Monday, 13 January 2014

India, a world beyond words

I have been racking my brains as to why I am finding it so difficult to write all about my experiences in India. Then just about ten minutes ago I finally finished reading Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and one line near the end lit up in my mind... "things of great consequence are written in few words-the intention is everything, and not the length of the letter." It seemed to make so much sense to me. I can write copiously on the adventures of baking a cake or walking my dogs because I constantly look for all the great little things that make up ostensibly mundane moments. But to suddenly be thrown in a vat of bubbling culture, drowning in new sights, smells and thoughts, my thoughts are whirring and yet they don't quite form words.

For me though this is such a pleasant and new experience. At home my mind is a constant monologue, hissing away with worries and perceptions... what will happen? What should I think of what has already happened? What would happen if things had been different? Why don't they like me? Why do I always think no one likes me? What if I died right now? Wow, it's exhausting.

To find myself in a situation where I can take everything for what it is at face value, to not over-analyse or wonder how it should affect my life, but to simply appreciate it for what it is... it is so relaxing and soothing. I would perhaps compare it to living your life always facing a mirror and only ever seeing yourself, your own flaws, your own dissatisfaction, and even when you see other people it is when they are stood right behind you, so even then you see them as extensions to your life and your situation... then suddenly being here is like someone moving the mirror and behind it is a window, and suddenly you're no longer consumed by your own life's reflection, but whats taking place out the window. You appreciate all the lives so different to yours, that are always whirring away on the outside of your little bubble thousands of miles away, and will continue whirring on once you leave. All I can try and do is open my own little windows on here for other people to peek into these lives, but I know it will never compare.

So call it laziness if you will but my intention is good, even if the words aren't....

These are the flowers draped over the barbed wire enclosing the camp, placed next to a large green pond dotted with lotus flowers that are open, smiling at you, during the day, and close at dusk for night to get their beauty sleep.
Shadows dancing on the floor outside the Rec room
 On Wednesday or Thursday or whatever day was a few days ago now in this warm, dozy life I am currently living, one of the girls who works for IDEX, Saverita, showed me and Trisha how to do henna. The little tubes of this lovely rich stuff only cost 10 rupees each (10p) and so it was very easy to get addicted, painting patterns on your skin in pretty swirls that will be gone in a few weeks time... I think I might use this to get out any urges I have to get a tattoo, safe in the knowledge that it won't stain my skin for the rest of my life. I won't show the pictures of the doodles I did myself as they are vastly inferior to this beautiful pattern Saverita so cheerfully did for me. The women who work here as Project Executives are just all so unbelievably warm and friendly and the work they put in to not only improve the lives of people in the community but also to help the volunteers feel supported is just so admirable.

In the afternoon Shivram escorted myself and Trisha to the local cinema to see a Bollywood movie: Dhoom: 3...
Once again I felt like an alien walking in some peculiar dream world, full of familiar things such as the smell of warm popcorn and the sugary taste of Pepsi from those big cups you get at the cinema, but then also weirdly disorientated by Indian Police officers guarding the doors of the cinema and Hindi adverts screaming in my face. Despite being over three hours long (there was an intermission) I weirdly enjoyed the film. There were no subtitles but the plot was easy to follow... boy meets girl, boy turns out to have secret identical twin with learning disabilities, boy and twin run a magic show in Chicago whilst robbing banks on the side to avenge their father who shot himself when the bankers made him sell his circus.... you know, the usual stuff. Meanwhile a James Bond style Indian detective tries to crack the case with his chubby, comedic side-kick who regularly drifts off into fantasies where he is surrounded by bikini-clad women dancing around him. In fact the amount of skimpy outfits in general was really surprising considering how reserved the actual women of society are. We asked Shivram why these girls aren't considered disrespectful or offensive and his answer was quite simply... "because they're in the movies."

The cinema

Thursday evening I finally saw the sea for the first time, and it was good.

Our local beach is Majorda beach. It's so chilled out and often quite empty. The men who own the wooden shack bars instantly know we're from IDEX and give us discount and literally wait on us hand and foot. Although I think the Aussies are enjoying this constant supply of alcohol a little bit too much... but I won't go into details of their wild, antipodean antics, I'll just say I'm learning a lot about the Australian culture too...

 Doesn't top the pristine, paradise beaches of Thailand yet, but we're venturing down South to Palolem next weekend so I shall see how that compares...

My peculiar adoration of trees has reached a whole new level with these beautiful wonders of snaking vines and twisting branches.

 On Friday we visited a couple of the project sites to start to understand what they involve. The first one we visited was in Monte Hill slums. Plucked from our safe, homely camp and dropped on the top of a hill with a smell so pungent and rancid I felt nauseous we entered this small community, passing emaciated cows eating abandoned rubbish at the entrance.

This is a small Muslim community that built up as workers from other parts of India flocked to Goa to find work and eventually established a home and community on top of this hill. I have actually opted to work with the 'Adolescent Girls' project that works with teenage girls in this area on an afternoon so I hope to learn a lot more about this tight community.

 Fun fact... the Indian Railway Network is the biggest employer in the entire world.

The staff gave us a cooking lesson on how to make Goan prawn curry

The puppy that loved us...

 This is coconut water with aloe. At 135 rupees(1 pound 35) this is quite pricey, but then again can you really put a price on happiness. I have been drinking it in sporadic bursts as it is a peculiar taste...and texture, don't want too much happiness in one go though do i?

 This is Colva beach. While all the Aussie girls went shopping, Trisha, myself and a few of the boys strolled along this crowded beach. We had been told that it was touristy, but to me touristy means full of pink, fleshy sunbathers on bright towels eating excessive ice cream. What I didn't realise was that while this is a touristy beach, all the tourists are Indian. I actually read in one of the girls' lonely planet guide that for every one tourist in Goa from somewhere other than India, there are five Indian tourists. After dressing reservedly 24/7 I was eager to get in my bikini and splash in the sea and feel the sun on my skin, but this is not what Indian tourists do. In my bright white bikini next to my white bare flesh I tentatively did that awkward half jog you do to the sea, eerily aware of the eyes of fascinated and disgruntled Indians watching my every move. After being in the sea with Trisha for about 20 minutes we became aware that no matter how far along we moved along the shoreline a large group of men were following us. I walked back to where the boys were, feeling awkwardly embarrassed and confused, like the Emperor who previously felt so grand in his new clothes when he suddenly realises that to everyone else he is simply butt naked. Wrapped up and covered again I had many tourists asking if they could take their photo with me, for about one second I felt like a celebrity, then I just felt intruded upon.

 After waiting hours for a restaurant to have room for 11 of us we finally sat down in the nicest Indian restaurant I have ever been to where you could watch them freshly making the naan breads and chapatis. I got the most amazing Chicken Tikka Masala, a naan and a drink for about 4 pound 70.

We then remembered that the camp locks its gates at 11 and begged a taxi driver to let us all squeeze into his one car and drive us back home. Piled limb upon limb we sang along to the driver's Bob Marley CD and the staff had so wonderfully not locked us out despite it being closer to midnight,

Like I said, words can't describe being here and all the things I'm experiencing, and I just know I will have missed out so much detail... but it's time for bed now.

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