Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry Christmas (or Buddha-mas!) from India!

Hi everyone!

Hope you're all recovering from your turkey and chocolate overdoses? I'm not even going to pretend that I didn't have a slight pining (sp?) for some traditional English Christmas food, but I figure that some of you might be interested in how I spent the Christmas period over here! Plus a couple of examples of random conversations I'm having here....

The week leading up to Christmas was pretty quiet with most of my colleagues out of the office and off around the country on other business. I'll write a bit more about my role and the organisation themselves in the new year – my week was mainly spent with getting more stuff for the flat, sorting out Internet access.

Which brings us to Random Conversation Number 1.... I'll set the scene – I'm walking home, I think I'd just bought some groceries or something and I'm about 500m from my flat. I'm walking past a parked car when the driver leans over his friend in the passenger seat and shouts “Hello” at me. Now, this isn't uncommon – lots of people want to talk to me as the resident white-person, so I decided to stop and be polite like a good English boy. The conversation below is as accurate as I can remember...
Me: “Hello”
Him: “You from which country?”
Me: “UK, from London”
Him: “Ah, London, ok. You have a gift for me?”
Me: “Pardon?”
Him: “A gift? A present?”
Me: “ Why?”
Him: “Nothing? Anything you can give me?”
Me: “No”
Him: “Why not?”
Me: “Why would I?”
Him: “Ok......bye”

Honestly not making it up. I should point out that it wasn't threatening or rude. He actually seemed confused that I wouldn't walk around town with gifts to give to the locals!

Ok, so Christmas.....

There are a few other volunteers in the area. Efren lives in Hazaribag too and has been an absolute legend showing me around. Mabel lives just outside of town. Mani and Mila live in Ranchi which is a couple of hours away. All of them are Philippino – not sure why it's worked out like that, but there you go! Anyway, we all went to Efren's place for Christmas eve and had a big Christmas meal there. It was awesome, although there was definitely a lack of turkey, stuffing and Christmas pudding....We stayed up talking and drinking (they like a bit of a party!) until 2am, before I had to head back to my flat for an early start the next day. Unfortunately, I'd been locked out of my building, meaning the children downstairs possibly believe that Santa Claus has an English accent and cannot negotiate padlocked doors without banging the front door for assistance....

Check out Flickr for more pics (more links and pics on the right)

Which brings us to Christmas day itself....and what better way to celebrate the pagan festival, appropriated by Christianity than by going to the birthplace of Buddhism! Yep, at 8am on Christmas day I was sat in a mini-bus with five Philippinos (one in the boot!) on a 140km drive (3hrs on Indian roads) to Bodhgaya!

Basically this place is the equivalent of Mecca to Buddhists. It has a temple on the site where Gautama Buddha attained unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment. The temple itself is very impressive, and the meditation gardens were (unsurprisingly!) extremely relaxing. Dotted around the main temple are various other temples, built by some of the countries where Buddhism is popular. For example, we visited the Thai, Bhutan and Japanese temples. I've got some video of some pretty cool show from the Bhutan court, which I'm going to try and upload here!

Update: Here's a link to the video

On the journey back, I got the short straw and was sat in the boot. It would have been more comfortable if they hadn't decided to put a small plastic chair in there too, which was too tall to sit on, meaning the spare tyre was the only seating option. For those considering it, I recommend against 3hr journeys sat on a spare tyre...

After finally getting back home I managed to talk to Suzie and the family, which was awesome. I particularly liked my Grandad's comment of “I wish you were here....but I have to be honest Tim, I don't wish I was there!” - what a legend!

Boxing Day was very quiet – I hadn't had a good night's sleep....possibly self-inflicted from eating an entire bar of Toblerone! But the day did bring Random Conversation Number 2. This time I'm in my flat, about to cook dinner, when I get a knock at the door. I open it to see a young guy, probably about 22, who I don't know. Again, the conversation is as best as I can remember it....
Me: “Hello”
Him: “Hello – you have datacid?”- Now, I know I'm new in this country, but normally in England we introduce ourselves after knocking on someone's door, but I let it go...
Me: “Pardon?”
Him: “Datacid”
Me: “Data card?”
Him: “For internet”
Me: “Um, kind of. I have Internet on my phone....” - this is true....the Internet dongle I have needs me to take the SIM out of my phone and plug it in to use it.
Him: “Data card?”
Me: “Sort of...yes...”
Him: “You give me” - unlike the last guy, this was definitely a statement, not a request....
Me: “Um, no”
Him: “I want to use Internet on my laptop”
Me: “Yes, I realise that. But it's my mobile phone SIM card – I'm not giving you my SIM card!”
Him: “No data card”
Me: “No”
[Awkward pause]
Him: “Ok”

Turns out he's from one of the flats downstairs – not sure how he knew I had Internet up here, or why he thought he could just come and ask for it off of me, but there you go! The trouble with being a minor celebrity I guess! (I'm only partially joking on that front – someone I'd never met before knew my name today. Well, kind of, he thought it was Sim, but lots of people have problems with my name, I have to pronounce it “Teem”!)

Anyway, that's enough for today – tune in soon for my New Year's report!

Teem ;-)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I have a flat!

As of this Wednesday, I have moved out of my hotel! I now have a flat just around the corner from the office. It's a great location in terms of the office, but a bit further out of town unfortunately – which means a longer run in the morning to get to the Jheel (kind of a lake, which I'm running round as my daily exercise).

Now, I know that everyone's been waiting to hear about what my accommodation would be like, so I'll try to give as much information as possible...

The entrance is on the main road (Canary Hill Road) and you walk into a tiny hallway. I say hallway because I'm not sure what else to call it – there is a shower and a staircase! My room is on the 2nd floor, so it's up a set of tiny, steep stairs (health and safety would have a field day here!). All the doors here are secured with a padlock and mine is no different.

Opening the door you walk straight into room 1. I'm not entirely sure what I'll do with this room – it's slightly pointless as I don't have a couch, TV or anything else to put in it! My desk is in my bedroom, so I might move that just to make it look less empty! At the moment though, it's occupied by a floor-buffer, which is supposed to be being used to clean up the stone floor, but that's been happening in 1 or 2 days since Weds and still hasn't happened, so I'm not holding too much hope!

There is a doorway through into the bedroom, which has a double bed, the afore-mentioned desk and chair....and that's about it! I have some shelves for my clothes (there are also shelves in room 1, but again, I've got nothing to put on them) - notice the cunning dust cover to protect my stuff!

Heading back to room 1, there's also a sink in here (sorry for dark pic). I think this is kind of my “bathroom” for cleaning teeth etc. but there's no cupboard to put anything near it. Oh well. On past the sink into the kitchen.

The kitchen is pretty narrow, everything is on the left-hand side. I've got a double gas-hob and a sink. I've bought some lovely metal plates that look like the sort of thing they'd serve army rations on. The water runs sometimes, if the guys renovating the room upstairs don't use it all up. Run a bucket first thing in the morning is the answer...! Oh, and Carl and I did a much better job of fitting my sister's kitchen – the handiwork is shoddy at best ;-)

At the end of the kitchen is my balcony. Ah, the balcony. A lovely place to sit out, watch the world go past, read a book, or go to the toilet. Yes, the toilet is out on the balcony! Thankfully (for all of Hazaribag) they have put up a screen to protect my modesty! Still, it's a squat toilet and no running water – which I'm sure will please all of you hoping that I'm having to rough it a bit :-) The photo attached shows the toilet as it is now – I am absolutely not lying when I say none of that frame/door was there when they first showed it to me!

So what's it like living in my own flat? Interesting to say the least! Every morning they seem to feel the need to play “wake up” music at 5.30am. I'm more used to going to bed at 5.30 than getting up then. Add to this that work doesn't start until 9.30 and I'm left wondering what everyone's doing in the 4 hours in between!

My first night in the flat I didn't get woken by the music though. Someone was banging on the door downstairs, or so I thought. After about 10 minutes, in my semi-conscious state I began to wonder if it was in fact someone banging on my door. 10 more minutes and someone from work phoned to say that someone had come to fix my water (it wasn't running the night I moved in). I got up, opened the door, a chap with a big smile walked in, went to my kitchen, turned on a tap, turned to me, said “water”, smiled and then walked out!

Day 2 wasn't much better. First I had the “wake up” music. Then I was going to go for a run, so I set my alarm for 6.30. At 6.35 I got a knock on my door. I open it and the man from downstairs is standing there with his sons - “My sons”, he says, smiling incessantly. I nod at him. They are indeed his sons - I met them the night before. “They read English” he says as he walks into my flat. I'm trying to remember what I did to entice him in, which means I don't really reply to this. “For 10 minutes only” - his sons are now in my flat too and have books with them – I'm beginning to see where this is going... at 6.35 in the morning, I provide an impromptu English lesson, reading about some girls at school performing a school play on the story of Hanuman. I gave another lesson this morning (only one child present this time). I have no idea if this was part of the deal that my organisation have made with the family or not, but it's going to be hard to back out of now – looks like I'm a live-in English teacher for a while!

Amusingly, one of my colleagues, who lives around the corner, also wants me to help his children with their English – maybe I'll just start my own school...if I'm going to wake up at 5.30 every sodding morning I might as well do something worth while with it!

Anyway, that's a pretty big update, so I think that's enough for now. Stay tuned for the next exciting instalment!

Phir mileNge

Monday, December 13, 2010

Trains, planes and automobiles....and balcony toilets!

Well, not so many of the planes to be honest, but lots of the other two.....Last Tuesday I began my journey from Delhi to Hazaribagh, which will be my home for the next 12 months. I had to leave the hotel at 9am, so it was a taxi to the VSO office...there were three of us and lots of luggage, so we got two cars. I guess it was an indication of the journey to come that my taxi had to be push started by the other taxi (note, not the other driver, the other car....he just drove slowly behind us and then bump started it!).

So, around 2pm we got in the car to the station. I had Amit with me to help once I got to the station, although his English was passable at best and I unfortunately hadn't reached full fluency in Hindi following five days in the country....conversation was sparse! My train was at 4.10pm, so I felt that we were being a bit over-cautious, especially as my ticket was already bought, confirmed and I had a seat number, but who am I to argue?

We promptly arrived at the station at 2.45. For those of you not familiar with Delhi station (I'm guessing most of you) there is not a lot for the confused foreigner to do. I sat in the main hall watching a board flip between Devangari and English train names without any mention of mine.....not a great start. Amit seemed just as confused and wandered off at random intervals to who knows where.

It got to about 3.45 and he'd just set off again, when my train got announced – platform 14. Off we went – wish we hadn't. Fun fact for you all – toilets on Indian trains are a hole in the floor of the train. Literally. There is no sewage tank. You can now imagine the smell in a train station. Lovely. Unfortunately, my train was then delayed, so I had the joy of a 1.5 hr wait on the station with nothing to do and no-one to talk to. Wonderful!

So, eventually, after a change of platform due to the delay, my train arrives. I'm in 2A class. That's 2nd class air-con for those of you not aux faix with Indian trains. Basically, you get 6 people in a cabin, three beds and three bunks. Amit has jumped onto the train before it's even stopped with one of my bags and grabbed my seat already by the time I get there. He looks very pleased with himself! We padlock my stuff under the seat and wait while the rest of the passengers get onboard.

The rest of the train journey was fairly uneventful. They bring you food like on an airline – trays of stuff and a never-ending (seemingly) supply of tea! At around 9pm everyone made their bed and went to bed. Unfortunately though, being the polite boy my mother raised me as, I agreed to swap with an elderly gentleman who was supposed to be on a top bunk. Mistake. The bunk he had was shorter than the others. I am not short. It was also narrower than the bottom bunks. Plus I was using my bag with laptop and camera in as a pillow. Not my greatest night's sleep I have to say!

I was met at Ranchi train station by Rajiv, who took me in a taxi to Hazaribagh. It's about a 2-3hr drive. We did it in roughly 1hr 30mins as we had a driver who decided that traffic jams are a good excuse to drive on the right (in India they drive on the left). It was also raining. And the roads look like something that the World Rally Championship would enjoy. Deep breaths Tim, deep breaths ;-)

So, we reach Hazaribagh with it raining pretty badly. I don't have a flat yet, so I'm put into the Hotel Upkar, which looks good all the way up to getting into my room and then drops back to my original expectations of Indian hotels! It does have plumbed toilet and shower though, so I can't complain too much...

Not much has changed since Wednesday in that respect. I'm still in the hotel, as my intended accommodation isn't ready. I say “not ready” in the loosest sense of the words. The majority of it is fine. There is a bedroom, a main room, a kitchen and a balcony. Some of you smart people may have noticed a room missing from that list. There is no bathroom. That's because, for some reason that I haven't yet fathomed, the builders decided that in place of a bathroom, they would make a hole in the balcony....

Yes, you did read that right. My toilet / shower was to be a bucket of water and a hole in the balcony. Now, I'm not a particularly fussy person. I could cope with a unplumbed toilet – I did in Ghana. What I'm not too keen on is trying to use said toilet whilst on a 2nd floor balcony that has a 1 foot high wall and faces out onto the street with nothing else to stop people watching me. Considering also that being basically the only white person in Hazaribagh people stare at me when I walk down the street to the extent that they will literally stop on their bike and stare as I walk past, I can only imagine the audience I'd get having a shower in front of the street, let alone using the toilet! Call me high maintenance if you want....

Amusingly, the third floor flat in the same block appears to have a wall protecting the privacy of the occupants. Why this was not deemed necessary for 2nd floor residents I'm still yet to work out.

Anyway, all this means that I'm not moving in and the landlord has said they'll sort it. I checked yesterday and they hadn't, so I don't know what's going to happen now! For the time being I'm hotel bound, which I'm thoroughly bored of, but don't have too many options at the moment. Fingers crossed for something happening soon!

Right, that's enough for now. Enjoy your toilet privacy wherever you are....

Tim ;-)

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Taj Mahal and Hawks

It's been a whirlwind last week to be honest. I'm in Hazaribagh now, which is where I'll be living for the next year, but I'll talk about that in my next post when I've (hopefully) moved into my own place. For now, I'm going to talk about the last week.

I know I like to tend to live like this normally anyway, but even for me this has been a bit manic! After a few days of very basic training in Delhi (I say training, that's overstating it a bit – we got told how we would be paid, where to avoid in India due to political unrest and I got a 15 minute briefing on my placement, which told me nothing I didn't really already know – i.e. not a lot!), we were up at the crack of dawn for a 4hr bus drive to the Taj Mahal.

Now, I am generally a bit sceptical of visiting places like the Taj Mahal. You know the places I mean – the massive tourist attractions that you just have to see while you're in the country. Normally they're tourist traps and always kind of underwhelm me. The first part of our tour made me think we were in for more of the same – we visited the a tomb just outside of the Taj. Our guide said a lot of people avoid it. To be honest, I can kind of understand why. It wasn't rubbish, but wasn't exactly breathtaking either.

So, on to the Taj itself. I have to say, it's absolutely gorgeous. Forget the photos, forget what you think you know about it – it's stunning. The gardens are immaculate and all lend to the overall air of the place, but your eyes are just continually drawn to that building...

I hadn't realised how white it was. I mean, I've seen pictures, obviously, but somehow seeing it in person that shocked me more than anything else. Obviously the architecture is both technically impressive and beautiful, but that whiteness is what will stick with me. Well worth the trip – if you come to India and don't visit it's a missed opportunity in my opinion.

Oh, and on a side note, apparently the day we visited was the same day Nicholas Sarkozy decided to pop in. He was supposed to be there on the Sunday (day after) but went early, so they turfed everyone out. And I do mean everyone! Luckily we'd obviously already left, but if I'd gone there intending to photograph the sunset I'd have been pretty pissed!

Sunday was a quiet day in Delhi. I took a trip to Sardarjang's Tomb, which happened to be near my hotel. Now before everyone gets bored thinking this blog will detail every single tomb/temple/cafe I visit over the next year, I'm only talking about this one because of one thing – the hawk!

I'd walked around the temple (meh!) and was about to leave when I decided to go and see one of the other gates on the South side. Having reached it I was just telling myself what a waste of time it was when all hell broke loose in a tree about 20m away. These birds were going absolutely insane! Suddenly, out of the tree flew this hawk and soared off to another tree a bit further away. Camera in hand I started chasing it across the gardens. I got about halfway there, camera trained on where I thought it was in the tree, when all of a sudden it swept out of the tree....straight at me!

Now, I had my camera in all the right modes – auto-focus, shutter burst, etc. but unfortunately I obviously still need a bit of practice as they're not as good as they could be, but hey-ho – I still like it...hope you do too! I was going to load a few pics onto Flickr of the Taj as well, but the link isn't very fast here!

I was going to talk about my first impressions of Hazaribagh, but I think I'll leave that to the next update. That and the train journey ;-)

Phir mileNge (see you later)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Greetings from India!

Or should I say, Namaste!

So, I've finally made it - about 8 months after initially applying to VSO I'm now officially out here in India. Been a bit of a madcap last couple of weeks with Visa applications not going particularly smoothly, but thankfully I managed to get mine last Wednesday and I flew out here to Delhi on Monday.

In fact, I was actually quite lucky - they aren't sending any more volunteers this year. Anyone else who didn't managed to get a Visa yet is stuck in the UK until January! So count yourselves lucky that you got rid of me when you did :-)

So, as I said, I'm currently in Delhi. I'll be here until the 7th (next Tuesday), when I catch the overnight train to Ranchi, which is the state capital of Jharkhand, my home for the next 12months. Hopefully Ranjiv will be there to meet me and take me the 50km or so to Hazaribagh, which is where I'll be living and working. No news on the accommodation front just yet, but I'm assured they're working on it - let's face it though, I'm not exactly a stranger to a hotel room, so I think I can manage for a bit!

So what's happening in Delhi, I hear you ask? Well, unfortunately not much! As my visa was delayed I've missed a fair chunk of the In-Country training and won't be given another chance to go through that until March! So in typical Tim style, I'll have to do everything by the seat of my pants.... My schedule for the rest of the week consists of a few talks on finances, security, visas etc.....and that's about it! Over the weekend we're taking a trip the Taj Mahal though, so that's at least a bit of excitement, but I once again seem to be playing the waiting game! I'm trying to fill my time by cramming my head with as much Hindi as I can, but it's pretty slow progress to be honest. Tutor required, me thinks!

That's about it for now I suppose. Next update will be sometime next week I expect, from Jharkhand, hopefully from my new home!

Oh, and I hear the UK is having some lovely weather at the moment. It was 22C today - hope that makes you all feel nice and warm inside ;-)