Saturday, February 13, 2010

A bit of this and a bit of that

It’s 34 degrees Celsius today with only a small breeze going through my home even with all doors and windows being open. I tried spending time earlier sitting on the balcony hoping that the breeze that was there last Saturday would be back again today but unfortunately not.
I wonder if the young boy I saw wearing a ski mask last week is still wearing it today ?

Having walked back from the shops yesterday with 3 bags of groceries, slower than I have ever walked I was ready to drop by the time I got home. I had even had the sense (I thought) to go before it got too hot. On arrival home, going straight to the fridge, for a cold drink I decided the next time I would see the shops in the daylight would be next winter. Even though it’s still hot and sticky in the evenings once the sun goes down (only to get hotter and stickier over the next few weeks) I am going to postpone all necessary shopping until early evening from now on.

It’s at times like this I wished my placement involved the need to be able to drive a motorbike or scooter. As I walked home yesterday I was jealous of all the people that whizzed past me on their two-wheelers (as they are called around here). When I first arrived in India I used to think how insane it was to see everyone on the back of scooters without any helmet, completely against everything we believe in Ireland for health and safety. Actually, correction needed here – the men who drive the bikes wear helmets, but the women and children sitting on the back don’t. And yes, I do mean children. But safety aside, at least there is a cool breeze if you own a motorbike or scooter in this weather. This is important particularly if you’re wearing a sari which covers right down to your toes.

January 20th was Republic Day here in India. Republic Day is the annual celebration of India becoming a republic having once been under British rule. Every city has it's own parade and Bhubaneswar was no different. Because of the heat here the parade began at 9am to be sure it was over before the mid-day sun. A bit different to home where parades start well after mid-day.

The Republic Day parade here in Bhubaneswar was mainly a display of the military and police, as well as groups of Red Cross first-aiders and local school children. At the start of the parade everyone was marching in a straight line but somewhere along the middle, someone must have gotten tired, as the march that had started in the centre of the road, had swung right over to my side of the road by the time it finished.

Something completely different …

A few weeks ago a group of us went to visit Rushikulya, approx 2 hours by car from Bhubaneswar. We went to see some Olive Ridley turtles. Olive Ridleys are an endangered species and land en-mass in 3 main locations within Orissa every year to lay their eggs. All the eggs then hatch around the one time and I believe it’s an amazing site to see all the baby turtles attempt to make their way to the sea in the moonlight.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any eggs hatching as we were a few weeks early, but we did get to meet some of the local tribal fishing community and meet some of the children. As I don’t swim I wasn’t brave enough to go out on the boat that my friends hired to see the turtles in the ocean. I spent over an hour on the beach on my own, well me and all the locals, who left me alone to enjoy the peace and quiet, while they continued mending their nets.

It was only when I decided to try to take some discrete pictures of the fishermen working that a lady who had been sitting with them approached me to see my camera and the photos I had taken. I then went over to the men to show them the pictures and even though the only word we had in common was ‘camera’ we managed to spend a lovely few minutes in conversation.

Clearly a very poor community, they all seemed happy in their work. The local children were as children are on a Saturday- all playing on the beach or out in their family boats. The best part for me and the memory I will hold of my visit to Rushikulya is when, who I can only imagine as the older brother of two, slapped his younger brother on the back of the head for forcing his way through the group of young boys to see the picture I had taken of them. But in his defence he had to force his way through – he was smaller than any of them. That and the time I spent on the beach on my own (with all the fishermen).

It’s a beautiful, unspoilt part of the Indian coastline and I can only hope it remains that way.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A little bit about where I live

Bhubaneswar, the capital city of the state of Orissa, on the east coast of India, lies beside the Bay of Bengal. My home for this year has a population of just under 2 million people, a population that is growing rapidly thanks to the increase in the number of third level education intitutions that have been opening up here over the last 5 years. The main department stores that I have been visiting since arriving in December were not here 5 years ago and I have been told that a large proportion of the current road system is new as well.

Orissa is the second poorest state in India, the poorest being West Bengal, and this is why so many NGOs and INGOs operate here today.

Bhubaneswar is a city of contradictions. I mentioned before that I live in what is known as the wealthy side of town. However just around the corner is a slum. I walk past a very old, poor farming community each time I go to the local shop. It is honestly a bit weird walking home with a bag full of groceries past people who clearly could not afford in a month what I have in one plastic bag. But that’s life here and something you have to get used to, even if it’s not a pleasant experience.

On a happy note I often get a big wave from 2 young boys who are getting their daily wash from their father at a pump on the side of the road.

Every morning on the walk into the office I pass traditional women who have come in from the countryside to work in the city. Typically they are construction workers of some kind – the menial tasks like sweeping up the loose gravel, washing walls etc - but all done using their own tools that they carry to and from work everyday on their heads.

The two main methods of carrying anything around here, if you are a member of the lower castes, are your head and a bicycle (if you are fortunate enough to own one).I have seen entire shop-loads of stock on people’s heads, never mind on the back of a bike. But, so far I’ve never had a camera with me when I see half a shop coming at me on the morning walk into work.

Poverty here is not as obvious as it was in Delhi. It’s rare to see someone sleeping on the street here, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t. The fact that the populated areas here are more spread out than in Delhi is probably the main reason for this. Due to the recent demand in accommodation property developers are building up houses and apartment blocks wherever they can find space. I don’t know if I am right in saying this but it looks like either planning permission is not required to build or that no planning is done on where buildings should go up. There is no clear centre to Bhubaneswar – just a bit here and a bit there. Also this is the reason there is so much sand on the side of every road. I did wonder where the sand was coming from considering we’re at least 2 hours from the nearest beach. This makes walking anywhere a bit of an adventure. You can never be sure how much sand you’ll have to walk through to get from A to B. There are no footpaths in most areas so you have to watch your footing as you avoid the traffic.

I don’t want and don’t mean to make my new home sound sad and poor. It is a city of vibrant colours and so much culture. Everywhere I go there is a reminder of Indian’s religious beliefs and history, one which they are proud of and are happy to share. I’ve gotten used to the constant celebratory music coming from one direction or another – a simple thanksgiving prayer or a large wedding. It is quite common to see incense burning in front of a small religious symbol on the side of the street at which people will stop and pray as they walk by. Yesterday evening I attended the annual ‘Adivasi Mela’, the annual celebration of Orissa’s many tribes. Tribal villagers get together once a year to display and sell their wares to the city dwellers. A few weeks ago I went to see Ekamra Haat , a local market that focuses on the sale of local handloom products, the city boundary walls are painted featuring local traditions and the city can claim to being one of the greenest and cleanest in India.

Bhubaneswar is known as the ‘city of a 1000 temples’ (there are only now approx 600) or as ‘the temple city of India’ as it has such a religious and colourful history. There always seems to be a party going on. When I was in Delhi I had been told that December was the month to get married, but it’s not the same here. It comes down to what date your priest advices is a good day, no matter what day of the week it is. And of course weddings here last 3 days so the party goes on and on. There constantly seems to be a stream of Guru’s coming to the local hotels to share their religious advice. I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to a wedding today. Putting on the sari was a big adventure and our kind neighbour had to show us how to do it. Thankfully it stayed on for the wedding and didn’t fall off. It was a lot more comfortable to wear than I had imagined it would be.

The weather here too is a constant topic of discussion (mind you only amongst the ex-pats). Whilst sitting on our balcony last Saturday afternoon, at which point it was approx 32 degrees, a mother and son walked past us on the street below. Nothing unusual with this normally, except that the child was wearing a woolly jumper and a woollen ski mask (I was sitting on the balcony to claim the one tiny breeze I could locate at the time). I guess when you’ve experienced 40+ degree temperatures you can get a little bit cold when it comes down to 30 !

Apart from that the scene was as it would be at home- that and the wild dog chasing a large monkey who would have won the fight if he’d had the sense to turn around.