Welcome to India
Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
2Trip End Sep 26, 2007
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Wow, I really can't believe that I've been here for five weeks now, it really has gone so so quickly. Being constantly busy during the week and then going on long travels at the weekend really makes the time fly, and leaves little time to use the internet and to write my blog, as you might have noticed!
Everything is still so fascinating and amazing here, everyday brings something new and unexpected, hence the title of this blog, despite having been here for so long. I'll try to quickly recap everything that happened here since my last entry over a month ago, which will be difficult but there are some things that are worth mentioning and others which I'll just brush over!
I think the last time I wrote I was off to the Taj Mahal, which was absolutely breath taking, despite being so exhausted when we got there! The problem is that working 6 days a week means that in order to fit in any travelling I've been leaving work, getting a midnight bus on saturday night, arriving at 6am or 7am wherever I'm going, spending a few hours there and then getting an evening bus back to Jaipur which gets back about 12am or 1am and then its time to start a week of work again. And this is what I've done when I went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and also Delhi a few weeks ago. But, the work I've been doing has recenty changed my enthusiasm for going on these very touristy visits to see some monuments which to be honest are really not in great repair, and are lacking information for tourists to fully explain there significance. Anyway, hopefully I can try to explain the reason I've changed a bit!
Its not that I've gone all serious and emotional but when you come to a country which suffers from such incredible poverty, and when you dont just travel, but live and work amongst the local community, commuting everyday along with so many others on the public transport you really see a lot of shocking things, ways of life which you often dont see as a tourist. The half hour bus journey to and from work everyday has been especially eye opening, and is one of the reasons why everyday is so different and in some ways quite shocking.
A couple of weeks ago, I was on the way to work on the bus and some shouting at the side of the road caught my attention. It was by a new construction sight and there was this old man, wearing just ragged trousers and an unbuttoned shirt sitting on the floor, legs extended in front, pushing himself forward with his hands. He was clearly mentally handicapped, with such a vacant expression on his face, but about 3 meters away from him there was a man yielding a stick, raised over his head, shouting and abusing him, bending down and picking up stones and rocks which he was then hurling at the man on the floor, whose eyes just remained fixed forward as he really really slowly shuffled away. Some of the stones missed but others didnt and still no one said anything or intervened! And this is just one example of the way they treat mentaly handicapped people here, there have been other incidences ive seen, each of them as shocking and unbelievable. Including a large women slumped by the side of the main road, completely naked, again vacantly starring into nothing, and in fact today I saw her again sitting in a pile of dirt and rubbish, just picking at the scraps around here. It really is so sad to watch, and to know that there is no help for these people in the form of government assistance.
And then theres the poverty factor. Children using the street as a toilet, unpleasant but a fact, women and young babies sleeping on the narrow walls in an underpass, men and children passed out on the pavement, an old man I saw the other day with his wife, trying to cross a busy road, helped by a walking stick ,so emaciated that his knee caps bulged out wider than his thinghs! It is all so shocking, but it is the reality faced by so many millions of people here.
The work I'm doing, as I may have told some of you, is directed towards the extremely poor communities in the Thar Desert, the most densely populated desert in the world. A lot of the work I had been doing up until now was just research in the office so I could write the material for my company's new website, which will hopefully go live in the next few weeks, and also writing articles and doing research in to some of the projects my company evaluate. Last weekend though I had my first field visit, the chance to go into the desert to interview people for one of the projects im documenting and which will be published as a book, hopefully just before I leave.
This project was on women's Self Help Groups and so we went out to these incredibly remote communities in the middle of the desert to interview some of the women, learn about the accomplishments of their group, and now that I am back in the office Im writing up these case studies for them to be published. It was this trip more than anything which changed my opinion about all the 'buildings' you can see in the various historical cities of India. It was so amazing driving hours from the nearest town into literally the middle of no where to remote villages. The people there are incredible, so warm and welcoming and so so poor. There is very little, if any infrastructure out here, but one of the biggest problems is drought and the lack of water supplies. Some of the women we spoke to, who have now had traditional water tanks built by our sister organisation, used to walk for 4 hours in the burning heat with heavy buckets carried by hand and balanced on their heads in order to collect their daily water, and this was done every single day of the year, without fail, unless the supplies ran out!
ONe of the most shocking stories though was a woman who lived in a very traditional straw hut with her 5 children aged between 15 and 2, though she is not sure of her childrens exact ages! Her husband used to work in the mines out here, but he succombed to the terrible, debilitating effects of TB and Silicosis, as a reult of working in the dusty mines, in March this year. The fmaily were therefore left with out a bread winner and so it fell on the shoulders of her and her 15 year old son to find construction work or agricultural work, in order to earn a meager living to buy their essentials. Together, they earned 50 rupees per day (it is 80 rupees to one pound!!!!) and even this they could only earn between 15/20 days of the year when they could find jobs. The hardest thing was looking at the 15 year old boys face, he was so so forlorn, not a single smile crept into his, or his siblings faces, the whol;e time we were talking to them. He had aged so far beyond his years, and it was painstaking to think that at 15 he has lost his childhood and is now the pillar of his family!
Anyway, its the stories like these, and there are so many more, which are making this trip so so incredible and eye opening, and it is only through living here and working with these people that you learn about the real cultural values and hardships they face! So lets see what the next 4 weeks bring.....
On a lighter note, just thought I'd mention that my picture was in the newspaper yesterday, one of the most popular daily newspapers across Rajasthan, because they were publishing an article on the NGO im working with! really amazing to have people actually coming up to me on the street and in the gym telling me they'd seen my photo! So Im bringing home quite a few copies, so anyone that can speak Hindi, if you dont mind getting in touch so you can translate it for me! And next week, my NGO want to publish some of the case studies I've been writing this week in the englich newspapers out here called The Times of India and the Hindustan Times, which are published world wide, so will let you know when to look out for it! The exposure I've been given and the projects I'm working on have been so amazing, its not everyday you get to do such incredile work, and have it published not only in newspapers but ive been writting articles for magasines, the website material and the two books im working on for the next few weeks!
Anyway, thats caught you all up with the last month of my travels, hope its not been too boring to read this far, but fear not, ive finished writing now...
Looking forward to getting emails from all of you, its really nice to hear news from home when you've been away for so long,