Week 3 in Ozhalur – including a trip to Chennai

This week we finally managed to get permission at a college called Rajeshwari where one of our nationals, Hari, went. Unfortunately the permission is for the 5th of August so we have a while to wait yet. On Tuesday, Hari came into work and told us that there was a Hindu festival today and that we should walk 5 minutes up the road to visit the temple. After walking for 30 minutes we eventually reached said temple to discover that it was not as colourful as we had imagined it to be as it was either being built or restored – we couldn’t tell which! We then walked around looking for the entrance and ended up where we had been originally before we finally entered only to be told that people were worshipping and we would have to wait for twenty minutes before we could enter. After 10 minutes sweating amidst shaved heads and burning butter oil candles Hari kindly informed us that it would actually be an hour before we could go inside so we decided to leave and come back another time. On the way back we decided to get an auto and we managed to fit a whopping 15 adults inside one – Fay did not look at all comfortable though. Autos pretty much sum up the chaos and business of India. If people can fit, they will regardless on one’s own comfort. And personal space just does not exist! Much like in Nepal, if you are on a bus and you have a seat and a woman gets on with her children or shopping then you will end up with said shopping or even a child on your lap.

On Tuesday afternoon we scouted out areas for our Kitchen Gardens. Our target is to make four and the idea is that waste water from washing up is used to maintain a small garden growing vegetables and leaves to prevent that water from building up and becoming stagnant. This both encourages people to grow their own vegetables and take care of their land but it also reduces the number of breeding sites for mosquitoes and so limiting the spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, filariasis and dengue fever.

On Thursday the health team headed into Chengalpattu to buy some tools for the kitchen gardens. For some bizarre reason normal-size rakes do not exist in Tamil Nadu – only tiny ones the size of my arms. We’ve had to add a handle to one just so we can stand up when we use it. Spades are also a thing of mystery and after hours of searching we gave up hope of ever finding one and instead settled on what I will describe as a backward spade where the spade faces you as you hold it and you dig by an overarm action pulling the ground towards you.

There is one small problem with our accommodation that I have yet to mention and it is to do with rats. I have been sleeping under a rat’s nest for the past few weeks and have only just become aware of this fact. We had guessed for a while that rats were scuttling above us on our bamboo ceiling but one morning this week I happened to look up and the morning light hit a shadow that I followed as it moved around the room. I saw its nose peep through a hole and its tail as it fell between two pieces of bamboo. I am weirdly at ease with this so long as the rats do not descend into our room and so far this has not been a problem. However, on Thursday evening Fay and I noticed that a light had been left on in the YRC and we went together to turn it off. Fay realized that the kitchen windows had been left open by the cooks and she said that she needed to close them to stop the rats coming in. We turned the lights on and to our dread we heard scuttling. We screamed like girls and ran out of the room. After composing ourselves we re-entered the room with Saravanan, our hero, who had heard us scream and come to our rescue. He managed to find the rat and chase it out of the kitchen and so we locked up knowing that the cooks would find some half nibbled potatoes the next morning. I found it difficult to get to sleep that night as I had so much adrenaline pumping through me.

On Friday, Holly and I spent most of the day making and planning resources and painting the bookshelf. I will upload a photo once it is complete but we are very proud of it so far. In the afternoon, much like an Indian child, I was making my own fun with a stick and a water bottle and using the stick to launch the water bottle into the air. When this stopped being entertaining I tried with a tried up piece of fruit and it flew so much better. The next time I tried, everyone watched in slow motion as it hit Rukmani, who was absentmindedly watching the boys play badminton, right in the face. I felt AWFUL. She burst into tears once inside and Jodie and I spent a long time with her icing it and for the first time since our arrival she was actually quiet. We ended up bonding over the incident though and she now calls me ‘Akka’ meaning older sister. She and her best friend Laxhmi also won’t stop giving me hugs much to my disbelief.

On Saturday morning I discovered the reason for separating clothes during washes. My nicest salwars now have green splodges all over them as my new pair of orange trousers had leaked everywhere. I was distraught and spent hours scrubbing to no avail. I’m hoping that with time and more washes the splodges will fade but I have certainly learned a valuable lesson. The day picked up when we held a very successful computer class with over 12 people attending. In the early evening, Becky, Jonny, Holly and I went on a walk up the hill opposite us and Jonny played a prank on us pretending to have been bitten by a snake. We knew we were late for dinner and couldn’t find Jonny. We weren’t sure whether he had just left without saying anything but we thought we should look for him just in case. I have to say that when I saw him lying on the ground for a split second I thought something bad might have happened but then I realized it hadn’t. When we got back, we left for Ranga Residences where we went for dinner on their rooftop. It has such a nice view over the whole of Chengalpattu and the food was amazing. Holly has decided to come back here on her birthday next Monday.

On Sunday, Fay, Jodie, Holly, Leah and I boarded a train from Chengalpattu to Chennai for a long-awaited shopping trip back in T. Nagar. We were lucky enough to get seats on one of the ladies carriages on the train as it was absolutely packed. A few stops later people couldn’t even get on the train and had to wait for the next one. Once we arrived Fay went to meet Victoria, the team leader from Thiruvellore and we all headed straight to an ice cream parlour where we ordered two drinks each from the most efficient waitress I have ever come across. As soon as our drinks were finished we paid and were ushered out. There is no waiting around once you are finished as the business are paying to keep you cool for nothing! We spent the morning in shops and then met up with Fay and headed to a hotel for lunch. We then spent the afternoon hunting for nighties for Holly and sarees for everyone else. I am surprised to say that I hardly bought anything in Chennai as I already have a saree that I adore. Making our way back to the train station was exhausting. By 5pm the streets were packed and most people were also headed for the station. It took about 10 minutes to climb a few flights of stairs and if you had jumped up I’m sure that you would have been carried up by the motion of others pushing you forward. I certainly felt like I had no control over my own legs and movements. We ended up getting on a fairly empty train and managed to find seats but we had to change trains. We were not so lucky this time. The train was rammed full and we had to get on in two groups through 2 different doors. A woman punched both Holly and I as she tried to get off after yelling at us when we had no idea what she was saying. I sent my Mum a picture of myself by the open door which I will post later and she got so anxious telling me to get away from the door and to hold on tight. Safe to say I am still alive and did not fall out the train and we eventually did get a seat for the last part of the journey. All in all, a very successful and exciting week.

Lots of love,

Em xxxx