Thursday, 6 January 2011

The End of an Era...Adieu!

I've held back on my last post as I didn't want to jump in when the first two weeks back have been manic. It's been a bit weird to say the least. I amazingly made it back into Heathrow on the day my flight was scheduled (though postponed by 9 hours). Many others were stranded. On my arrival the ground was covered with snow which made for a very lovely Christmassy atmosphere and I was met by my parents who in their outstretched arms held a blanket and a warm flask of tea. It was good to be back.

But the first few days were odd. I had to eat about four bacon sandwiches over the first few days in order to satiate my cravings. I had to remember to put toilet paper into the loo and not in the nearest available wastepaper basket. I spent a lot of time emailing, calling friends and visiting. 

I had an odd moment when on Xmas eve I made a mad dash round a nearby town to see if I could get a last minute present for my brother which was a DVD he'd requested and I'd forgotten to get him. After visiting six shops I was forced to enter the ASDA. In a big nameless town in Essex, ASDA is the last place you want to be on Xmas eve. My senses were assaulted not by spices and horns beeping but an altogether different kind of mania. My companion pushed me stupified onto the travelator to get up to the first floor. Looking at my screwed up face she said yes it's full of common people in here isn't it? It wasn't the people it was the bananas. The veg aisles (note the plural) were stuffed full of enough produce to feed an rural Indian village for weeks. I hadn't seen anything like it for months. Then a woman's screechy voice with an undeniably Essex brogue screamed that the turkeys were half price and we should all rush to the meat counter to purchase her extra meat. Jeez. Coupled with the grabbing of merchandise going on around me, I nearly passed out at the cacophony of materialism going on inside the store.

At home I pretty much didn't leave the house for two days over Xmas and slowly returned to normality in the UK via the TV (there's one bonus of the old set you know). Well travelling Kerala and diving in The Andamans for three weeks helped too. I have since completed my rehabilitation and after two weeks in the UK I am settled right back in, I'm back to work and behaving normally. Well I say normal but I'm definitely more Indian now. I stand closer to people on the tube and personal space is less of an issue these days. I occasionally burp out loud and realise I am in so-called polite company. but at least the toilet paper goes where it is supposed to.

I'm looking forward to this year. I think bigger, I want another challenge, I have plans and I have new interests. It's all good and I'm still in contact with Deaf Way and VSO and here to assist with anything they need. The internet is a marvellous thing, eh? I miss my colleagues but I know I won't be losing contact with them. No need to be sad, I just gained some very good friends. Will I go back. Hell yes. In some way or another.

The other thing of note is I have enjoyed blogging and YouTubing immensely. It has sparked off a writing hobby and I now regularly turn my musings into short stories. I am putting a natural end to this blog in order to spend time on the world of fiction. 

To complete these musings, here are the things I wished I'd written about and didn't have time:

The shockingly high incidence of sexual abuse of Deaf children
The lack of a decent bilingual education for Deaf children
Rubbish, (the lack of proper) recycling and ragpickers
Climate change in India
The levels of corruption in the Government
The experience of practicing Buddhism in India (eye-opening)
Why people get involved in development work (cos we're lovely?)
How development work changes your perspective of life back home (it really does)

There are obviously many other things that never would have reached this medium but that's me to know and you to find out. For now...Adieu!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Lost Weekend: Finishing up in Delhi

Ok so it wasn't a lost weekend but where did it go? In fact the last 4 weeks just went. In training they tell you the last month of a VSO placement will be gentle. Tidying up loose ends, saying goodbye, eating cake. That sort of thing. Not here.

I was busy trying to squeeze in training for the Delhi Half Marathon (I haven't yet got sick of dropping that into conversations). I had a visitor over from the UK then I remembered the strategy plan for ASLI. There was the flat to finish up and furniture had to be sold and belongings packed. An unbelievable amount of stuff vomited itself out of my wardrobe and the flimsy cane bookshelves yielded a bumper crop of jewellery and brass Hindi mini-Gods. I started the clearance. There was four or so bin bags for VSO volunteers to rifle through. This is a benefit of someone leaving - you get hand-me-downs for your usually sparsely equipped cupboards. Judging by the amount I was getting rid of I must have done well over the last year. The remaining went to the cleaner and there was an inordinate amount of stuff to be posted and couriered back. Frightful. I clearly can not travel light.

After the house sale I had my leaving party. We made a profit from the goods we bought last year so that provided the beer for what was to be the last party in the house. Arun of ASLI/Deafway fame (i.e. the wonderful man I have had the pleasure to work with over the last year) provided the food and manned the barbeque in exchange for being fed with Kingfisher. The Deaf Way staff created amazing canapes and took over food preparations. I concentrated hard on drinking and saying my goodbyes. I had an amazing time and it was a wonderful send off after an unbelievable year.

It was back in the office on Monday after partying, moving out and dealing with a hangover of proportions not seen yet this year. I managed to finish some final bits and we had the obligatory pizza (Puneet, the IT and English teacher, was leaving too). After lunch I said my goodbyes and there it was. I blubbed. Totally unexpectedly. Anyone who has kept up to date on this blog will know how much I have enjoyed being here. And that is a gross understatement. I've lived, worked and breathed Delhi. Anyone who knows how dusty it is here can imagine the hardships I may have had to endure.

'Will you be back?' is the question du jour. I hope I have given some idea of how much the Deaf community is still being discriminated against here. Interpreting services are just one part. Education where sign language is virtually banned, not being allowed to drive, a total lack of equality when it comes to employment, no mental health services, a lack of academic sign language and interpreting goes on. I'll be offering any assistance I can from the ether. And I have some plans afoot but I'm not done in India just yet. It's all about the R&R and taking some time out to consider my next steps. It's the beach for me for now. 

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Tourist India

Tourist India is, to my mind, a bit exhausting. I recently had a colleague and friend over to visit from the UK. As the person who has travelled around the country it falls to me to be the responsible one; ensuring plans are feasible, trains are booked and boarded and nothing goes wrong. But this is India so things do go haywire occasionally. Travelling around regularly makes it a bit easier and luckily nothing went wrong. Most things aren’t too tiring apart from the struggle to communicate and the continual fight for a fair price. You see it’s the skin tax thing again. 

There are, generally, two tourist India’s. The five star luxury where you don’t see much of the real India at all. You pay through the nose for this and if you ventured into your hotel’s kitchen you might get the idea you weren’t in a decent hotel at all.

The other India is more real but they still try to make you pay through the nose for what you get. I’m off travelling soon as my placement ends. I’ve decided to head somewhere, stay with friends I’ve met. When I need to venture further I’ll hunker down in a half decent hotel and limit the contact I have with tourist India if I can.

For anyone coming here it is fun but you have that same old fight on your hands to not be seen as fair game. In fact if there weren’t so many people coming to India who allowed themselves to get ripped off it might help but in some cases it keeps families afloat so we shouldn’t begrudge. Pay over the odds sometimes to someone who needs it more than you. Don’t be the back packer or foreigner that treats everyone like crap and haggles over every rupee.  

I’m off soon and I’ll be the tourist again. I’m hoping the receptipon I get in Kerala will be more like Amritsar where everyone was friendly and out to help rather than Varanasi where everyone just wants your cash. After a year of working here, I’ve loved it n’ all but I really don’t want that tourist fight. I just want a nice little beach, a massage and a glass of chilled white wine please.

Friday, 12 November 2010

How very Vipassana

Recently I went on a Vipassana meditation course. I was expecting 10 days of no speaking but as it sometimes happens in India what is supposed to happen just doesn’t. You can read about what should happen on fellow vol and friend Izzy’s blogWe both agreed I was a bit unlucky though in the end the result was pretty much the same.

I arrived at the centre and immediately hit it off with S. who like another 5 Western women on the course lived in Rishikesh and hung out learning all about yoga and other spiritual practices. We wondered if we’d be able to remain incommunicado for 10 days and we agreed we’d have to avoid eye contact. We drove out of town through the hills behind Dehradun and arrived at the centre. After Chai and chatting we proceeded to take instructions and started our silence.

Up at 4am the next morning we started the regime of 10 hours meditation a day which was to become strangely enjoyable after a few days. What was not so much fun though rather entertaining was one woman screaming in the mediation hall amidst the rest of us concentrating on our breath. This happened again on day 3. Also one elderly woman had been admitted who chatted to herself throughout and clearly wasn’t in a fit state to participate. On day 5 after the constant talking of some participants got to me I talked to the onsite doctor. I was informed the elderly woman was dropped off by her husband. With a lack of welfare services here he probably just wanted a form of respite care. By the end of the 10 days the women were all looking after her and I suspect she was suffering from Alzheimers.

The mediation went well despite the lack of silence. On day 5 I tried really hard to have a quiet day. It worked until 8:05am when 5 minutes into mediation the doctor passed me some decongestant pills I’d requested. Wait until perhaps I had my eyes open? Not here in India where rules are all so important but in reality always broken. Ho hum.

The evening of day 5 saw a change in the group dynamics when so much talking was going on the old Western students who had done courses in the US and Europe also gave up. We all happily talked to each other outside of meditation sessions in snatched conversations. One who understood more Hindi than I told me the screaming woman thought she had been possessed by demons and on day 3 they had left her body through her nose. By day 6 amongst the insanity I’d given up on silence too. A shame considering I was really enjoying any quiet time I actually got. By then I was getting it and we’d been given mediation cells in the pagoda on site. A relief as every time we had leafy greens for lunch the men would fart their way through the afternoon.

Around this time the hours of cross-legged concentration kicked in and clarity struck. Vipassana can reveal spooky sensations. Things come up from your past that you had forgotten. The smell of the local library’s highly polished floor at aged 8. The dress you wore when visiting the senior school on an open day at age 11. Amongst the inconsequential, the stuff you wanted to forget comes up. The idea is you meditate so deeply the feelings you dealt with using logic can be felt at a deeper level. The trick then is to deal with them at this level of subconscious and truly get rid of them. It sounds a bit pop psychology but it works. It's what makes 10 days of insanity all worth it. Each person has a unique experience and people who attend regularly report feeling differently each time. It’s reported that often people leave with a changed world view or a heightened perspective of the world. They’ve even tailored a special course for executives enabling people to rid themselves of pointless negativities and subsequently enhancing their performance. What is clear is only the brave or the mad do this but we all come out the better for it.     

Monday, 8 November 2010

Fever. In the morning, fever all through the night…

Out of 15 volunteers currently in Delhi, 7 have been struck down with mysterious fevers and illnesses. That’s nearly a whopping 50%. 

Dr H., our resident VSO doc must be chanting a new mantra: a volunteer a day keeps the bill collectors at bay. Although I like to think he doesn’t charge to see us VSOers as he is so lovely. One doctor he referred me to said that he’d retired and made his money so he was happy to help out those who were helping others. 

Of the 7 that have been struck down, we’ve had cases of Dengue (2), Chikungungya (1), unidentified fevers (3), a strange rash and unknown vomiting (2). No Malaria yet but it could just be a matter of time.

My fever came and went with joint pain in 24 hours. I was in Tamil Nadu. Back in Delhi three days later it came back with a vengeance and I couldn’t move my arm or see very well. I freaked out when one of my eye balls started clouding over and rang the doc in tears. Not very good at being ill me. He reassured me and I went in for a check the next day. Fever had dissipated and mobility in the arm had come back to the point where it was hard to tell I’d been ill apart from the clear lack of sleep.

I was sent off for 4,000 rupees worth of blood tests. That’s nearly £60! Hard to imagine when you’re used to the NHS. You can see how doctors and hospitals get accused of sending people off for random tests in order to make some extra cash. People tend to be in favour of a government hospital as although basic they tend not to overcharge. I say hospitals are basic but one volunteer here when admitted with Dengue had a plasma TV. I obviously don’t envy the Dengue though.

£60 later and I got to check my results on the internet within 12 hours. I called the doc and said I don’t know what it was then and he said, 'well neither do I!'. The mystery remains and thankfully it looks like I and my fellow vols here are all on the mend…

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Let the Games commence…

I missed out on my swimming ticket due to a rescheduling of the Coimbatore interpreter training. I’d had a few emails whilst I was away asking if the atmosphere in Delhi had changed due to the Commonwealth Games and what it was like. I wasn’t expecting major changes in the city though I’d read news of the special CWG lanes causing havoc for drivers and the venues not being ready on time. I was expecting even more overinflated auto rates and more tourists but that was about it.

I was lucky enough to return by plane rather than endure another 42 hour train journey (ok once but not twice in two weeks). I booked my taxi then headed over to the chaos that was the pre-booked taxi stand. I’d never seen it like this before. Tourist wandered round like lost sheep and the taxi men were barking numbers and herding people into their cars. There was nearly fisticuffs as one local was about to lose it. I took matters into my own hands and flagged down the car with my number on it. Once in I had to listen to the CWG theme song on repeat for 45 minutes. Still, I didn’t even think it was as bad as the critics say.

I wasn’t sure if I was mistaken but Dilli looked a bit cleaner. Recently the plastic hoardings they’d put up to make the roadside look better had been ripped. They’d fixed that and there was a definite increase in shrubbery.

At the docs the next day there were definitely more cargo pant wearers and people in silly hats that scream tourist. Strangely though, when I got to see the Games I saw comparatively few tourists at JN Stadium but then I was in the cheaper seats. I happily sat amongst screaming families as they cheered on the brilliantly entertaining men’s triple jumper Maheshwary and no less than 3 Indian javelin throwers. When England won both the men’s and women’s 100m relay there was no doubt as to which country I came from. We went on to win a few more medals and I’m glad India did too, the stadium atmosphere was electric.

A few days later and it was time for some badders. With every match featuring either England or India it was going to be a good day. It ended with two golds for India with the brilliant Saina winning the women’s singles. England ended up with 3 silvers surprisingly as in two matches they looked close to being able to win.

I had a good conversation with a gentleman who was telling me that good sportsmanship was important and everyone should be clapping both sides. I think he was trying to negate the fact that the couple behind me were shouting at the England player that he should hurry up and lose. Charming. They did get confused though when they realised his first name was Rajiv. They wondered for an instant whether they should be supporting him then went back to cheering on the freakishly fast Malaysian Chong Wei Lee. This is a man who has lost something like one match in his last 60. Rajiv, you did brilliantly.

One teenager kept walking in front of me when crucial points were being played. I held him off with one hand as Anthony Clark hurled himself onto the floor then turned and calmly stated that you should wait whilst points are being played. Hmmph. Many of the crowd turned up half way through and popped out during matches. It was obvious they were only there to see Saina in the last match. Shame the people in my row weren’t more like my gentleman friend and there for the sport not just the Indian players.

Needless to say the venue went wild with all the police and volunteers coming inside for the last game. Saina was pretty brilliant and absolutely deserved the gold. Thing is if everyone was inside who was left outside? Not many by the time I snuck out as she was doing her lap of the crowds.

The excellent organisation of the whole games wasn’t that surprising. Even the new metro line was open enabling me to use my CWG ticket to get to the games for free. This is how it rolls in India. It all seems like chaos. All the naysayers are baying that it’ll never happen on time, things will be a mess and everything is a disgrace. Then it all comes together at the last moment and you wondered how you ever doubted it all.

Look at South Arica and the World cup. There’s nothing like hosting a world sporting event to boost your country’s credentials, the economy, employment and a sense of national pride. It just a shame that corruption meant the toilet rolls were being charged at 4000 rupees and the price of a treadmill rental was reportedly more than the cost of buying it. But the CWG has highlighted to the world the controversies of India. The ‘shining’ India, the one capable of being on the world stage with its growing economy alongside the poverty, the way slum dwellers were dealt with and the corruption that pervades everything political. Now the games are over, let the investigations commence…

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Coimbatore - Interpreter Training Course Number 3

There are always some ups and downs in the first few days of the interpreter training. You rock up in a strange new town, unpack and prepare yourself and the trainers for what is to come. You take a long look at the list of names, their backgrounds and talk about their potential.

Some of the people that you thought had promise and you were excited about just don’t turn up on the day: illness in the family, changed minds, live too far away, think because they have done a sign language course they don’t need to learn about interpreting. The last reason is the most disappointing. The primary aim of the training is giving specialised interpreter training to those that have language skills whether they are bilinguals by virtue of having Deaf family or friends or because they may have learnt some sign language already. Sign language and interpreting skills: two different things people.

It’s great when you get random people turn up, those that you thought may never come and they transform over the week into knowledgeable, committed and passionate people. Being in an immersive environment for 9 straight days with members of the local Deaf community, learning from Deaf and interpreter trainers about linguistics and Deaf perspectives makes people’s ISL skills and use of specialised signs shoot through the roof.

We’ve had tons of people having light bulb moments. The guy with a Deaf friend who thinks that Deaf people don’t know very much – he’d only met one Deaf person who’d had a terrible education. A couple of days with our brilliant Deaf trainer and he was a changed man. The teachers are often the best to see. In Coimbatore we were lucky to have three teachers of the Deaf attending. All had worked for a few years and some had a basic level of signing. One broke down and cried on day one. She said going through the sign language assessment that she realised how difficult it is to understand in a different language and how bad it was that she hadn’t used signing with the children for four years. I’ve found that these light bulb moments are the turning point for people. They improve dramatically and often go on to be the strongest advocates of Deaf people and sign language.

As this was the last course I’ll be attending I have spent most of my time refusing to deliver or facilitate sessions in order to watch and play a more supportive role. I’ve been in the background watching, advising and providing input where necessary which gratifyingly has been hardly at all. I was struck down by fever one day and took to my bed in the Deaf Centre in the next room. From there I could hear them all happily role-playing away. When I popped my flushed bedhead into the room to see if everything was ok I was sympathetically told to go back to bed!

After two previous courses and an evaluation process it seems the changes we have made have left ASLI with a course that can be delivered for months to come to many potential or existing interpreters in India. I’m chuffed and really proud of the course content. Dramatic changes occur to participants over the nine days and it amazes me every time I see it. I can’t wait for the day when India gets much longer interpreter training programs. Just imagine the results that will be possible then.