A long trip east
on Indian Bells (India), 01/Oct/2010 07:39, 34 days ago
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India is a big country, the scale of which you can barely contemplate without having experienced it. Back home in the UK just about the longest journey we consider in the south is the 14 hour drive to Scotland and even that is almost unbearable for my Mother, much to the dismay of Father who considers the highlands his spiritual home. India is 13 times the size of the UK and in the last 10 days I've spent 74 hours on three trains and at least 10 hours on buses. It took a mammoth 37 hour train journey to reach the state of Orissa, in the south east of India. It’s often said that there is no other country as diverse as India, with so many religions, cultures and traditions. Each state could be a different country. I’d gone from the roti eating, dry, semi-arid north to a land I didn’t quite understand where rice is the staple and you have to eat it with your fingers, humidity overwhelms and dinner is eaten off a banana leaf and regularly includes meat.I visited the jungle town of Brahamphur to observe an Advocacy Workshop for People Living with HIV& AIDS (PLHA) facilitated by a fellow VSO Volunteer. Using what I learnt during the two day workshop, I'll go on to document GVNML's Advocacy efforts in Child Rights and Reproductive Health. By a happy coincidence, Brahamphur also happens to be where Ashley and Richard live, who I had my Country Orientation with for a month in Delhi. I had the opportunity to catch up and see their flat and life in placement. On my second evening there, Richard’s organisation, PREM, hosted a birthday party for a friend of theirs. During the party we were treated to cake, cultural performances filled with energetic street dancing combined with traditional moves and a delicious South Indian dinner. Jacob, PREM’s Director, set up the NGO to support tribal children through education where none was available in their villages. Now they work in 5,000 villages with 47 hostels looking after the children for 10 months of the year while they go to English medium schools in the towns and develop into some of the most well-mannered young people I’ve evermet.Brahamphur is a mere 10 hours from Kolkata by train so after the workshop I paid a trip to the cultural capital of India to see two more VSO friends, and the leftovers of Calcutta’s colonial past. It’s a remarkable city- a bursting metropolis with lush greenery, wide roads, taxis with metres, pavements good for strolling, malls, huge parks and restaurants serving all manner of food. We ate delicious Bengali sweets and Bengali fish curry, we shopped, we drank coffee and we saw the sights including the Victoria Memorial which the Britishers left behind and wouldn’t look out of place in Georgian Bath.An exhausting, sociable trip that left me with a bad cold from the climatic changes but a greater understanding of India and the vast differences between east and west, north and south. The best bit was catching up with friends again after 6 months and seeing what other people’s placements were like.Photos (top to bottom)- The group from our Advocacy Workshop; a typical South Indian meal; some of the PREM children; taking our place as‘esteemed guests’ at the front; Ashley outside her flat; Debs with Tim outside her house in Kolkata; the Victoria Memorial building.The views expressed in this weblog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of VSO.