Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year

Short blog today

This is just to say 'Happy New Year' to everyone

I had said I'd know how to say that in Oriya by today, but when I asked my colleagues they didn't see the point of translating it for me as everyone here just says ' Happy New Year' in true Hinglish style.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas - a bit different from year's past

It’s always nice to be at home for Christmas but if you’re going to be away then the best thing to do is to be sure you enjoy it.

Christmas started on a very high note for me. The one evening I was hoping to get away from work early to kick start my first Christmas in the sun, I was asked to be sure I was still in the office at 4pm. It turned out that my Hindi colleagues were planning a surprise Christmas party for me. It was a big surprise and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Despite being the only Christian in the building they went ahead which is now a four year tradition in CYSD. For the past few years they have recognised Christmas as a special time for their mainly VSO Christian colleagues.

I was invited up to one of the conference rooms to find approx 30 of my new friends and colleagues all gathered in a room decorated by balloons, with a cake, flowers and a gift on the table at the top of the room. As guest if honour I was invited to sit in the chair next to the Chairman of the organisation and he opened the hour by explaining to his team the reason we were all gathered. Some of the group then started singing some Indian tunes as everyone got into the party spirit. When asked to return the favour I politely declined, and then was asked to tell (thankfully not sing) the story of Christmas.

As a reward for my story-telling talent I was then given a Christmas gift of a lovely kurta, a pair of handmade earrings, a bouquet of flowers and a cake and sweets which I shared with everyone. Then later hot appetisers were brought in by CYSD catering staff. I was asked to model the kurta and earrings which I due obliged and as you can see plenty of photos were taken, by the unofficial office photographer, Ganesh.

I was then put on the spot and asked how many of my colleagues’ names I could remember. I have said many times in the last 2 weeks that I am struggling with Indian names, not just hearing them, but remembering them and I had to be honest and say not many. But despite that I was challenged to name the ones I could remember, and thankfully in most cases I got the pronunciation correct. I had to admit that my challenge would be to remember everyone’s names by the end of January (I hope no one remembers I said that and decides to quiz me in 5 weeks time)

Once the party ended I trotted off to the lovely Mayfair hotel, 15 mins walk from the office and approx 30 mins walk from home, to spend the next 2 days with my new friends from Canada, UK and Kenya. We started with dinner in the Thai restaurant on Christmas Eve. I was delighted to be able to tell my 7 year old nephew the next day that I had ‘Poo’ for dinner. Thankfully that’s the Thai word for Crab.

Christmas morning was not a traditional Christmas. We all started off by spending a few hours in the hotel spa, massages all round, followed by a buffet lunch. We hadn’t planned on lunch after such a lovely breakfast, but when the maitre d’ informed us turkey was on the lunch menu we had to return if only to see turkey on an Indian menu. It wasn’t as we would know it at home, but it was turkey. It was great to have it. It's been difficult buying meat out here. On my walk home every evening there are two stalls that have chicken for sale -but they're a bit fresh if you know what I mean !

The afternoon was spent lounging by the hotel pool only to be followed by dinner in the same Thai restaurant. We decided to return to the same place as the other restaurants in the Mayfair are all around an Indian theme and we thought it would be a nice break from Indian food just for the few days. Apart from that the food was delicious.

Later in the bar on Christmas evening (yes, unlike at home bars still do open on the 25th over here) we met a lovely group of people who we will certainly be keeping in touch with.

Unfortunately on the morning of the 26th our Christmas came to an end as we had to check out of the hotel and return to our homes, and back to living on our volunteer’s allowance. But naturally we did hold onto our room as long as we could and only checked out at the last minute, to be soon followed by wrecking the head of the hotel receptionist as we tried to split the bill into 3 so we could each pay for what we had had. A great 48 hours for €130.

And to put the icing on the cake we finished off the night by finding our first cinema since arriving in India to see the film 'Avatar'. We just assumed it would be in English but of course it was dubbed in Hindi. A great film despite understanding approx 5 words. The moral of this story being I must take out my Ipod and listen to my Hindi tutorials again. At the rate I'm going I'll never master Oriya as well !

As I write this it is definitely back to normality as the daily dog chorus is tuning up for it’s evening performance !

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Season’s Greetings

‘Christmas time. Mistletoe and Wine……’
Well, this year there’ll be no mistletoe or wine, but maybe a Dosa and some Kingfisher beer. No snow either (typical it’ll be a white Christmas the year I’m not at home) but basking heat.

It doesn’t feel a bit like Christmas over here. Hinduism is the main religion here in Orissa and Christians are in the minority, but on saying that the 25th December is recognized as a national holiday all the same. For most it’s back to work on the 26th, even though it’s a Saturday. Offices here open Monday – Saturday, except the second Saturday of the month.

There are small signs of Christmas to be found if you look hard enough. The local supermarket is selling Santa hats and the recent trips to the local coffee shop have included the staff trying to sell me a Christmas pudding. I don’t know if the shops close on Christmas Day, but I’ll find out soon enough.

The big festivals here are Diwali, which celebrates Lord Ram, Republic Day and Holi, the festival of colours and water throwing. For Holi I have been warned to wear whatever I don’t mind throwing away as people will throw paint and water at you as you walk down the street. That’s in March so I have plenty of time to prepare.

So ‘Christmas kyi shubh kam nayen’ (Happy Christmas’) from a sunny Bhubaneswar
I’ll have learned how to say ‘Happy New Year’ before the 31st.


PS If anyone is still deciding what charity to give to this Christmas please think of VSO. It costs the organization over 20,000 per year to train and provide living allowances and accommodation to each volunteer overseas. You can donate through and put in my name. Thank you

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hello Readers !

Hello to everyone who is reading my blog

It's great to know so many are reading it and I hope you are enjoying it.

If you'd like to learn about anything in particular please send me an email or post a comment and I'll do my best to oblige

In the meantime I'd like to know who is reading the blog. I hear from home that a good number of you are reading this but haven't signed up as followers.

Can I ask you please to do this so I know who you are?

It's easy.

  • Click on the 'followers' bar in the left column. It may have the word 'Google' under it.
  • This will take you to the next page where it will give you an option of signing in through your preferred email provider - Google, Yahoo, Twitter
  • Click on your choice. All you have to do then is type in your regular password and put in your name.
  • This will then tell me who you are
Thanks again and warm, sunny (30 degrees plus !) greetings to everyone

First full week in Bhubaneswar

Well, it was an exciting week this week. I found good coffee, pasta and peppers that weren’t green in the shops. Mind you I did pay quite a lot for them. A bit different than going to the local market stalls. But never mind, I’d rather pay for them than not have them at all.

The idea of being vegetarian was very nice six weeks ago, but I am missing meat (apologies to all you veggies out there). Here in Bhubaneswar it is possible to buy chicken pieces but they tend to be covered in a spicy batter (chicken pakora) so they are generally eaten with another dish, rather than being a part of a dish.

As you know there are plenty of cows around here but unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your beliefs, beef is not sold. I did see a pig on a farm earlier, but also just like beef I have yet to see pork for sale. There are no butcher shops as we know them at home – in fact no shop is like a shop at home apart from the chain store supermarkets – but even they don’t stock everything. You really need to shop around.

This can then end up being a bit costly as they are spread right across the city and I have discovered there is no point into telling an auto rickshaw driver ‘Me volunteer hu. Mere pas zada bese nahi hai’ (I’m a volunteer. I have no money) as most of them wouldn’t know what a volunteer is and will only see me as a westerner who must have lots of money. This is where the will power in bargaining must kick in and I’m getting very good at walking away when I have to argue a price. In most cases I get called back as the auto driver will eventually give in to what you originally offered for the journey, except for rush hour when they don’t have the time to bargain. But I don’t mind that as I’ve started to walk to and from work, and despite the lack of foot paths and walking in the dark in the evening I am quite enjoying it.

Walking anywhere here is an interesting adventure in itself if somewhat stressful. Unfortunately the novelty of having every man on the street, and I do mean every man (at least that's what it feel like sometimes), stare at me as I walk by is becoming a bit tedious. I appreciate I’m in a poor state and the most of the locals have never had the opportunity to leave Orissa, never mind India but they have seen a woman before, even if she’s not European. I have stopped counting the number of times men will shout out of cars or vans as they drive by, that stare from buses as they’re stuck in traffic, that stop their motorbikes and make up some feeble excuse to talk to you (yesterday one guy pretended he was doing a college survey before proceeding to ask me for my friends’ contact details), never mind the bikers and cyclists who will slow down and continue to look back at you while their vehicle is moving forward. I’m surprised that no one has gotten injured yet. I’m getting good at pretending I don’t notice, but it’s hard to avoid, and quite annoying.

And the big news of the week is I have finally managed to source toilet paper. All individually wrapped rolls so it was important to buy a good few in case there are none available when I need to go back for more. I never would have thought it would be so hard to find. I had been warned but thought I’d be safe coming to a city – so wrong. I’ll never take a roll of loo paper for granted again.

I’ve been struggling to find trousers since I arrived in India. Indian women are generally not as tall as I am so all trouser legs are too short and in a lot of cases too narrow. I’m enjoying shopping around for kurtas (the long shirts) but in most cases the colour schemes are a bit mad for my taste. They all look lovely on Indian skin, but really don’t do anything for my pasty white arms. So I’m generally sticking to plain colours and hoping for the best. It’s also been difficult to find clothes that fit into our volunteer’s monthly living allowance, but persistence does succeed. I’m looking forward to receiving a package from home in the next few weeks as it will contain some of my trousers I left in my wardrobe when packing my suitcase 7 weeks ago.

Can’t wait for Christmas. I and two other volunteers have booked into a local hotel for Christmas Day. It will be a bit different this year. Christmas Day is recognised here as a national holiday, even if Christians are in the minority. After breakfast we will venture to the hotel spa for some luxury treatments, and relax for the afternoon. No turkey this year for any of us. We have yet to decide whether to target the southern Indian food restaurant or the Chinese restaurant. Both have been recommend so I think we’ll have to wait until the day itself before deciding. We’re all living in lovely accommodation but who doesn't like a treat now and then?

Work has been quite this week. Unfortunately my manager is out of the office, so I have just spent the time finding my way around and meeting my new colleagues. I don’t mind really as I’m sure there’ll be lots to do once Christmas is over and I am told what the targets for 2010 are. I’m getting the impression it will be quite busy.

A final note on my four weeks in Delhi: Just before leaving Delhi, I went to see the Mahatma Gandhi memorial. It’s in the grounds of the house where his life ended.
I thought I’d share some of the pictures with you.

The pictures show:
  • the cane he used to support himself on his famous salt march
  • his few personal belongings, including his famous glasses
  • his last foot steps
  • his bed
  • and a note written in his own hand in April 1930 'I want world sympathy in the battle of right against might'

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Here at last

After a 31 hour train journey (which was meant to take on 24 hours) I arrived in Bhubaneswar at 12.30am last Wednesday 9th December. Thankfully a car had been sent by CYSD, my new employer and my flat mate had waited up to welcome me to my new home.

Despite it’s length, the train journey was fine. We never went hungry. No sooner had the train pulled out of Delhi station we were served chai, followed by more chai and a sandwich, followed by dinner, followed 6am chai, breakfast, lunch, afternoon chai and more dinner before arriving in Bhubaneswar. Sleeping on a train was more comfortable than I had imagined it would be. Sheets, blankets and pillows were handed out in time for bed and most people had lights out by 10.30pm. They must have known about the 6am chai. I stayed up a while reading only to be tapped on the shoulder next morning by one of the train staff asking me if I wanted to sit up and take some chai. Naturally at 6am I turned down his very kind offer. And I was so lucky. Despite being told I was on the top bunk of 3, which would have been impossible to reach in a lady-like fashion, none of my carriage compatriots turned up and I had 6 bunks to myself. Lucky me !

I’m living in an area called N3 Nayapalli, IRC Village which is a residential area – actually it’s practically the Irish quarter. There are 4 Irish on this small street alone, as well as a Belgian and Italian national. And a few Indians of course.

I went into the office on Wednesday afternoon as they had an induction arranged for me over the next few days, during which I had the pleasure of meeting most of the CYSD staff and had briefings from each of the programme managers. The CYSD building is a busy spot as it’s also a conference centre and provides accommodation, so there’s always something going on.

I live approx a 40 min walk from the office, and only 10 mins as the crow flies through the lovely botanical gardens. My first attempt to walk home on Friday evening however took me 1.5 hours as I took a wrong turn, and then while walking down one of many wrong roads there was an electrical power cut, so I couldn’t see where I was going. Thankfully I finally found a nice man who pointed me in the right direction. But I did look a bit untidy by the time I got home. Walking on dirt roads in the dark was not as much fun as I had imagined.

Unfortunately for me there is only one way in and out of the gardens so I have to walk around it to get to the office. The good news is that I get to pass the best bakery in the city on the way to work and on the way home. It’s the only place for fresh bread so it’s a bonus I have to pass it every day.

The Centre for Youth and Social Development has their hands in every pot. They are a 27 year old non-governmental, non-profit organisation working to improve the lives of poor tribal and rural people in the state of Orissa. Currently they are helping 30,000 families in nearly 900 districts across the state. Please see if you’d like to learn more. I have discovered that most of the senior managers are there since the beginning so I’m sure they’ll have some stories to tell over the next year.

My role with CYSD is HR Advisor, and I’m here to help introduce new and refine current HR practices within the organisation, both in head office where I’m based and across the rural sub-offices. I’m joining a team of 2, so I’m sure it will be a busy year. I’ve also been told I’m needed to help the communications team, which I already think will be great fun.

I’m starting to settle into life in Bhubaneswar. It’s nothing like Delhi. Much quieter, only approx 1 million people. And I have yet to see ‘horn’ and ‘no horn’ on the auto rickshaws. Instead they have ‘I love you’ and ‘Peace is Good’ as well as words in Hindi or Oriya. Everyone still insists on beeping, but I don’t notice it as much. The road layout is quite funny and drivers often have no choice but to go down the wrong way of a one-way system.

Bhubaneswar is very spread out. To find any selection of shops you have to go in different directions. All a novelty for the first few days, but I’m sure I’ll start to find my way around over the coming weeks. The big adventure this weekend was to find sheets and a blanket for my bed. It proved difficult to get my hands on a sim card when I was told my passport was fake ! Of course it’s not but I will have to get my colleagues to assist me in getting a phone number.

Bhubaneswar is known as ‘the Temple city of India’. At one point there were over 1000 temples here. I have yet to do the tourist thing and go see some of them, but I have plenty of time for that. It’s only the capital city of Orissa since 1948 after India declared their independence from Britain.

It’s definitely warmer here than it was in Delhi by at least 5 degrees on average. The average temperature here for December is 28 degrees, so I’m really looking forward to the summer sun ! It’s not as difficult to get around in this as I thought it may be. I’d say it’s because I arrived into Delhi in the ‘cooler’ month of November and have had time to build up to this. Mind you I could be taking this back from March when it starts heading for 40 degrees.

I witnessed my first CYSD intervention this morning and I was amazed by it. Twice a week they run a Village Resource Centre (VRC) in which they have training sessions via video camera to remote areas of southern Orissa in areas such as financial planning, HIV/AIDS and farming methods. This morning I watched as one of the CYSD finance team explained to people in 3 districts the basics of budget planning. Most of the tribal people have never had the opportunity for education and this is a vital part of their livelihoods today. Today most of the ‘students’ were tribal or village seniors, who have responsibility for their village budgets but don’t understand how budgets are devised, or how the Indian government allocate money.The trainer can be CYSD staff or an expert from outside. The centre is run by a very efficient lady, Pragna from the MIS department and Manaswini from Communications. Today the teacher was Praves from Accounts. (Yes, before you ask I am having fun with Indian names) It was great to see the volume of questions that came from the group.They can speak to people in 8 villages at anyone time, but only 3 logged on today from the villages of Panchapedi, Kinjirhela and Mundaguda all in southern Orissa.

I’ll hopefully have more great events to see like that over the next 12 months.

Still not quite getting used to seeing cows fight the cars and motorbikes for space on the roads though or the masses of hungry wild dogs. My dog,Bailey,has no idea how lucky he is.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

International Volunteer Day

Today, 5th December, is International Volunteer Day. To mark the event, all of the new VSO intake, attended a Yamuma River clean-up (the main river that flows through Delhi), organised by a number of organisations, including Swechha, an NGO who specialise in this area. Gerry, one of our group, will be spending the next year with Swechha, so it was important we all support him.

The sun was shining as we pulled up to the river bend chosen. We were then met by Vimlendu (the MD of Swechha and the event organiser )who explained that as adult volunteers we were there to supervise the secondary school children who were being bussed in from all parts of Delhi. The organisers had been expecting approx 1500 to attend the event, but it was more like 3000 that turned up. With our blue rubber gloves on and some shovels in hand we found our way down to the river bed and started picking up rubbish that was lying on the river banks, while others brought in some of the rubbish that daily flows down the river.

Delhites are becoming very aware of their city with the 2010 Commonwealth Games fast approaching and this was one of many events taking place throughout the city today. Being the main event it was streamed live on NDTV and the head of the UN in India as well as American Embassy Cultural attach̩ made a speech on volunteering. This was followed by the main event РLiam from Canada, a fellow VSO volunteer made every effort to encourage the students attending to consider volunteering again, tomorrow, next week, next month.

We were entertained royally while we worked. The live music was provided by 3 great sessions – Indian Ocean, Terra Naoimi and Menwhopause. Everyone seemed to enjoy the music, with people dancing while they worked, and some who just danced.

Today wasn’t about the amount of cleaning up that was done. Today was about the spirit of volunteering. If only 20% of the students who were brought here by their schools told their friends about volunteering or got involved themselves it would be the great achievement of today.

Tonight we had a party in the VSO office to mark the day and to also send our group off to the various parts of India from tomorrow – Jarkhand, Chennai, Orissa and some are even going as far as …… Delhi.

The Delhi Symphony

Picture the scene -
Your worst traffic scenario at the Red Cow roundabout during the construction of the new roads. Traffic built up. Drivers losing patience.

Well, that’s nothing compared to every day traffic here in Delhi. I only recently worked out why all the honking of horns. I had initially thought it was a status thing – ‘look I have a car, so I’ll tell you by honking the horn’. I was wrong.

A lot of the cars and vans are quite old and therefore don’t have any wing mirrors, so cars behind them have to honk to let them know that they wish to pass them out.

On the back of lorries you will regularly see, painted in nice colours, sometimes with flowers the words ‘horn please’ or ‘no horn please’.

There are white lines on the roads here, but they don’t mean the same as in Ireland. White lines in Ireland generally show the lanes on a road. Here they’re just decoration. I have regularly been in a taxi or rickshaw, one of 4 in a row, when there are clearly only two lanes on the road. It’s all about getting the last inch over here.

As I am not a technical person I have little evidence to show what I mean, so I’m redirecting you to the blog of another volunteer – Sheila – On our way back from the Taj Mahal last week Sheila was able to record some of the scenes we encountered in regular Saturday evening motorway traffic.

But lots of cars are also a good thing when you’re walking around in the evenings to the shops or a restaurant. There are no street lights so to get around safely you really do need to have the lights of the cars to show you the route. The flip side is then you have to put up with honking horns.

And I’m pleased to report that at the end of week four I’m getting used to it. It may even be odd to have less of it in Bhubaneswar next week. The honking of horns is, funnily, growing on me.

Add to this the constant fire works as it’s wedding season and the barking of the stray dogs at night time the Delhi Symphony is alive and well.

A recipe for a good night’s sleep !