the Jewish, Jain, Buddhist and other sects that pop in this area or perhaps they are simply more sophisticated than in other areas, but there are very few cows on the roads. There are some goats here in the city, but those of you who know the experiences we have had in our garden in Lynton recently, will know that goats are not my greatest friends, and hence are discounted as an expendable distraction! I have noticed though that in the last week, a fairly serious new player has emerged. It is the time of the elephant festivals in this area, and groups of three or four elephants have been sighted wandering around the streets. I have been assured that elephants may cause serious amounts of damage and so tend to get a fair amount of respect from vehicles passing by, even causing our bright red bus, that drove us so noisily back from Allepi at the weekend to halt in its headlong dash back to Kochi on Sunday afternoon while three elephants strolled across the two lane dual carriageway. The other thing that one notices, is the enormous amount of elephant dung, now covering nearby streets around here. If you have ever been to the circus or a zoo and seen elephants, you may well realise that elephants are not known for their delicacy in either the amount of, or the placement for the waste products that their need to eat 3 – 400 lbs of food per day (compared with 4 pounds for humans) makes, and it gets deposited all over the roads! But more of the driving game later.
Breakfast is served every morning at Thamaraparambu School, Kochi, which is provided by GVI, as many of the children were seen to be coming to school without any breakfast. So the teachers buy milk and rice flakes (not corn flakes I’m pleased to see), and give out some lovely local sweet bananas to the children.
Last week at Thamaraparambu School was filled with excitement caused by the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the school’s opening. The start of the week was disrupted constantly by practices for various dancing, and each class was required to put on a performance.
Your dear friend Ian Sir was also honoured to be requested by the head teacher to deliver a speech. The group leader from GVI (the organisation that I am here with) is a young man of about 25, and all the other volunteers are ladies, so it was felt that an elderly male clearly would have great words of wisdom and to be able to provide an uplifting address. The society here is sadly quite sexist and certainly ageist, (but ageist in the right way, I need a bit of respect!). The programme showed the running order, with the lead teacher followed by the head, then the area education officer, the leader of the local training centre and then, piece de resistance, Ian Sir. Having received a build up of dignified speeches, the most notable being the Senior Chief Area Education Officer who spoke for about half an hour at a rate of about 4 words per minute in a barely audible, but deep and noble voice, full of gravitas and I am sure inspiration (the shame was that it was delivered completely in Malayalam, the local language and so the challenge and inspiration was missed by yours truly). Sadly the heat and the fact that we had recently partaken of a celebratory lunch, though with no alcohol as Kerala is a dry state, meant that Ian Sir found it very difficult to keep his eyes open, so with sleepiness and the language barrier, the great thoughts of the Senior Chief Area Education Officer went unheeded by this sad, sleepy, old, Englishman. The embarrassing point was that we were sitting at the head table in front of the school, parents, other teachers and local dignitaries! It gave the other volunteers and the programme leader much amusement to see me struggling to keep my eyes open. However, the time eventually came and fresh from my brief nap(s), I sprang into action and had the audience smiling as I rejected the microphone that had caused much trouble to other speakers and took to the floor. I had forgotten to mention that the Senior Chief Area Education Officers speech had also sadly been disrupted (and probably lengthened by problems with the microphone, and the audience had been attacked by waves of feedback sounds, much to everybody’s anguish, one doesn’t want to upset a Senior Chief Area Education Officer.) Anyway, I humbly delivered my welcome in Malayalam, welcome I said, namaskaram. Many smiles all round, which I assumed was a warm appreciation of my efforts to learn their lovely language, although was probably mirth at my pathetic achievements, but I had checked that my flies were done up, so it wasn’t that! My speech consisted of friendly words of thanks and recognition of the wonderful, smiley, friendly children that they all produced here in India. Then joy of joy, I was asked to present the prizes, so we had about 20 minutes of all the children coming up to the front to be given little parcels of goodies, and warm inspiring words, sadly delivered in English. What a day, I was exhausted by the experience but then had to go off down to the colony to lead the early evening session of readings and games which happens twice a week. No peace for the wicked, even if they do try to get an early nap.
At the weekend, a group of volunteers went down to to Alleppi or Alapphuza as the locals say and is how it is shown on Google maps, which is at the southern end of some lovely inland lakes which run north and south from Kochi and are generally referred to as the backwaters. Have a look at Google maps and you can see how far these lakes, rivers and canals run. They provide great holiday opportunities and the old rice boats have been done up, and new ones built in the same style. The areas are full of rice paddies, and the produce used to be shipped in these relatively small boats with a shallow draft into the cities further up towards Kochi. The escape was not as cool as the previous weekend, but it was nice to get away from the busier cities. We stayed in a home stay, a sort of Indian version of a B&B, often without the breakfast.
Saturday started early as we were collected I a tuc tuc and taken to a local lake where we found kayaks and a local guide, and by early, I mean seven thirty, so really early! The plan we had agreed with the guy who owned our Homestay (B&B) was that we would have a short three hour session to avoid the midday sun. Then on Saturday morning, he decided that we were friends of his and he would provide not only a breakfast stop but also lunch in the house of our guide in the village area that is alongside the backwater rivers, areas occupied by farmers, fishermen and general labourers. Our guide Rajiv, was a star. A really friendly, cheerful guide who went out of his way to make sure we had a good time. He paddled a narrow kayak style of traditional fishing boat, with a single canoe paddle, although he sat in it kayak style. We were given a challenge that nobody would be able to paddle his boat as it was so narrow and tippy. Of course, I couldn’t resist this and, after we had stopped for a swim (in case you are thinking that the backwaters would be dirty and not appealing for a gentle dip, you are correct, it was like that, and some areas even worse, containing sewage and a great amount of plastic waste, but we were reassured that the section we were at when the offer was made, was part of a river that washed down all day, and it would be fine for a dip. By this time, the paddle trip had extended past two o’clock, and yes, that is over 6 hours paddling, and it is the middle part of the day, so very hot, it was almost impossible to ignore the temptation that a dip would give a chance to cool down and to rest very tired limbs, and we all went in for a dip) but back to the narrow kayak. Having had a dip and being already wet, I felt that there was little risk, apart from to my dignity, if I tried to paddle the kayak. I asked Rajiv if I could have a go, he smiled, and then looked a little concerned, “it’s 25 years old you know, I made it” but he graciously gave me the paddle, I squeezed into the boat and set off, wobbling up the river, turned without any elegance but without tipping into the water and then paddled back to the bank where Rajiv was standing with his mouth wide open! My prize received later from Anthony, the tour organiser was a whole fresh orange, which had to be worth it and great fun too. It was quite an experience paddling around the backwaters, which apart from being a holiday destination, and a sewage disposal network, is also a place for locals to wash and brush up, sometimes immersing themselves fully and fairly nakedly, for doing the family laundry, for doing the washing up, and for washing and preparing the fish for the family dinner, and we had fish for lunch at our guide Rajiv’s family home, a cute two room apartment situated next to the canal cut which floods in monsoon time. But he was a super guy and he and his wife prepared and served a gorgeous Indian meal, served to us on freshly cut banana leaves. Sadly I didn’t take my phone on the trip so I only have photos on my waterproof camera, so you don’t get to see them yet. But the next day we did hire a small rice boat and took a powered trip into the same area, so I have a few which will give an idea of what the area is like. The trip eventually extended to seven and a half hours, and I wasn’t the only one who was exhausted, I’m glad to say the younger members of the group were as tired as me!
More on this trip next week!
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