Friday, February 25, 2011

Volunteer Survival Strategies

Hazaribag is not a big place. I live on the outskirts and can walk into the town comfortably in 25-30 minutes. There is one cinema (Hindi only, obviously), no sports complex, bowling alleys, live music venues, swimming pool, golf courses, pubs (!), theatres....basically all of the things that in the UK we tend to use to fill our lives. So what is a volunteer to do....? This is my guide to surviving as a volunteer in India....

Exercise is important – it's obviously good for your physical health, but also your mental well-being. I love running in the UK, and here is no different. Every other morning you can find me running to the Jheel and back. It's quite pleasant out there to be honest. The Jheel is basically a man-made lake. Unfortunately, due to a lack of a proper monsoon last year, there isn't much in the way of water in it any more, but it's got trees all the way round and the paths are quite good – which makes it as good a place as any to run. I've been involved in a couple of impromptu games of cricket too, but I bat like Phil Tufnell and bowl like Inzaman ul-Haq (I'm guessing here, but I can't see Inzi steaming in and pinging one down at 90mph). I'm looking at getting some morning football organised too....

Reading – I read. A lot. The Kindle is officially the greatest invention of mankind. I will accept no argument. I can store 10,000 books (I probably have about 70 on it at the moment, so still a bit of space) and take them all with me wherever I go. I read in my flat, on the bus, at Cafeteria. I'm falling in love with reading again and that's a very good thing! Recommendations this week - The Raw Shark Texts and Generation A: A Novel.

The Cafeteria at the Jheel is a great place to spend an afternoon btw. Cafes don't really exist in Hazaribag apart from here, but you can sit around, watch families come for picnics and enjoy a bit of sun away from all the traffic and noise! You also get coffee and good food – winner!

The Kindle also gives me access to the Internet, anywhere in India, for free. Yes. For free. Ok, so it's not like using an iPhone or anything like that, but I can check my email and get the latest football scores ;-) Luckily for me, India is well connected in terms of Internet, so I can also actually get online most of the time during the day in the office. I say most of the time – powercuts happen a bit more often here than in the UK ;-)

Cooking – ok, so I'm not going to get a Michelin star any time soon, but I'm enjoying being back in the kitchen again after a year of Marriotts! Among my accomplishments so far: Indian flatbreads, steamed pudding, pancakes, apple fritters and numerous curries.

Music – ok, so this is a bit of a no-brainer, but I listen to a lot of music. Everyone knows this. If I'm on my own I have music on – my mp3 player never goes more than about 10m away from my person at any time! Here though I've been using Spotify a lot. If you haven't used it before, Spotify allows you to listen to music over the Internet – and it's legal. You can have it for free and it will play a couple of ads per hour (like a radio), or you can pay like I do - £10 a month. For that I also get to download the files to my laptop – useful during power cuts (see above!). I really can't praise the service enough – plus you can link it to Facebook and send songs to your friends as you find them. Awesome! (Not too subtle hint – if you use Spotify, send me links to stuff you're listening to at the moment!)

Blogging – obviously I do this too. I write about my experiences and thoughts. It's good to do from a professional point of view (my Genius or Guinness blog) – I'm thinking about the work a lot more, but also it's a good way of getting the story of VSO and Srijan Foundation out to people, which is the important thing really. People seem to like the blogs too, so hopefully people are getting a few laughs out of this too!

Try to learn Hindi – so, I still haven't got lessons organised, but I have got a pretty good program. It's called Byki and the Express version is free to download. I've downloaded a load of lessons for it as well and I'm working through them. I need help with my grammar and pronunciation, but apart from that I'm golden! ;-) In all seriousness though, I am improving (slowly) and can get by in terms of buying whatever I need and making myself understood. Not going to be translating War and Peace into Hindi any time soon though!

Finally, and probably most importantly, getting out there, walking around, talking to people and exploring. I probably don't do this enough at the moment, but the people here are soooo friendly and happy to see you in their country, it would almost be a crime to stay indoors. In fact – I'm going to make it against the law. If you're a volunteer in India and don't spend at least one evening a week walking around the town and meeting people, I will come and bash you around the head with a chippathi pan!

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