Saturday, 11 January 2014

Indian Adventure, cultural orientation

The spider outside my bedroom door

My first nights sleep here in camp was more a night of simply lying with my eyes closed, urging sleep to come. There is a massive railway line about 50 metres from my room and all night gigantic trains come crashing through, beeping their horns so loud you think the sky must be falling to warrant such noise. They sound like monsters wailing to each other all night, charging across the fields with such speed and weight. To add to these loud disturbances, the fan in the room next to mine was left on all night, creating a constant creaky, whirring noise that sounded just like someone slapping someone in the face again and again and again and again and it drove me so insane that even in the brief moments I did drift off my dreams were disturbing trials and tasks involving metal, wailing monsters and people slapping each other.

In the morning I found my ear plugs... better late than never!

The company I have signed up to work with is IDEX which stands for Indian Network of Development Exchange. It is an organisation set up in India that works for the improvement of education in India, with particular focus on overlooked parts of society, such as the poor and the young women.

I received a booklet on my first day with all their goals and rules and they really stress on the point that as Volunteers we are seen as role models in the community and so our behaviour and the way we present ourselves is incredibly important as we have a lot of influence over the locals lives and way of thinking. To help us better understand the traditions of the society here, our first week is full of activities focused on learning about the culture.

On Tuesday, after we'd had some fresh pineapple for breakfast and washed up, Martin who is the Camp manager gave me and another new girl, Trisha, a presentation all about India which was interesting but also made me sad I couldn't explore the whole country when it has so much to offer. We also had a Hindi lesson to learn some of the basics for when we start volunteering such as "stop that" and "sit down" which leaves me cautiously curious about what these kids will be like...

In the afternoon Trisha and I visited the local market and shops. The roads and pavement alike are covered with people, mopeds and cows and the heat hits you from every direction. The shops are a clashing mix of east and west, with traditional saree shops and spice stalls tucked away behind big, plastic looking shops selling fluorescent mini-dresses and slogan T-Shirts. Many of the buildings remind you that Goa was once a Portuguese territory in their large, airy blocks of colour.

Due to the Portuguese control in the 18th century, a majority of this area is catholic and so everywhere is decorated for Christmas still. There's something so bizarre about seeing something so familiar and western such as tinsel and pictures of Santa Claus, juxtaposed with the eastern culture.

We ventured into the indoor market to escape the hot, busy streets and it was like entering a cave of exotic treasures and flip-flops. Hidden under a roof of corrugated iron and with no lighting, the shadowed aisles of the market were like being in a hypnotic maze of hidden treasures with the eyes of the  stall owners silently watching you. Each twist and turn led to more pungent spices piled in mounds and fresh fruit and vegetables of various colours and shapes.

A local girl, Celina, was showing us around and took us into her favourite tea shop where she ordered us some chai tea and onion pakora. All the families with tired little children recovering from food shopping, the weary old women taking a break from selling coconuts on the pavement and the suited businessmen in sunglasses were all gathered here alike, chatting and sipping tea, like an Indian Starbucks. But with much better tea!

The area where we are situated is in South Goa which is still very much populated by local people and isn't very touristy at all. Trisha's family actually originates from Goa and she has visited to learn more about her heritage and the place where her parents were born and where her grandparents grew up so she already knows so much more than me about the traditions, especially the food! Consequently, on our outings with Celina I have regularly been the only white person for miles around, bumbling around wide-eyed and open-mouthed like a little kid in Wonderland, attracting a lot of attention...

coconut oil, I've already bought some to save my hair

In the evening we ate more delicious food cooked by some of the men from the local village and then sat out in the hammocks all talking to each other and spying on a big family wedding taking place in the garden across the field. They had a large firework display and crazy music and disco lights. Apparently the music went on till five in the morning but luckily my ear plugs saved the day, well, the night.

This morning I woke up at six in the morning to get a lift to a local yoga class. The taxi driver isn't very talkative and simply left us outside a large, spooky building with grand iron gates that have rusted over time. A couple of the Aussie girls and I nervously slinked through a gap in the gates and walked up the daunting stone steps and knock on the dark, wooden door. After a while of waiting I pressed a switch hoping it to be a doorbell and not the trigger to some trap door that opens up and swallows us underground, because it felt like there was every possibility that that might happen...

A small elderly woman opened the door and beckoned us in to a large open room with images of anonymous Indian men adorning the walls in big, old photo frames. After waiting nervously on the small yoga rugs an elderly man came in and started teaching us all about the benefits of yoga and then asking us to meditate with him. After the hour spent there, there is no denying my mind felt much more at peace and relaxed.

Before lunch we had a Bollywood style dance class but the less said about that the better...

pig scratching his bum on the brick on way to supermarket

saree workshop, so surprisingly hot!

The puppy Celina brought home from the beach

making a bed in the folds of my trousers

This afternoon Trisha and I visited Panjum (Panaji), the capital of Goa. Where we're staying is quite a rural area, full of locals and tradition so to be somewhere so touristy again felt quite strange. Accompanied by Celina again we dodged the busy traffic and made our way around another odd collection of eastern and western shops before heading to the large church there. This large, white angular building reminded me of Portugal so much which just felt so peculiar to me. So much of the society and climate here reminds me of being in Thailand and so to suddenly see such western and European influences feels like when you're dreaming and everything is familiar and yet completely out of place.

I'm still finding it difficult to adjust to a whole new culture and I can't deny being terribly homesick. However, I'm off for tea tonight with a host family in the local village, maybe they'll let me call them Mum and Dad...

the Christmas tree at camp

P.S. I wrote this a couple of days ago and then have been desperately trying to get all the lovely photos I took of the market to upload but technology is not my friend this week, the photos included are ones I have taken since on a memory card that actually likes me.

P.P.S. Since writing the above I finally managed to get the pictures to work... YAY.

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