And had to go around like this for a month in India.
Wednesday, 1 May 2013
Fearing For My Life
So often we plod along, existing, doing, being, in the UK. We tend to forget the fact that our lives are precious and in reality we exist on a precipice of life (this may sound a little extreme…). But in India, I genuinely, and honestly found myself convinced that I was going to die. In these moments I didn’t turn to the God, that as an atheist, I have shunned for as long as I can remember, or frantically found a way of contacting my mother. Instead, I found myself in the Fright or Flight situation, or just plain acceptance.
Incident Number One:
Our visit to Monkey Mountain (unofficially named) managed to instill this fear in me TWICE in the space of about 2 hours. Firstly, the obvious incident which I have discussed where I was literally chased to the top of a mountain and surrounded by approximately 10 evil screeching creatures. It was like that moment in horror films, where the silly weak female character runs UPSTAIRS and locks herself in a room where SHE CANNOT ESCAPE. I did that. But with monkeys. And a mountain. Death by monkey is not a cool way to go.
Incident Number Two:
Also at Monkey Mountain (Please never go there, unless you have a really big stick with you and the ability to stay calm despite being surrounded by twenty thousand monkeys of doom). This involved going up in a cable car, but I think the term cable car is far too generous. It was more like a small box of tupperware with people inside and a shoelace dragging you slowly and reluctantly up the steep slopes. You could hear the metal creak and churn. It did not want to carry us. It was tired, had clearly never encountered much TLC from any engineers and just genuinely was the most agonising time of my life. As the wind blew, so did we. It wasn’t much help that I was sat directly opposite to our peculiar India tour guide who didn’t speak, just stared. Stared at us right in the eye, in a kind of way like he knew we were going to die. But we didn’t.
Incident Number Three:
Autorickshaw journey from Deoghar back to our home, the RTP. Squidged in with Maddy and a couple of our new dancing friends. We are suddenly struck by the realisation that we don’t know our companions all to well and that this journey, at 10pm is probably not our finest idea. The climax of this incident occurs when suddenly the driver stops, and turns of his lights and engine, leaving us completely blind and isolated on the side of the road. Maddy and I panic beyond belief, and she gets out her phone to call Daniella just to put anyone off from potentially killing us etc. The boys get out of the car and we are left alone. We look at each other, pupils dilated trying to counteract the pitch black. Then our friend, Dinkar pops his head into the side of the auto and says ‘What’s wrong?’ and we answer nervously ‘Nothingggggggggg’. And then Nirmal, our other journey companion, jumps back into the auto, with the addition of a pack of cigarettes. Dinkar grabs me, laughing ‘What did you think we were doing? We just got out to buy another packet of cigarettes!’. Relief ran through me, the driver turned his lights back on and we continued our journey home, with no problems or anxieties. Merely feeling a little awkward that we had jumped to these conclusions about our new pals.
Incident Number Four:
If my incidents had subtitles, this one would be – ‘THE NAXALITES ARE COMING’. Naxalites are a local terrorist group, our experiences with them had been minimal, but we had been warned that they did carry out kidnapping, bribery and harassment. So we were aware of their existence but didn’t particularly feel threatened since we were so enclosed in our own little Deoghar bubble. However, on one of our days off we decided to take a trip to what we had been told was a ‘nearby’ waterfall. The journey took approximately 4 hours. Nearby my arse. The pain of this voyage was doubled by the fact that 10 of us were trying to fit in one vehicle, in 30 degree heat. And this pain was then tripled in the realisation that what we had travelled for was not a waterfall, but a rock pool. Despite this, we eventually arrived and had a lot of fun in the shallow waters. Admittedly this was probably the cleanest I had been for the entire trip. Anyway, throughout the whole time we were there I driver was shouting, demanding for us to hurry up because this was terrorist territory, and if they came across a group of people from Calcutta & the UK they would see this as optimum opportunity to wangle some rupees out of us. We got bored of his moaning and reluctantly returned to the car after a couple of hours. We were then obliged to pay off some old men in tea towels, faces drowning with beards. After this, we thought our worries with the Naxalites would be over, but as we were travelling back to Deoghar someone exclaimed' ‘There’s a group of boys on a motorbike with masks on and they have been following us ever since we left the waterfall’. What followed was a James Bond-esque incident, where our driver Harunda dodged, speeded and swerved to get them off our tail. But then after his magnificent effort, the eventually caught up with us, leaving us passengers wide eyed and panicked. Then they simply over took us. They hadn’t been following us at all.
Monday, 29 April 2013
Admittedly, I was somewhat apprehensive about my time in India. I was due to work for three months on a Maternal Health project with VSO in Jharkhand, a state which I had never heard of before, and one which even the Lonely Planet Guide failed to give me much insight to. Whatever I did learn about the place instilled further fear in me; Jharkhand came across as a desolate jungle, filled with natural resources but lacking much sign of wealth or development alongside them. Indeed, whatever I did come across in my pre-departure research sent warning signs ringing in both mine and my mother's heads, they warned me about "terrorist" related issues and the lack of amenities which I would encounter. Nevertheless, it was all arranged and I am not the type of person who gives up on things. So I made my way to Jharkhand with eighteen new friends from both Britian and India, who were also part of the VSO project.
The first month went by, predictably, in a flash. In the early days of our arrival, we became accustomed to things pretty quickly; curry was to be our breakfast, lunch and dinner, auto-rickshaws along dried out rivers and fields was to be our mode of transport, and the incessant power cuts were to be our enemy. We stayed in a 'Rural Technology Park' two kilometres from the nearest market, and around forty minutes from the town of Deoghar. Do not let the title of our accommodation fool you; the RTP was essentially a large warehouse which we often felt imprisoned within, filled with machinery, insects and, most unfortunately, rats. However, it was also our sanctuary where around fifteen of us spent our evenings playing, talking and learning about each other's cultures. Highlights of our first month include exploring the area of Jharkhand and building a rapport with the local communities.
One incident which sticks in my mind is the day that we decided to take a trip to a supposedly beautiful picnic spot up a mountain. This turned out to be a site in which monkeys ruled the earth and any person who intruded was deemed deserving of extreme punishment by these creatures! We turned up to the mountain, bags heavy with samosas and were greeted by a group of seemingly adorable monkeys. The monkeys proceeded to climb on us, howl, steal our treasured samosas and chase us up the aforementioned mountain. At the time, I feared for my life; only now am I able to look back and laugh grudgingly.
As part of the Maternal Health Project which five us worked on, we focused on the Village Health & Nutrition Days (VHNDs) of rural Jharkhand. These were monthly events which were held in tribal villages that aimed to counteract maternal and infant mortality and malnourishment in the area. Ultimately, our aim was to improve the quality of these days and raise levels of attendance, but it was not a simple task. Not only was the language barrier an issue for us all - even the Indian volunteers struggled - because most of the villages spoke a rural, tribal language; but in addition there were so many myths, customs and stigmas which prevented women from making the most of the health services which were available to them.
Initially, I was shocked to see the setting for the VHNDs; small mud buildings, with no windows or electricity, crammed with tribal caste villagers and livestock. How could genuinely beneficial treatments occur here? How could VHNDs improve if the infrastructure was so basic? Nevertheless, as we became more involved in the project we came to understand that these days offer vital and free health services to villages which were so remote from any alternative health facilities in Jharkhand's towns. VHNDs bring immunisations, counselling and nutritional supplements to people's neighbourhoods; they are organised by local and held in a familiar, accessible locations.
Accordingly, as our appreciation for the days increased, so too did our determination to make the events a success. We monitored the day, evaluated services, examined services providers, and generally oversaw the day. We held meetings with tribal women and urged them to attend the VHNDs, promoting the benefits available to them and the importance of taking ownership of their and their children's health. Additionally, we held specific training for the nurses who were involved in the day to ensure that their knowledge and understanding of what was expected from the day was up to scratch. Once we had come to the end of the project, we completed a final report which we presented to the state government; we compiled critical gap analyses, case studies and our recommendations which we are told will be implemented. I am enormously happy with the outcome of my experience on the maternal health project; we developed a counter system which reduced the chaos of the days, saw an increase in attendance at all the VHNDs we worked on and convinced countless women and children to have life saving immunisations.
Throughout the time that we worked on our projects, we continued to make friends in the region and develop our cultural understandings of India. We were fortunate enough to be invited to visit many of our team's family homes; this meant we spent a weekend in Kolkata at our friend Roon's house, here we got to see a more cosmopolitan area of India, take a boat ride on the Ganges, and even attend a wedding celebration. In addition, we had dinner at our other team member, Ashish's, houses nearby and were greeted by his thirty cousins, two buffalo and unbelievably attentive family who fed us until we were completely unable to move!
Another day which will remain in my memories forever, is the work we collectively did to celebrate International Women's Day. As part of VSO, we were obliged to hold a Community Action Day which we held alongside this fantastic day. Promoting the event on local television and inviting over two hundred girls from a local school, there was substantial pressure to ensure that the day would be memorable and beneficial. We orchestrated a fun filled event orientated towards raising awareness of women's rights, gender issues and sexual health. Additionally, the day involved quizzes, cricket, dancing and a martial arts class. It was enormous success, which we hope will turn into a yearly occurrence at the local girl's school.
Our project coincided with the celebration of Holi, an event which we all totally threw ourselves into. The opportunity to throw paint, powder and water over each other in 40oc Indian sunshine was an opportunity we could not miss. Holi led to the whole of Jharkhand turning into a cacophony of colour; cows were tainted pink, autorickshaws were targeted by paint guns, and peopl would walk around, seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that their clothes were permanently torn and their faces were stained an unnatural hue of red.
Once the three months were coming to an end, I came to the realisation that I had completely adjusted to the ways of India. I wouldn't bat an eyelid to a lizard resting inside my mosquito net, I would wake in the morning hungry for potato curry, I could have a two minute conversation in Hindi, and had mastered the art of Bollywood dancing. In fact I have come to the realisation that I utterly adore India; the chaos, colour, smells, the classic Indian head bobble, and the nature of the people that I met, left me completely besotted with the nation.
Not only did my experience of Jharkhand teach me enormously about India - its caste system, the corruption, Hindu gods, recipes for how to make parathas, the hardship that women still face in the country; but I learnt a substantial amount about myself. As one would expect, I left India feeling incredibly privileged, but I also left with the realisation that the capitalist and materialistic world I live in, in the UK, is exhausting, superficial and not something which generates happiness naturally within me. The generosity, hospitality and friendly nature of almost every person I met in India revealed to me the importance of finding contentedness within oneself and expressing it openly to others. Without my three month field work in Jharkhand, I would not have believed that I could cope, let alone thrive, in such an extremely rural and socially challenging environment. Accordingly, I am determined to pursue a career working in developing countries, particularly in the field of women's rights.
Monday, 21 January 2013
After firstly attempting to sledge my enormous, 20kg rucksack from my front door to Norwich train station in the aesthetically pleasing yet hugely impractical snow I managed to get the train to London without much dilemma.
Headed to Putney, where we had our final, yet essentially unnecessary final debrief in the UK. It did however give me a chance to meet my fellow volunteers. I was admittedly quite nervous about this and had consciously decided not to engage in any facebook stalking of my fellow travellers in case I stumbled across something incriminating or just awkward. Luckily, we all gelled quite well and there's a huge array of characters, each of which totally destroyed or justified my initial impressions of my team.
30 of us British ICS/VSO workers set off to Heathrow, with half of us discovering that our plane which we had been sitting on for three hours had too much ice on it... so we had to get off. GR8.
So, in some sort of bizarre Derren Brown esque situation we were thrown together on the floors of Terminal 5, after having been rejected by our pilot. We turned to M&S for salvation, and used cardboard boxes as tools of entertainment until we were offered an 'upgrade' which emerged as the carpeted floor of a nearby conference centre with sleeping bags, yoga mats and out of date Boots Meal Deals. Definitely felt as though we were experiencing the prelude of some sort of Tundra based Zombie Apocalypse with hundreds of strangers kipping on the floor of an expansive, red light hall.
However, after some British Airways hospitality and being sat next to a lovely, insightful girl who gave me some great tips about Bihar and Jharkhand, we arrived in Delhi airport about two days after we had set off. Albeit without any of our luggage....
Despite the fact I've been to India before, it is always a shock when you walk off the plane and instantly feel the density of the air change, and of course the smells. Once we had completed our first obstacle of Indian bureaucracy (invoking the discovery that queuing is NOT a thing here, and that people love stamping bits of paper in an arbitrary and pseudo official fashion) we stepped out of Delhi airport where we saw a welcoming Indian gentleman hold out a sign for VSO. He was surrounded by a thick Indian fog, men in balaclava s, barely a woman in sight. Our personal space was immediately invaded and an audible gasp reverberated among the lips of the locals as they witnessed the joyful yelp expressed by one of my colleagues as she took a drag on her first cigarette in almost days.
Welcome to India.
Sunday, 13 January 2013
These images are some of the most vibrant, lively, colourful and creative that British Vogue has ever produced in my opinion. Think they are a couple of years old now, but I still have them pasted up on my wall. Thought they were especially relevant since I'm off to Jharkhand in about 5 days! EEK!
Thursday, 3 January 2013
Sunday, 30 December 2012
I am fundraising for VSO who I will be going to India with in January for three months.VSO sends volunteers from all sorts of backgrounds to places that are suffering from poverty, war and natural disasters. VSO establishes a sense of cultural understanding across the world by encouraging partnerships and connections between volunteers from the UK and the developing world. What this means is that people from hugely different worlds, work together, to make the world a better place to be in!
I am going to Jharkhand, in rural NE India in January thanks to funding from the Department for International Development, which will allow me to see how the money I raise for VSO which will be wonderful as it will guarantee the money you donate is going to go to the best possible use.
In Jharkhand, I will be living in the local Rural Technology Park, and working with a grassroots Indian charity called NEEDS ( Network for Enterprise Enhancement & Development Support) within their three main programmes:
1) Developing Integrated Pest Management for Illiterate local farmers.
2) Women's leadership initiative, a film project. (This is one of the projects I am most excited about and convinced we could do something quite amazing. Would greatly appreciate any film expertise people can offer!)
3) Maternal health advocacy and campaign.
The money you donate will go straight into the hands of VSO, so please be generous and help them continue their work in fighting global poverty. VISIT MY JUSTGIVING PAGE AND SEE FOR YOURSELVES: JUSTGIVING
Monday, 19 November 2012
1) Image one is a shot from my favourite museum space in Paris, le Palais de Tokyo. It is a good warning to everyone entering Paris. Although, definitely needs some editing... it's not just fear that eats, but so does sadness, happiness, excitement and joy. I JUST LOVE EATING especially in France.
2) This is a shot of our lunch actually at Le Palais de Tokyo. I didn't have high expectations as I usually tend to associate spontaneous meals at galleries/museums as a provider of a service, as opposed to a provider of things gourmet. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the food here, its presentation, flavour and views of the Eiffel Tower were pretty undeniable.
3)When my purse strings were tightened, and I was forced to jump the barriers of the Metro, I realised I couldn't pursue my dream of regular fine dining. But my solution to this problem was quite a pleasant one. A bottle of sparkling wine, some Camembert, freshly baked baguette and some strange flavoured crisps. A little of a carb over load, but it makes for a cheap, sociable way of filling your stomach.
4) Heaven comes in eggy bread form in Paris. This is known as 'Pain Perdu' which translates as 'Lost Bread'. It's known as this, because eggy bread is a way of saving/rescuing stale bread from the bin. This one was covered in cinnamon and had mascarpone on the side.
5) THE PINK FLAMINGO, the best pizza take away service in Paris. This is hummus and aubergine, and was delivered straight to my perch alongside the canal.